Mar 5, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The Washington Nationals.
The Big Question: Can the Nationals reclaim their throne atop the NL East?
The Nationals were everybody’s pre-season darlings going into the 2013 season. Yours truly, in fact, picked them to represent the National League in the World Series. They just never got it going, struggling to reach .500 deep into August. A late-season run in which they went 32-16 in the final 48 games gave fans a glimmer of hope that they could grab a Wild Card spot, but they ultimately fell short at 86-76.
Don’t let their disappointing season hide some stellar performances by some Nationals players, though. Jayson Werth posted a .931 OPS, tied for the sixth-highest in baseball with Troy Tulowitzki. Bryce Harper’s season was the 26th in baseball history in which a player posted 3.5 or more WAR before his 21st birthday. Stephen Strasburg posted an even 3.00 ERA and would have been in the Cy Young conversation if not for Clayton Kershaw, Matt Harvey, and Jose Fernandez making a 3.00 ERA look bad.
One big reason why the Nationals lagged compared to 2012 was their production at second base. Compared to 2012, their OPS from the position dropped 30 points. Danny Espinosa struggled, primarily due to a broken wrist. He finished with a .477 OPS and lost his job to Anthony Rendon, who posted a .743 OPS.
Denard Span wasn’t quite as good as they hoped when they acquired him in a trade with the Twins. He was half as good for the Nationals in 2013 as he was for the Twins the year prior according to Baseball Reference’s WAR, dropping from 5.1 to 2.4. In 2012, the Nats had Harper and his 5.2 WAR in center, so it was a noticeable difference.
The Nationals weren’t terribly active over the winter. Their marquee move was acquiring Doug Fister in a trade with the Tigers. They made a smooth move in acquiring reliever Jerry Blevins from the Athletics for minor leaguer Billy Burns. Also of note, the club hired Matt Williams as manager, taking over for Davey Johnson, who retired.
What else is going on?
- Williams is making Rendon and Espinosa compete for the job at second base. Rendon should be considered the favorite for the job, but a bad spring for the former and a good one for the latter could tip the scales.
- The Fister trade was an absolute steal and gives the Nationals one of the scariest rotations in baseball. The Nationals gave up minor leaguer Robbie Ray, reliever Ian Krol, and utility infielder Steve Lombardozzi. Fister posted a 3.67 ERA for the Tigers last year with a 3.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
- Werth will turn 35 years old in May and he’s been plagued by injuries over the last two years, and generally over his career. While he was incredibly productive with the bat, the Nationals have to be concerned about his ability to hold up over a grueling 162-game season.
- Closer Rafael Soriano’s strikeout rate declined from 25 percent to 18 percent last season. While a 3.11 ERA and 43 saves aren’t anything to complain about, closers generally find it tougher to succeed striking out fewer than 20 percent of batters. The National League average for relievers overall last season was 21 percent. If Soriano continues to regress, the Nationals may want to consider moving Tyler Clippard into the closer’s role.
Prediction: The Nationals are bringing back essentially the same club that won 86 games last year, except Doug Fister is replacing Dan Haren. They’ll have a stronger bullpen with Blevins, a healthy Werth, and better production at second base. They should get back into the 90-win club at the very least. First place, NL East.
Jul 26, 2014, 12:28 AM EDT
Triples galore for the Dodgers in San Francisco on Friday night.
Jul 25, 2014, 11:55 PM EDT
Ichiro Suzuki went yard for the first time this season, taking Mark Buehrle deep. He had previously homered on August 30 last year against the Orioles.
Jul 25, 2014, 11:25 PM EDT
Jose Bautista isn’t a huge fan of the beards Athletics Derek Norris and Sean Doolittle are sporting.
Jul 25, 2014, 10:55 PM EDT
The Independent League is taking measures to speed up games. Could MLB do the same?
According to Five Thirty Eight, Billy Beane’s A’s have exceeded expectations by nearly $1.38 billion
Jul 25, 2014, 10:15 PM EDT
We knew Billy Beane was good… but that good?
Jul 25, 2014, 9:35 PM EDT
The Cardinals are trying to add yet another catcher in A.J. Pierzynski, which would mean George Kottaras could be on his way out.
Jul 25, 2014, 8:45 PM EDT
The struggling Daisuke Matsuzaka will have his elbow examined, which will let the Mets know how to proceed.
Jul 25, 2014, 7:55 PM EDT
Jimmy Rollins needed 1,100 plate appearances total between 2013-14 in order for his $11 million option for 2015 to become guaranteed. He hit PA #1,100 during tonight’s game against the Diamondbacks.
Jul 25, 2014, 7:40 PM EDT
Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez are back. Making things even more interesting, Puig will play center field.
Jul 25, 2014, 6:55 PM EDT
Jesus Montero gets the boot back to Triple-A to make room for the recently-acquired Kendrys Morales.
Jul 25, 2014, 6:10 PM EDT
Dan Uggla is back in the big leagues! What could go wrong?
Jul 25, 2014, 5:19 PM EDT
Career minor leaguer Jake Smolinski got a chance in Texas because of the Rangers’ never-ending injuries and took advantage by hitting .389 in 11 games, but now he’s headed to their crowded disabled list with a bone bruise in his foot.
Jul 25, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT
No word on whether the Dodgers are one of them.
Jul 25, 2014, 4:20 PM EDT
Presumably enough time has passed for some of the animosity to fade, but Ortiz’s at-bats will definitely be worth watching tonight.
Jul 25, 2014, 4:02 PM EDT
Acquired from the Rockies yesterday for cash considerations, left-hander Chris Capuano will join the Yankees’ rotation and make his debut Saturday versus the Blue Jays.
Jul 25, 2014, 3:14 PM EDT
Tonight makes sense. Yesterday’s benching still makes none.
Jul 25, 2014, 2:44 PM EDT
McGuire was the 11th overall pick in 2010 and his pro career got off to a good start, but he’s struggled against more experience competition and has an ERA above 5.00 between Double-A and Triple-A.
Jul 25, 2014, 2:20 PM EDT
Issues caused by pre-existing injuries could lead to more disagreements, such as the one between Brady Aiken and the Astros that was played out on a public stage.
Jul 25, 2014, 1:13 PM EDT
At age 41 he’s at risk to break down, but Colon has a 2.98 ERA in his last 12 starts with a 62/14 K/BB ratio and .217 opponents’ batting average in 85 innings.
Jul 25, 2014, 1:01 PM EDT
Greg Maddux was a magician on the mound, and now he’s going to the Hall of Fame, writes Joe Posnanski.
- How’d he do that? Magician Maddux fooled hitters all the way to Hall 14
- And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights 46
- MLBPA files grievance against Astros in regard to draft pick situation 35
- The eyes have it: Thomas’ greatness built on patience 14
- Expert’s Corner: How to troll fans of all 30 teams 196
- Mariners re-acquire Kendrys Morales from Twins for Stephen Pryor 22
- A’s designate $10 million reliever Jim Johnson for assignment 37
- Everything you need to know about next week’s trade deadline 35
- Expert’s Corner: How to troll fans of all 30 teams (200)
- Verducci: baseball should think about an “illegal defense” rule to combat shifts (162)
- Yankees acquire Chase Headley from Padres (108)
- Who is the next Face of Baseball? (97)
- David Ortiz passes Carl Yastrzemski on the all-time home run list — is he a Hall of Famer? (92)