This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.
Today we look at the Nationals, who after a couple early October exits have left their fans itching for a deeper playoff run. And after signing the biggest free agency prize of the winter, there seems to be little that can stop them from achieving that goal.
Projected Lineup: CF Denard Span, 3B Anthony Rendon, RF Bryce Harper, LF Jayson Werth, 1B Ryan Zimmerman, SS Ian Desmond, C Wilson Ramos, 2B Yunel Escobar*
Projected Rotation: RHP Stephen Strasburg, RHP Jordan Zimmermann, RHP Max Scherzer*, LHP Gio Gonzalez, RHP Doug Fister
* new additions
September 28: Jordan Zimmermann throws no-hitter, Nats finish season with best record in the National League.
October 4: Manager Matt Williams pulls Zimmermann with two outs in the ninth inning of a 1-0 game. Regrets decision for the rest of his life.
That pretty much sums up last season for the Nats. They spent six long months proving themselves, only to have it all crumble away in an instant. Now the only thing for which they’ll be remembered is that unfortunate early exit in October.
It’s crazy, but that’s how this game works—you can be the best all year long, but if you can’t perform when it matters most, you lose any credibility you might have had.
And what do you do when you’re feeling insecure about your cred? Spend money on things you don’t need!
Like $210 million for new starter Max Scherzer, who will slot into the rotation right behind aces Stephen Strasburg and Zimmermann, and make hitters around the league feign all types of injuries this year when they see that upcoming three-game series in Washington.
Strasburg is finally blossoming into the superstar the Nats were hoping for when they drafted him first overall six years ago. He’s a more complete pitcher now—and the stat that supports this fact is his walk rate. Prior to 2014, he averaged 2.5 walks per nine innings. Not bad, and a few control problems are expected when you come into the big leagues throwing 99 miles per hour. But last season, his walk rate improved to just 1.8 per nine innings. A huge jump, and one that shows he’s hitting his spots better than ever.
But we shouldn’t dwell for so long on Strasburg without mentioning Zimmermann, who is probably the real ace of this staff.
Strasburg has the higher strikeout totals, but Zimmermann’s numbers are better in just about every other category. Think of Zim as the quiet assassin who sneaks up and kills you while you’re entranced by Strasburg’s flashy arsenal of pitches.
And Scherzer? He can be Mr. Pink, since he sort of looks like Steve Buscemi.
The lineup might be just about as deep as the rotation.
The big thing to remember when it comes to the Nats’ offense is Bryce Harper is still only 22 years old. He isn’t a great player yet, nor will he be the Nats’ best hitter this year. Give him time to mature, and he’ll get there.
The title of “best hitter on the team” actually belongs to Anthony Rendon. To say that the former top prospect figured out how to hit major league pitching last year would be an understatement. He figured out how to make major league pitching his bitch. Take a look at his spray chart and note that he can pretty much put the ball wherever he wants to on a baseball field. And that’s a scary proposition.
And let’s not forget about Jayson Werth, who in an added twist also spent some time in jail this offseason. If you’re wondering whether the prison time fazed him, I doubt it. Werth may be the only guy in baseball who could go to a prison and actually fit in.
What will happen is he’ll probably see his respect rise around the league. If I were a pitcher, I wouldn’t want to hit him with a pitch ever again, for fear that retaliation might involve an encounter with his “friends from the inside”.
Between a hardened Werth, a fast-rising Rendon and an elite pitching rotation, the Nats have a crew that can hang with any team in the National League.
The only question will be whether Williams can pull the right strings in October.
Projected Finish: 97-65, First place in NL East