Thursday, February 2, 2012

Hot Stove:  A rundown of each team in the offseason and what they are looking to improve in 2012. 

Washington Nationals:            The final team in the NL East (alphabetically) is the Washington Nationals.

Projected Starting Lineup:

1B            Adam LaRoche
2B            Danny Espinosa
SS            Ian Desmond
3B            Ryan Zimmerman
LF            Michael Morse
CF            Mike Cameron
RF            Jayson Werth
C              Wilson Ramos

Projected Starting Rotation

Stephen Strasburg
Gio Gonzalez
Jordan Zimmerman
Edwin Jackson
John Lannan

Projected Batting Order

SS            Ian Desmond
RF           Jayson Werth
3B           Ryan Zimmerman
LF           Michael Morse
1B           Adam LaRoche
C             Wilson Ramos
CF           Mike Cameron
2B           Danny Espinosa

The Nationals had one of their best years to date in 2011.  The finished one game under 500 with 80 wins, good enough for third in the NL East.  And change, thy name is Morse.  Michael Morse.  Morse had an All-Star season last year hitting 303 with 31 HR and 95 RBI, leading the Nationals in all 3 categories.  Long-standing franchise jewel, Ryan Zimmerman had a good year in limited ABs.  Injuries held him to 101 games, but in that time he hit 289 with 12 HR and 41 RBI.  The rest of the team struggled to keep up, but they all stepped up at different times to help.  Wilson Ramos had a surprising 15 HRs and Ian Desmond swiped 25 bags.  They’d like to see Desmond improve that AVG, but he is young and theoretically getting better each season.  A healthy Adam LaRoche should provide a bit of a power boost for this team.  In addition, the signings of Mike Cameron and Mark DeRosa really give this team some depth.  Cameron is still an above average defensive center fielder and DeRosa plays second, third, right and left. But what the Nationals want more than anything else for their offense is to see Jayson Werth improve and have Bryce Harper come on strong.  Werth is getting paid an obscene amount of money for a 33 year old with his limited body of work as a starter.  And most Nationals fans believe that he didn’t earn his money last season, hitting 232 with 20 HR and 58 RBI.  He did have a surprising season on the base paths, stealing 19 bases, but that’s not what they pay him for.  They want to see him improve on 20 HRs (though that was one of the few things he did decently) and desperately need him to hit better than 230.  I have him hitting second right now, but they’d love for him to hit 5th, between Morse and LaRoche.  If that were to happen, Espinosa would move up to second and the Nats would have quite the powerful middle of the order to drive in their young middle infielders.  If he struggles again, you could still see Espinosa move into the second spot, and Werth would hit 6th or 7th.  The other thing the Nats are hoping for is a monster rookie season from Bryce Harper.  I’m not sure he opens the year with the team, unless he has a Jason Heyward type spring.  But even if he has a June call up, they are hoping for a monster rookie campaign from the youngster who can apparently hit anything they throw at him in the minors.  However it’s important to remember he has played in less than 40 games above A-ball.  And he has struggled at times, hitting 258 in the Eastern League.   He’s only 19, and rushing him to the majors won’t do him any good, and could cost them a fortune.  (For more on that check it this article in the Washington Post:  Until Harper makes an appearance, Mike Cameron is probably the favorite to start in center field (though at 39 he’s getting up there) with Roger Bernadina on the bench to spell him.  When Harper does come up, he’ll probably play right and move Werth to center.  But, once again, barring a major spring from Harper, that’s a lineup for June.  For now the Nationals like what they have with youngsters Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond, stalwart Ryan Zimmerman, last year’s surprise Michael Morse, veteran Adam LaRoche and hope for the future in Bryce Harper. 

