2013 Washington Nationals Preview
2012 was a breakout season for the Nationals, and 2013 looks to be even better as their core group of young talent will hit their peak and fireballer Stephen Strasburg will get a full season to strut his stuff
After decades of disappointment both in Montreal and Washington, D.C., 2012 proved to be a banner season for the Washington Nationals. Years of building a solid foundation of young, talented players finally paid off as the Nationals set the National League on fire, finishing the season with the best record in all of baseball at 98-64. Unfortunately for the Nationals, ace Stephen Strasburg had to be shut down early as the team had a strict pitch count on the young fireballer returning for Tommy John surgery, and the team was eliminated by the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS, losing a tough-fought game 5. This season Strasburg is fully recovered and has no pitch count to worry about, and the team looks poised to not only repeat their incredible 2012 performance, but best it by venturing deeper into the playoffs in 2013.
The Nationals starting rotation looks like one of the most formidable in all of baseball. Beyond Strasburg (15-6, 3.15 ERA), the Nationals will return Gio Gonzalez (21-8, 2.89), Jordan Zimmerman (12-8, 2.94) and Ross Detwiler (10-8, 3.40). Gonzalez finished third in the NL Cy Young voting and truly pitched like an ace last season. After Strasburg was shut down, Gonzalez shouldered the team and the rotation and pitched them into the playoffs. With both men expected to be healthy this season, the Nationals have an almost unstoppable one-two punch at the top of their rotation, and provided that both men can give the team 200-plus innings, opposing teams will have little chance at a win when they are on the mound.
Zimmerman has shown solid improvement in each of his past two seasons, and the Nationals hope that he can continue that into 2013. Last year, he shaved his ERA from 3.18 to 2.94 but for his overall record to improve he will need to get more run support from his offense than he did last season. Zimmerman also will be pushed to the limit this season in terms of innings, which could inflate his ERA a bit as he gets more comfortable pitching deeper into ballgames. He’s still a solid third starter though, and is better than most number 3 guys in the league. With Detwiler, the Nationals hope that what they saw from him in 2012 was for real and will continue into this season. The fourth spot in the rotation is his to lose this spring, and while he’s not the flashiest pitcher in the league, he knows how to get guys out.
The Nationals acquired veteran Dan Haren (12-13, 4.33) through free agency to fill out the fifth spot in their rotation. Haren is coming off a down season but there is no reason to believe that he won’t bounce back this year. Haren is a proven starting pitcher and he will provide valuable experience in an otherwise young rotation. On paper, Washington looks to have the best rotation in the league again, and provided that all five men stay healthy, the team could be looking at five 15-plus game winners, and Gonzalez and Strasburg could easily crack the 20-win mark if they don’t show any regression from last season.
One area of concern for the Nationals was the role of their closer, and this offseason they addressed that by adding All-Star Rafael Soriano to the ball club to replace Drew Storen. Storen saved just 4 games for the club last season as he missed significant time due to injuries, and he fell apart during Game 5 of the NLDS so the ball club needed to evaluate whether or not he could do the job. The same could be said for Tyler Clippard, who saved 32 games for the club while Storen was out of the line-up. The Nationals were not convinced that Clippard could take over as their full-time closer, so they brought in Soriano to give them one of the most formidable looking late-inning trios in all of baseball. It is believed that Clippard and Storen will both be used as set-up men for Soriano, who saved 42 games for the New York Yankees last season filling in for injured Mariano Rivera. Lefty Zach Duke will join right handers Craig Stammen, Ryan Mattheus, Henry Rodriguez and Christian Garcia to round out the bullpen. Duke will have his work cut out for him in this right-handed dominant rotation, and he could see some competition from fellow southpaw Bill Bray as he will be looking to impress the club to earn a spot on the roster this spring.
Offensively, the Nationals look to have one of the best line-ups in all of baseball and it will be anchored by NL Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper. Last season Harper hit .270 with 22 homers, 59 RBIs, 9 triples and 18 stolen bases. He will be joined by first baseman Adam LaRoche and shortstop Ian Desmond, both of whom had breakout seasons in 2012 as well, in the heart of the Nationals’ order and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman who is expected to hit clean-up. Zimmerman hit 25 home runs last season despite being injured for much of the year and has come to camp this spring healthy and ready to make an even bigger impact in 2013.
The team added centerfielder Denard Span this offseason to give them a speedy lead-off hitter to cause havoc on the bases. Span was underrated and underutilized in Minnesota, and he should get the attention he deserves in the Washington D.C. media. He will replace right fielder Jayson Werth, who batted an even .300 last season spending a good deal of time as the club’s lead-off man. Werth will likely move to the bottom-third of the order now which will give the club a solid 7 th or 8 th hitter to mix in with their two weakest offensive players, catcher Kurt Suzuki and second baseman Danny Espinosa. Neither man can hit for any power and last season both struggled to be consistent at the plate. Luckily for the Nationals, they have some options at both positions, which Steve Lombardozzi and Wilson Ramos both poised to take over if either Suzuki or Espinosa is unable to improve offensively this season.
Nationals’ skipper Davey Johnson has made it clear this spring that his ball club has one goal and only one goal for 2013 and that is to make it to the World Series. With a starting rotation that could see multiple 20 game winners and has two potential Cy Young candidates in it, a bullpen that looks solid and has three of the best late-inning pitchers in the game and an offense that has two or three potential 30-30 guys in it, there is no reason to believe that the ball club will not achieve that goal. The Nationals have the stuff to go far this season, and they should take the NL East, winning 96 to 98 games in the process and make it to the NLCS. If they can keep their team and rotation healthy, they will take the NLCS and appear in the World Series against either the Detroit Tigers or the Toronto Blue Jays.
By Robert Gonzalez