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Washington Nationals 2013 Preview

Washington Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper

Just three seasons ago, the Nationals had lost 100+ games in back-to-back years. In fact, they had finished above fourth place just once between 1997 and 2010. Over the last two seasons, the Nats have suddenly found themselves with 178 wins and have the best young team in the league. Washington has become the perfect example of what can happen if you rebuild the right way and hopefully teams like the Mets, Pirates, Royals, Astros, Indians, Mariners, and Padres all take note.

The 2013 Nats appear to be even better than the 2012 version. They lost some good pitchers in Edwin Jackson, Tom Gorzelanny, Mike Gonzalez, and Sean Burnett but they have had a solid off-season picking up Dan Haren, Rafael Soriano, and Denard Span. Their lineup is so stacked, they spent all offseason looking to move Mike Morse, a guy with 49 homers over the last two seasons, until finally shipping him to Seattle. They may have some stiff competition in a very good Braves team and an improved Phillies but let’s take a closer look at what we can expect from the most exciting young team in baseball.

2012 Team Rankings:

Wins: 98

Runs: 10th Overall

Batting Average: 9th Overall

ERA: 2nd Overall

WHIP: 2nd Overall

Catchers: Wilson Ramos, Kurt Suzuki – Grade: C+

Hopefully Ramos doesn’t turn into another Jesus Flores. He has had an eventful year, tearing his ACL in May and getting kidnapped in Venezuela in November. Back safe and hopefully healthy, Ramos is supposed to be the Nats’ catcher of the future but with just 160 career games and a .269 career average no one is sold. He has good pop and defense but the injuries could ruin him just like Flores.

Suzuki came over from Oakland in return for a minor league last year and is locked in for some serious money the next two years. Money that is hard to justify considering he is batting .238 with 11 HR and 53 RBI per season over the last three years. Regardless, he has as much a shot at the starting job as post-ACL surgery Ramos at this point.

First Base: Adam LaRoche, Tyler Moore – Grade: B

LaRoche bounced back from an injury-riddled 2011 season with a very strong 2012 in which he batted .271 with 33 HR, 100 RBI, and 76 R. The Nats rewarded him with a two-year, $24 million deal for the effort. He has put up 100 RBI twice in the last three years and looks like he found the right spot in DC.

Moore, who will also play some outfield, is a top prospect with a ton of pop. In his first major league action, he batted .263 with 10 HR and 29 RBI in just 156 at-bats. Before coming up, he had over 30 home runs in back-to-back seasons in the minors and could definitely do the same at the big league level.

Second Base: Danny Espinosa, Stephen Lombardozzi – Grade: B-

If it weren’t for his ridiculous amount of strikeouts, Espinosa could be a star. No middle infielder should have 190 strikeouts, much less lead the league. Still, high Ks and low average aside, he has a great mix of pop and speed, making him a perennial 20-20 candidate.

The 24-year-old Lombardozzi is a good looking utility guy who doesn’t have much pop but can hit for average and get plenty of doubles and triples.

Shortstop: Ian Desmond, Stephen Lombardozzi – Grade: B

After toying with the idea of being a good hitter in 2010 and 2011, Desmond broke out in a huge way last year. He batted .292 with 25 HR, 73 RBI, 72 R, and 21 SB. He is definitely a better hitter than Espinosa but the two of them make a nice middle-infield combination.

Third Base: Ryan Zimmerman, Chad Tracy – Grade: A-

Zimmerman returned from an injury-hampered 2011 campaign with a big 2012. He batted .282 with 25 HR, 95 RBI, 93 R and 36 2B. He is as good a third baseman as there is in the league and is signed through 2020.

Chad Tracy still manages to get work. Even after missing all of 2011 and not being relevant since 2006, he still gets work. That’s impressive in itself.

Outfield: Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Denard Span, Roger Bernadina – Grade: B-

There is no way Harper should have been an All-Star or Rookie of the Year but yes, he had a great season for a 19-year-old. His .270, 22 HR, 59 RBI, 98 R, 18 SB, and 9 3B are definitely a great start for what promises to be an impressive career.

Werth could not have turned out to be a worse investment. In his first Nats season, the $126 million man batted .232 with just 58 RBI. Last season, he missed 80 games and drove in just 31 RBI in 300 at-bats. Will he get better in 2013? Probably not.

Span is a nice outfielder who will bat in the .260-.280 range and put up a bunch of doubles, triples, and steals. He isn’t great but a very serviceable outfielder with a good glove to boot.

Bernadina is similar to Span, minus the extra-base hits. But he gets on base and plays hard, what more do you need?

Starting Rotation: Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, Dan Haren, Ross Detwiler – Grade: A

In his first “full” year, Strasburg was a Cy Young candidate going 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. Hopefully he will get to pitch in the playoffs this year, he looks to be as great as advertised.

Speaking of Cy Young candidates, no one established themselves as an elite starter more than Gio. He led the league with 21 wins and added a 2.89 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. Over his last three seasons, Gio’s average is 17-10, 3.08 ERA, and 1.25 WHIP. This could be the best 1-2 combo in the league.

As if the top two weren’t already good enough, Zimmerman improved on his impressive 2011 campaign with a 12-8 2012 in which he put up a 2.94 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. Did I say best 1-2? I meant best 1-2-3. Though I guess Philly could have something to say about that.

Detweiler is another pitcher who looked promising in 2011 and proved himself in 2012 going 10-8 with a 3.40 ERA and 1.22 WHIP.

The Nats also got the biggest steal of the free agent market in Dan Haren, giving him essentially the same one-year deal they gave Edwin Jackson last year. True, Haren’s 4.33 ERA and 1.29 WHIP last year is his highest since 2004 but neither is a horrible stat. More so, he is an established top of the rotation guy. From 2007 to 2011, he averaged 15-10 with a 3.33 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 200+ Ks per season. I expect a big time bounce-back and I think the Nats could have the best rotation in the league, filled with as many as four ace-caliber pitchers.

Bullpen: Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Henry Rodriguez, Craig Stammen, Ryan Mattheus – Grade: A

Despite having three serviceable closers, the Nats gave Rafael Soriano a two-year, $28 million deal to be their new shut-down guy. It’s a lot of money, especially considering that as recently as 2011 Soriano struggled and put up a 4.12 ERA and 1.30 WHIP but he was phenomenal replacing Mariano Rivera last season as he put up 42 saves (in 46 opportunities), a 2.26 ERA, and 1.17 WHIP. Even considering 2011, Soriano has a 2.78 career ERA in 10 major league seasons.

Storen was an excellent closer who put up 43 saves in 2011 before injuries put a halt to his 2012 season and Tyler Clippard was playing too well to put Storen back in the closer job when he returned. He still ended the season with a 2.37 ERA and 0.99 WHIP but is now going to be the set up man for Soriano.

Clippard is one of those guys who is better as a set up guy than closer but still put up a respectable 32 saves, 3.72 ERA, and 1.16 WHIP but blew five saves. He had a 1.83 ERA as the set up man in 2011 and should return to that role in 2013.

Mattheus and Stammen are two of the best middle relievers in the league, both putting up ERAs in the 2s last year.

Rodriguez could be a good young middle reliever too but the Nats jumped the gun moving him to closer last year and he ended up with 9 saves (in 12 opportunities) and a 5.83 ERA.

Team Grade: B+

Fearless Prediction: 100-62, 1st in NL East

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