If the offense won the Nationals 80 games, then perhaps you can blame the pitching for the 81 Losses.  The best pitcher on the team last season was John Lannan, who led the team with 10 Wins and a 3.70 ERA.  But that ERA isn’t great and his 1.46 WHIP wasn’t anything to write home about either.  And though he had 10 Wins, he also had 13 Losses.  Unfortunately things just got worse behind him.  Jordan Zimmerman missed some time due to injury.  In 26 starts he went 8-11.  His ERA was good (3.18) and he led the team in Ks, but he only had 124.  That’s not nearly enough to be leading a team.  The Nationals weren’t striking out anyone last year.  Livan Hernadez had the second most starts on the team (29) but went 8-13 with a 4.47 ERA.  No Nationals pitcher had 200 IP.  (Lannan was closest with 184 IP).  Jason Marquis was one of 2 starters with a winning record, but he had only 20 starts and went 8-5 with a 3.95 ERA.  The other starter with a winning record was Chien-Ming Wang with a 4-3 record in 11 starts.  Tom Gorzelany chipped in with 15 starts, going 4-6 with a 4.03 ERA.  In all, 11 different pitchers started a game for the Nationals, 6 of them getting double digit starts.  Stephen Strasburg had only 5 starts going 1-1 with a 1.50 ERA and 24 Ks in 24 IP.  If he’s healthy, he’s slotted as the number starter for this team, though coming off Tommy John surgery, he’ll probably have an innings limit.  They also hope that a full season of Jordan Zimmerman will yield more of the same results from last year.   In addition, the team has high hopes for their new number 2 starter, Gio Gonzalez.  Acquired in the Athletics’ fire sale this offseason, Gonzalez went 16-12 with a 3.12 ERA and 197 Ks for the A’s last year.  And, as of today, the Nationals have reached a deal with Edwin Jackson, perhaps the third best starter on the free agent market.  He’ll be the fourth starter behind Strasburg, Gonzalez, and Zimmerman and will probably pitch before Lannan in the rotation.  This will likely mean that Chien Ming Wang will move to the bullpen with Tom Gornelany, as the long relievers and injury insurance men. That bullpen was solid last season with Drew Storen as the closer and Tyler Clippard as the main set up man.  They are joined this season by recently signed Brad Lidge to help out.  The former Phillies closer has had some up and down years lately, but the Nats are hoping that moving out of the ninth inning will relieve some pressure on him and enable him to pitch well in middle relief.  If he can, he will help add to the National’s already strong pitching staff.

2012 Prediction…The Nationals have a more stable offense, but still lots of youngsters.  They are hoping that these young guys will continue to improve, Werth will bounce back and that Adam LaRoche will help protect Michael Morse and let him have another strong season like last year.  Their pitching looks to be greatly improved this season.  They hope to have a full season of a healthy Stephen Strasburg, new ace Gio Gonzalez, and strong seasons from Jordan Zimmerman and Edwin Jackson.  With a more stable group of starters, they hope their fledgling offense will be able to hit well enough to win more than 80 games this season and perhaps threaten to take a wildcard spot. (Especially since there will probably be an additional wild card spot this season)  I think they are a long shot to win the division, but they could certainly play well enough for second or third, and (hopefully for the Nats sake) their first playoff appearance in franchise history.

Up next…Chicago Cubs.


  1. Jayson Werth will definitely play better this season. His BABIP was a paltry .285 this season, after .352 in 2010 and .304 in 2009. Given that his speed obviously did not greatly decline (20 SBs) that looks pretty strongly like its just statistical noise.

    The pitching is a definite mine-field. I remember going to games last season and being relieved that Livan Hernandez was pitching, because it meant the Nats might win. What a catastrophe.

    I think the Nats make a solid run for a wild card, and are no longer a guaranteed 2-1 split for the Braves and Phillies, but with the talent the Marlins picked up, I think the Nats can't get it done this year.

  2. I think I agree with you. The Nationals are a sexy wild-card pick this year, but I think it's too soon. And while I'm not sold on the Marlins, I think the East is too good and will beat up on each other too much to produce two wildcards. (I just used every possible iteration of the word form of "2" in that sentence, {the number, the conjunction and the one with multiple Os}.) There is some depth in the Central with at least three solid teams, and there have been improvements out West.

    After I finish all the NL offseason reports I'll post my playoff picks for the NL before I do my AL Hot Stove entries.

  3. I'll save my prognostication until we know how many wild cards there will be. I agree that the East will beat itself up, but without Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols, I think the NL Central will be a dumpster fire. I can't wait to eat those words.

    In other news, I went to Opening Day at Nationals' Park last season, and Pudge's entrance music was "Temperature" by Sean Paul. Which is funny, because he was last good when that song was still popular.

  4. Well, I was right about the Brewers being a Dumpster Fire, but the Cardinals, it turns out, are always good.

    On that note: NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST CHAMPIONS!!! I wish I could say that I saw it coming, but I chose my words carefully and now don't get to revel quite as much. Either way, good luck with the Cardinals, and my only hope is that Medlen pitches against them and the Nats can somehow build a 2-0 lead before they have to play against him.

    1. Well I don't think you have to worry about Medlen anymore.