“The truth is you don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. Life is a crazy ride, and nothing is guaranteed.” – Eminem
This could be the mantra for this years Washington Nationals. What a difference a year makes. Going into last season, we all knew they were going to shut down Strasburg in September, a possible Bryce Harper call up in September and genuine hopes of competing for a Wild Card birth towards the end of the season. What we did get was the best season anyone could have asked for….97 Wins and the best record in the sport, Gio Gonzales winning over 20 games and finishing 2nd in the Cy Young voting, Davey Johnson winning Manager of the Year, Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond with career seasons while winning Silver Slugger awards and the 1st NL East Division title in Team History. The season ended in heartbreak with a Game 5 9th inning debacle of a loss that hopefully fuels this year’s team for the extended playoff run that most prognosticators envision.
General Manager Mike Rizzo has put together what renowed baseball writer Peter Gammons has called a “SuperPower for years to come” on the MLB Network, Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine has the Nats as the World Series Champion in their respective Preseason predictions, and there is a fervor never seen in DC for this team and rightly so, the Nats are loaded in almost every aspect of the game. One position of need Rizzo fixed in the offseason was acquiring a slick fielding leadoff guy to play CF, that man is Denard Span formerly of the Minnesota Twins. His acquisition now moves Game 4 walkoff hero Jayson Werth down to the #2 spot in the batting order and moves 2012 Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper to RF which will alleviate some pressure off the 20 year old to learn a premium defensive position (although he did very well there last year obviously). Ryan Zimmerman hopes to improve on his masterful 2nd half last year (aka After The Shot), along with All-Star SS Ian Desmond, with the improvement of defensive dynamo Danny Espinoza along with newly resigned Adam LaRoche, the infield may be the most balanced in all of the game. The Catcher platoon of Kurt Suzuki and the return of Jesus Flores shores up the position. The lineup 1-8 could have 5 or 6 guys that hit for 20+ HRs. Harper is the crown jewel of the lineup and after having possibly the greatest individual season a teenager has ever had in the the game, HUGE numbers are being mentioned (like 30+ 100+ RBIs). Im not thinking THAT big yet because this team is just so stacked, but if he was to have one of those type of season, do not be surprised. Its a reason he was drafted #1 Overall and given the nickname “The Baseball Lebron”. Just like Lebron has done in the NBA, he plays the game the right way and you may want to hate him, but once you watch him play the game with the wreckless abondon he shows every game, you cant help but cheer for the kid.
We know, we know….Strasburg was shut down and who knows what could have happened if he pitched in the playoffs…I know one thing, the guy who took his place in the rotation in the series vs the Cardinals, was BY FAR the best pitcher in the series. That guy is Ross Detweiler, the player I expect to improve the most this season, which means the Nats again will have the best rotation in the sport. The only reason Detweiler isnt the 4th starter after Edwin Jackson moved on in the offseason, is the acquisition of veteran Dan Haren to man that spot. Haren along with Jordan Zimmerman, Gio and a FULL SEASON OF STRASBURG makes opposing managers quiver in their boots, as it should. One portion of the roster that has perennially been the most solid has been the bullpen and this year shouldn’t be any different. When you can toss out names such as Craig Stammen, Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and new closer Rafael Soriano to close out games, more times than not, this team is gonna win….and win big.
Last year, I expected the team to win 81-84 games, this season, I can easily see the team matching the 98 wins of last year, and even eclipsing that mark. Health and expectations will be the key, last year, the Nats were the Hunters, this year, they are the Hunted….how will the veterans on the team lead this team full of kids….will Davey Johnson push the right buttons? Will Drew Storen forget about last season’s last game and remember the form he had in the month of September….I say YES to all of these questions and I predict a Divisional Crown and a trip to at least the National League Championship series…..and yes they will bring home the first Major Sports Championship in this city in over 22 years!