2014 MLB Preview and Rankings: #7 Washington Nationals

Published: Apr 18, 2014 19:02pm EDT
By Michael Owen, Sports Writer for Konsume Sports

Please Note: This article was updated Apr 18, 2014 @ 07:02pm EDT

 

We're now two weeks into te season and the rite of passage that comes every Spring where every team still has a chance to make "this the year" in their own mind is enough to get any fan going.

There is still a lot of work to be done for some teams, position battles, last minute signings, injury struggles coming out of camp and so on. While one of the best things about Spring  is that when the season starts, anything can happen and every team has a chance.  Unfortunately for many teams those hopes can be shattered and lost by mid-May.

As we begin playing ball, we have a pretty good idea of where each team stands and while each season is unpredictable, things can change at the drop of an Ace lefties torn rotator cuff.  

Over the next few days I'll finish out the preseason rankings and analysis of the remaining teams as we have finally gotten to the teams that will likely contend for the playoffs.  Feel free to disagree and voice your differences.

Next up:

7. Washington Nationals

After winning 98 games in 2012, the 2013 Washington Nationals went into the season as the odds on favorite to win the NL East and in many circles were predicted to win it all.  Unfortunately for the Nats they were quite ordinary for the first 108 games as they went 54-60 from April thru July as they fought off some significant injuries. 

They closed out the season on a 32-16 that was the best over that stretch but still not enough to close the gap with the Braves who won the division by 10 games or the 4 game deficit the Reds had over Washington for the final Wild Card position.

I went back and forth during spring training on who would win the East. The Braves or the Nationals? The Nationals or the Braves?  Initially I went with the Braves based on their experience and their pitching.  Then the Braves got hit hard with injuries to their staff as they lost 3 members of the starting rotation, including 2 for the season before they even broke camp.  Then, Washington came out of the gates strong, their pitching staff was dominant and they looked like the team to beat. I went to my friend Wilson who knew about this series I was covering and asked if it was wrong that I was changing the predictions I made before the season, 2 weeks into the season.  “Go with your gut” Wilson says to me. “The readers aren’t going to know that you originally had the Braves”.

All of the sudden, things turn for the Nats.  Down went starting catcher Wilson Ramos and then more significantly, they’ve lost third baseman Ryan Zimmerman for 2 months.  Follow that up with being swept at the hands of the aforementioned Braves and I found myself back at my original assessment.  So, taking Wilson’s advice, I’m going with my gut. This is the Braves division to lose. 

Offensively this team this team is pretty deep, although they do seem to lack a true beast-like power hitter in the middle of the lineup.  The Nationals are holding out hope that the still maturing (both physically and mentally) 21 year old superstar Bryce Harper, who missed 44 games in 2013, can stay healthy for a full season and be that guy.  Chances are, he could be, provided he stays away from outfield walls and out of new Washington’s new skipper Matt Williams’ doghouse.

Losing Ryan Zimmerman, arguably the best pure hitter from this lineup will be tough but as mentioned before, this offense has some depth to it.  Expect Anthony Rendon to move over to third while Danny Espinosa, who could be a starter for many teams, takes over at second.  Don’t be surprised if Zimmerman takes over at first for good when he returns.

Denard Span adds just the right amount of speed at the top of the lineup and if the Nats can squeeze out one more strong year out of Jason Werth and a decent one from Adam LaRoche and you might be looking at one of the most rounded lineups in the bigs, once Zimmerman returns.

Without a doubt, the Nats biggest strength is their rotation.  Stephen Strasburg is finally coming into his own, and if he can stay healthy he will likely have his training wheels removed and be allowed to pitch over 200 innings for the first time in his young career. While Strasburg is considered the “ace” of the staff, both Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman might have something to say about that as both have had Cy Young worthy seasons the past 2 years.  The three pitchers combine for one of, if not THE most feared top 3 starters of any team.  Having a top 3 of this magnitude will almost assure any team of a 90 win season but then the Nationals went out and traded for Doug Fister (for practically nothing) who merely went  32-20 with a 3.29 ERA in his time in the AL and while he’s on the DL likely until early May, he will now come to a league and park that is easier on pitchers.  The Nationals also have promising youngsters Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark fighting to keep the final spot in the rotation giving Washington one of the younger, more powerful rotations under their control for at least 3 more years.  This group will only get better.

The only real question mark for the Nationals lies in their bullpen.  It’s not a big question mark, but one that could be a concern.  Rafael Soriano will be closing games out with Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard setting him up. There is little or no concern about Clippard, however Nat fans should wonder which Soriano they’ll see this year and which version of Storen will show.  With Jerry Blevins the only lefty coming out of the Nats pen, Washington may be on the market for another one to help out in late innings.

As I mentioned before, this division was a toss up to me.  With both the Braves and the Nationals experiencing significant injuries, it would appear that they are both back on a level playing field.  Getting swept by the Braves (after going just 6-13 against them in 2013) gave me the all affirmation I needed to give the Braves the nod again in 2014.

The outlook is more than bright for the Nats, not only for this year, but many years to come. I have the Nationals penciled in as a wild card in 2014, barely losing out the division to Atlanta, but this could be the beginning of something very special in Washington.

Anybody up for a “team of the decade” debate?  It might just start in D.C.

Prediction: 93-69

                                                       ***PREVIOUS RANKINGS***

                                                         (click link to view story)  

8. Oakland A's 92-70

9. New York Yankees 91-71

10. Detroit Tigers 90-72

11. Arizona Diamondbacks 89-73

12. Cleveland Indians 88-74

13. Cincinnati Reds 87-75

14. Los Angeles Angels 86-76

15. San Francisco Giants 85-77

16. Pittsburgh Pirates 84-78

17. Baltimore Orioles 82-80

18. San Diego Padres 81-81

19. Kansas City Royals 81-81

20. Seattle Mariners 80-82

21. Milwaukee Brewers 78-84

22. Philadelphia Phillies 76-86

23. New York Mets 75-87

24 Colorado Rockies 74-88

25. Toronto Blue Jays 71-91

26. Chicago Cubs  70-92

27. Minnesota Twins 67-95

28. Chicago White Sox 66-96

29. Miami Marlins 64-98

30. Houston Astros 62-100


 

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