Results didn’t meet expectations in the nation’s capital.
With World Series visions dancing in the head of Nats fans going into 2013, expectations were higher than ever in Washington. Though they came up short of their goal, they were still entertaining to watch as they finished second in the NL East. There was a little bit of everything in the Nation’s capital during Davey Johnson‘s final season at the helm of the Washington Nationals.
Stephen Strasburg posted ace-like numbers yet again. Despite having an 8-9 record, he had career best numbers in IP (183) and WHIP (1.049). He gave up the same number of hits this season as he did in 2012 despite throwing 23.2 more innings and threw the first complete game of his career.
A resurgence of Jayson Werth was refreshing as his numbers in 2013 were better than his 2010 campaign when he finished eighth in the MVP voting. Despite missing 33 games to injury, Werth hit .318 and smacked 25 home runs while driving in 82 runs. He finished with an OPS of .931 which was the best of his career and was second best in the NL.
Look at the current state of the NL East. The Nationals have their nucleus of players coming back in 2014. They still have one of the best 1, 2, 3 combinations in baseball with Strasburg, Gonzalez, and Zimmermann in their starting rotation. The have Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, and Denard Span roaming the outfield. Not to mention they have proven veterans in Zimmerman, Desmond, and LaRoche in the infield. Compare that to the Braves who lost Brian McCann and Tim Hudson to free agency. The Mets, Phillies, and Marlins who don’t seem to have what it takes to overtake the division. You have to like Washington’s chances heading into 2014.
Like many teams, the Nationals were bitten by the injury bug quite often during the season. Key injuries inhibited Davey Johnson from putting out his best lineup every day. Bryce Harper, Ross Ohlendorf, Ross Detwiler, Dan Haren, Danny Espinosa, Stephen Strasburg, Wilson Ramos, Ryan Zimmerman, and the aforementioned Jayson Werth all had stints on the DL.
Harper played in only 118 games this season and has fans worrying if his high intensity level might be costing him time on the field. There has been speculation that first time manager Matt Williams should talk with Harper about toning his aggressiveness down to keep him healthy.
The Achilles heel in 2013 would be the bullpen. Their 3.56 ERA was good for 17th in the Majors and their .252 BAA was 24th. Something you like to see from a bullpen staff is the ability to get strikeouts late in games in pressure situations. Washington’s pen was second to last in strikeouts meaning they were letting teams make too much contact late in games. Going into the second week of August, Washington relievers allowed 36 of their 88 inherited runners to score. That is 41 percent which was the worst clip in the league during that span.
The Nationals are in the hunt for a starting pitcher. Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post says that they are not willing to sacrifice their 2014 first-round pick (no. 20 overall) to do so. This makes Matt Garza or Ricky Nolasco available options because they did not receive qualifying offers so they are cheaper than guys like Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana.
GM and President Mike Rizzo is trying to keep his best players around, hoping to ink extensions with Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmerman. They are both talented players that are part of the foundation for the Nats and are extension candidates.
Bryce Harper’s arbitration opt out eligibility could become an issue for Rizzo. There is no doubt that they aim to keep him around for a long time. In fact, Rizzo has gone on the record saying so multiple times. Harper’s contract issues are high on their priority list and they will try to work through it as quickly and painlessly as they can.
With the amount of quality players returning, not many people would argue that Washington is the favorite to win the East. If they can stay healthy, they have one of the best rotations in baseball to go along with a lineup full of productive players that can take over the division. Bullpen help and health are the major concerns going into 2014.