30 Clubs in 30 Days: Washington Nationals

Posted: March 12, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

ImageIt has certainly been a long time coming. For the first time in a non strike-shortened seasoned, the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals franchise clinched a postseason berth in 2012. That’s right! The only other time that this downtrodden organization had sniffed the playoffs was in 1981, when a strike mandated that there be a first-half division winner and a second-half division winner, with both teams playing in the first incarnation of the Division Playoffs.

Since moving to Washington DC in 2005, the Nationals had yet to record a winning season. Their previous high, 81, was set all the way back in that inaugural campaign in the nation’s capital. Years upon years of last place finishes finally paid off for the Nats, as they soared from start to finish, recording a winning record in every single month en route to a 98-64 record, best in the major leagues.

The Nationals really feasted on the poorest of teams in 2012. Their record against the Mets, Cubs, and Astros was 27-6. Their record against Atlanta and Philadelphia, meanwhile, was a more tepid 19-17. Still, GM Mike Rizzo did a fantastic job putting this unit together. Now, they need to back it up in 2013. No one is going to be surprised by this team anymore.

On offense, Washington overcame injuries to their top two catchers, Jesus Flores (.213-6-26) and Wilson Ramos (.265-3-10) and Jayson Werth (.300-5-31) to boast the #5 offense in the N.L. Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper (.270-22-59) burst onto the scene and emerged as the face of the franchise. Washington’s infield, meanwhile, was one of the best in the league, as Adam LaRoche (.271-33-100), Danny Espinosa (.247-17-56), Ian Desmond (.292-25-73), and Ryan Zimmerman (.282-25-95) all played 130+ games.

The starting rotation’s health was the key to Washington’s dramatic improvement in wins. All five starters in their opening day rotation were able to toss 28+ starts. The most impressive of all the Nationals’ starters was LHP Gio Gonzalez (21-8, 2.69), who came over from Oakland in an offseason trade and immediately paid dividends with a league leading 21 victories and a third place finish in Cy Young voting.

Washington’s season ended in disappointment, however. Despite a 6-0 lead through three innings at home in game five of their NLDS vs. St. Louis, the Nationals collapsed. In allowing six runs in the final three frames, Washington choked away an opportunity to win their first postseason series. Will that ultimate success come in 2013? GM Mike Rizzo certainly thinks so after acquiring CF Denard Span (.283-4-41), RHP Dan Haren (12-13, 4.33), and RHP Rafael Soriano (2-1, 2.26, 42 SV) in the offseason.

Five Year Review:
2012:  98-64
Lost NLDS to Cardinals, 3-2
2011: 80-81
2010: 69-93
2009: 59-103
2008: 59-102

2012 Team MVP: 1B Adam LaRoche: Gio Gonzalez deserves consideration. As does Bryce Harper for his relation to the team’s resurgence. But, no single player enjoyed a more surprising offensive upswing than LaRoche. The 33-year old first baseman has made a career of on-again, off-again production. He emerged in the mid-2000s with Atlanta before middling through a few less than stellar seasons with the Pirates organization. After a 2010 season in which he hammered 25 home runs and his first 100 RBI performance for a paltry $4.5 million, LaRoche signed a two-year, $15 million contract with Washington. His first season was a disaster, hitting just .172-3-15 before being shut down for the season due to injury. Little was expected from the $8 million man in 2012. LaRoche shocked the doubters, slamming a career high 33 HR and matching his 2010 total of 100 RBI. A triple slash line of .271/.343/.510 was also a new career high for the veteran. Unlike many of his teammates, LaRoche did not let the postseason spotlight cloud his performance, as the Orange County, CA native raked two homers in Washington’s five-game NLDS loss. He was rewarded with a 2 year, $22 million extension with a $15 million mutual option for 2015.

2012 Team LVP2B Danny Espinosa: It is incredibly difficult to tag anyone on the 2012 Washington Nationals as an LVP. Brad Lidge and Chien-Ming Wang are the two best candidates. But, neither made enough of an impact or had a big enough role to really deserve it. Espinosa, meanwhile, performed well enough to warrant 160 GP. But, based on his impressive rookie campaign of 2011, Espinosa’s performance was downright disappointing. The 25-year old infielder saw his batting average, at-bats, and double raise slightly. But, the dramatic rise in strikeouts (from 166 to a National League high 189) combined with a decline in walk rate (from 57 in 573 at bats to 46 in 594 at bats) led directly to a drop in OBP and OPS. To make matter worse, Espinosa came up extremely small in the postseason, going 1-15 with 7 strikeouts in Washington’s five-game defeat in the NLDS.

Key Acquisitions:

C Chris Snyder (Houston Astros)
CF Denard Span (Minnesota Twins)
RHP Dan Haren (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim)
RHP Rafael Soriano (New York Yankees)
RHP Jeremy Accardo (Oakland Athletics)
RHP Micah Owings (San Diego Padres)
RHP Chris Young (New York Mets)
LHP Will Ohman (Chicago White Sox)
LHP Bill Bray (Cincinnati Reds)

Key Departures

C Jesus Flores (Los Angeles Dodgers)
OF Mike Morse (Seattle Mariners)
RHP Edwin Jackson (Chicago Cubs)
LHP Mike Gonzalez (Milwaukee Brewers)
LHP Sean Burnett (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim)
LHP Tom Gorzelanny (Milwaukee Brewers)
LHP John Lannan (Philadelphia Phillies)

Projected Lineup/Rotation (w/composite 2013 projections):

CF Denard Span – .277-5-48-17 SB
LF Bryce Harper – .270-25-77-20 SB
3B Ryan Zimmerman – .283-22-82
1B Adam LaRoche – .254-24-82
RF Jayson Werth – .258-17-65-12 SB
SS Ian Desmond – .268-17-68-19 SB
2B Danny Espinosa – .239-17-58-14 SB
C Kurt Suzuki – .251-6-32

RHP Stephen Strasburg – 14-7, 2.79
LHP Gio Gonzalez – 14-9, 3.23
RHP Jordan Zimmerman – 12-9, 3.56
RHP Dan Haren – 11-9, 3.72
LHP Ross Detwiler – 10-10, 4.20

RHP Rafael Soriano – 4-2, 3.05, 29 SV
RHP Tyler Clippard – 4-3, 3.18, 2 SV

2013 Outlook

On paper, the Nationals are the team to beat in the N.L. East. Their lineup, from top to bottom, is rife with a lethal combination of power and speed. There are legitimate concerns about on-base skills with regards to some of their more free swinging hitters. But, the fact remains that every National besides Span and perhaps Suzuki should hit double-digit home runs.

The rotation and bullpen, meanwhile, boast lethal depth. Washington sacrificed talented prospect Alex Meyer to acquire Span from Minnesota. But, if Washington’s rotation can stay as healthy as last season, they should be in good shape. The acquisition of Dan Haren from the Angels gives the Nationals another former All-Star to balance a top four to rival any team’s in the league. The bullpen was aided by the Soriano signing, and should be very deep with the Yankees’ former closer being set up by Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen. Left handed relief help might be a concern, as the team lost both Mike Gonzalez and Sean Burnett during the offseason. Former Pirate LHP Zach Duke could find himself in the bullpen to begin the year. But, it is something Mike Rizzo might want to keep an eye on.

All in all, the Nationals are the most complete team in the division. Once the doormat of the other four franchises, Washington has now become the top-dog. I foresee the Nationals winning between 92-98 games, capturing the N.L. East for the second consecutive season.

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