(2012: 98-64, 1st place NL East)
(2013: FC Prediction: 1st place NL East)
The Nationals were definitely the biggest story in baseball in 2012. From the call up of Bryce Harper to the innings limit and eventually shutting down of Stephen Strasburg, the mainstream media couldn't seem to stay away from the Nats. They embraced it and led the league in wins before eventually bowing out in the playoffs.
2013 should be no different in terms of results, but the Nationals probably won't have quite the media circus they had to endure last year. This could be a positive thing, but one difference is the Nationals won't be under the radar anymore, they will have a target on their back all year long. Strasburg will have the leash off this year and will be set free and Bryce Harper will enjoy his first full year in the big leagues. These are just a few reasons that Wade has tabbed them as his 2013 World Series champions.
So, how do the Nationals look on paper:
Strasburg will be the ace of the staff. With a full workload, there is no doubt in my mind he will be absolutely dominant and will be in the running for the Cy Young award. Gio Gonzalez is a great 1A starter. If he can avoid suspension for his ties to Biogenis (He most likely won't be suspended), then he should have another stellar season. Jordan Zimmerman, and fellow Division 3 pitcher (Wisconsin-Stevens Point) is the number 3 and is a solid one at that. Dan Haren will replace Edwin Jackson as the number 4. Despite almost being a Cub, Haren looks to come into Washington and prove that he is healthy. The cubs obviously saw something in his back that spooked them, so I'm not so sure he'll be able to do so. Ross Detwiler is the number 5. He is about as solid as they came at the back end of the rotation and I think he is a candidate for a breakout year.
The bullpen is also very solid, especially with the addition of Rafael Soriano. Soriano was excellent as the Yankees closer and should repeat his success in Washington. Behind him are setup men Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard. Both closed last year for the Nats so they will not only be primed to pitch the 7th and 8th, but will be able to fill in for Soriano if anything happens. Henry Rodriguez throws in the triple digits and if he can find some control, he'll be dominant in the pen. Craig Stammen, Zach Duke, and Shawn Mattheus round out a very deep pen that should be able to shorten games for the Nats.
There are a couple solid arms in the system for Washington, but none are really that close to the big leagues. Righties AJ Cole and Lucas Giolito both have tremendous stuff, but probably won't be ready until the 2015 season. Lefty Matt Purke is also very interesting. He was seen as a first round talent but slipped to the Nats due to signability issues and arm problems, so if he can come back healthy, he has the stuff of a top 5 pick.
The Nationals are solid throughout the infield, starting with the face of the franchise, Ryan Zimmerman at third base. When healthy, Zim is among the best in the league and he looks to have a monster 2013 in a stacked lineup. Shortstop Ian Desmond and second baseman Danny Espinosa might not hit for high averages, but both have a ton of power and a good amount of speed. I look for Desmond to have an excellent 2013, possibly going 30/30 if all falls his way. Adam LaRoche returns as the first baseman, and provides the Nats with a lot of power and even more leadership, along with some nice protection for Harper and Zimmerman. Wilson Ramos and Kurt Suzuki will split the catching duties in probably the only weak spot in the Nats lineup.
In the outfield, the Nationals have Bryce Harper in left, Denard Span in center, and Jayson Werth in right. Span came over from the Twins and gives the Nationals the leadoff hitter that they so desperately needed last year. White Sox fans can definitely tell you how pesky Span is and I'm sure they're all glad to see him out of the AL Central. Jayson Werth has not lived up to his huge contract, but that doesn't mean he's not a valuable player. Werth is a solid defender and while he may have lost a step, he still has the ability to break out for 25 home runs. Bryce Harper is prime to be an absolute superstar in this league. The guy plays the game the way you want your superstars to, as hard as he possibly can. He has the power to hit 30 home runs, the speed to steal 40 bases, and the ability to hit over 300, and all are not out of reach for him in 2013. I look for Bryce to be in the running for the league MVP by season's end.
Anthony Rendon is the best of the Nationals hitting prospects. The guy can flat out hit and if the Nationals can find a spot for him in 2013, there is no doubt in my mind that his bat is ready for the Major Leagues. Rendon currently plays third base, but with Zimmerman there, it is definitely plausible for the Nats to move Espinosa at some point this year and let Rendon play second base.
NON-ROSTER INVITEE TO WATCH:
Since camp is pretty much done and none of these guys broke camp with the team, I just want to mention Micah Owings. Owings, a former pitcher for teams like the Reds and Diamondbacks, was in camp for the Nationals playing the infield and I wish Owings the best in his attempt to come back as a position player.
The Nationals are a good team all the way around and I just don't envision a scenario where they don't make the playoffs and end up making a deep run. Expectations are high in the nation's capital, but the talent on this roster is there, so they should live up to them. Harper, Strasburg, Zimmerman, and company should be able to battle in the NL East and at the very least earn a Wild Card spot. If you are a Nats fan, this is time for you to get excited as this is definitely the best team that they have fielded since moving out of Montreal. Look for the Nationals to possibly be hoisting the World Series trophy in October.
TWITTER ACCOUNT OF THE DAY:
Gotta go with Bryce here, as he is an absolute superstar, @Bharper3407
And also, enjoy this, the Nationals bullpen reading 50 Shades of Grey: