Washington Nationals October 2012

The Washington Nationals had a somewhat disappointing end to their season, losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in five ALDS games. Nonetheless, the Nationals had a tremendous season and should be pleased with where they stand heading into next year.

With the NL East teams around Washington getting older and losing talent, there’s no reason why Washington can’t repeat as division champions in 2013. In fact, the Nationals should be favored to make a World Series push in 2013.

Ever since the franchise moved from Montreal in 2005, Washington had yet to have a season over .500 and finish in the top two in the NL East. 2011 was a surprising season in which Washington won ninety-eight games, the most in major league baseball, and won the N.L. East. Their Pythagorean record (96-66) suggests that the Nationals 2012 season was not a fluke.

Washington was led by Ian Desmond, rookie Bryce Harper and a tremendous young group of starting pitchers. 2012 wasn’t a fluke and Washington won’t be putting a team on the field in 2013 that is much different. So why can’t they repeat as division champs?

The Nationals made headlines on numerous summer nights for their handling of twenty-four year old pitcher Stephen Strasburg. Two years removed from Tommy John surgery, the Nationals decided to play it safe and limit Strasburg to about 160 innings in the 2012 season.

While I don’t necessarily agree with this decision, maybe the Nationals know something about Strasburg that everyone else, including himself, doesn’t know. It’s unfair to blame the ALDS loss on Washington shutting down Strasburg…but that’s not to say it was the right decision.

With Strasburg healthy and Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman both under contract, the Nationals 2013 starting rotation looks set. Sure, if they do lose Edwin Jackson to free agency it will hurt, but Washington could end up pursuing a cheaper option like Erik Bedard or Francisco Liriano.

Bedard and Liriano don’t have a great history of consistency but if one of them is on top of his game, the Nationals front office will look like geniuses for bringing him in. I’d be surprised if the Nationals let free agency pass without pursuing a veteran free agent starting pitcher to help shore up the back of their rotation.

The Nationals infield should be healthy and ready for another season as the one of the best hitting infields in the National League. Led by Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman, the Nationals infield is the most underrated component of their roster. Danny Espinosa is the key to the Nat’s infield’s success.

Espinosa had a tremendous year defensively, stole twenty bases, and hit seventeen homers last year, but he still struck out about 28% of the time. If, and only if (the odds aren’t exactly in his favor), Espinosa can improve his plate discipline dramatically in 2012, Washington might have the best infield in all of baseball.

Roaming the outfield next year in Washington will be Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper and Michael Morse. This outfield combined to produce 6.2 WAR, largely thanks to Bryce Harper, in 2012.

That’s not even close to good enough for how much these players are being paid. Werth and Morse are set to make a combined $22.75 million in 2013 alone. The Nationals should expect more results out of these two players, who have that when they are hot, they can be some of the best hitting outfielders in the game.

The Nationals definitely have the talent to win another hundred games and prove that they are the best team in baseball next year. If a player like Espinosa, Werth or Morse can give them the production everyone knows that particular player is capable of, any one of them could be an All-Star.

With the rest of the NL East likely to be breathing down Washington’s neck, the Nationals will need one of these players to step it up next year. Assuming that happens, the sky is the limit for the 2013 Washington Nationals.


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