Article Written By: Manny Alcala
2013 Record: 86-76 (2nd place in NL East)
Key additions: Doug Fister, Nate McLouth.
Key losses: Dan Haren, Steve Lombardozzi, Chad Tracy.
Most important players for 2014: Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman.
The Washington Nationals will enter the 2014 season with the uncertainty if their team is as good as they were in 2012 when they won the division, or if they overachieved that year and they are only a wild-card competing team like they were in 2013. They finished last season 4 games behind in the battle for the wild card, considering all the anticipation they had going into the 2013 season, it was certainly a disappointing year for the Nats this past season. Washington never really found a hot streak until late in the season, and even though it seemed they could squeeze into the playoffs, it was too late and their rally fell short.
Doug Fister is easily Washington’s most important addition to the team. He will come to join a rotation that already includes Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmerman. That’s a very solid rotation, especially if all of these pitchers live up to their potential. Fister is considered one of the most underrated pitchers in the league, coming from the Detroit Tigers where he was teammates with Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer he was bound to be overshadowed in that rotation. You can make an argument that last season was Fister’s best because of his 14-9 record, but he had a better ERA in the two previous years before 2013.
Although Doug Fister will be an important part of this team, the key to the Nationals success comes down to the home grown players they have like Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond. The question remains whether Strasburg is the ace of this ball club. He has shown that he is a very talented pitcher with a great fastball, but he never has really put it together in one season. The one season where he appeared to be breaking out was in 2012 when he earned 15 wins and an 3.16 ERA, but the team decided to shut him down with only 159.1 innnings pitched as he was still recovering from Tommy John surgery. Keep a look out for Gonzalez and Zimmerman as they may also be considered for ace of the Nats.
Bryce Harper has quickly become the face of the Nationals. At his early age of 21 years old, he shows a combo of speed and power. Many fans are awaiting a huge year from Harper this season, but I think he is still two or three years away from displaying what he can really do. His first to years in the big leagues have been quite similar as he hit .270 with 22 HRs and 59 RBIs in 2012, and .274 with 20 HRs and 58 RBIs in 2013. As he continues to gain more experience and make adjustments, his numbers should flourish.
The man at the hot corner Ryan Zimmerman has been a model of consistency at the plate having a career batting average of .286 and averaging about 22 home runs per season. Washington is happy with his production at the plate, but his defense has become and issue. After Zimmerman had shoulder problems he has struggled to throw the baseball across the diamond. Last season he committed 21 errors leaving him with the second most errors in the league by a third baseman only behind Pittsburgh’s Pedro Alvarez (27). Luckily for Zimmerman though his swing continues to be consistent. If he can cut down on his errors, the former gold glover can help his pitching staff prevent extra runs.
Everyone thought that it would be a dog fight for first place of the division between the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals last season, but that wasn’t the case as the Braves pretty much won the division wire-to-wire being in first place for every day of the season except one. If the Nationals can regain the level they had in 2012 when they won the division then it will become an interesting race for the division.