The Washington Nationals made history in 2012—winning more games than any other team and making the postseason for the first time since moving to the nation’s capital—and they will be even better in 2013.
Washington had been plagued with terrible, terrible teams since relocating from Montreal. The Nationals had good prospects in the system, but they weren’t ready to make the jump to the big leagues. Washington’s pitching was bad, the offense was bad. Everything was bad.
That is until last offseason, when everything started coming together.
Stephen Strasburg was healed from Tommy John surgery and general manager Mike Rizzo added Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson to Washington’s starting rotation—joining Jordan Zimmerman and Ross Detwiler. Bryce Harper was about ready to be called up and the lineup seemed poised for a big year.
A big year is exact what Washington got, and a little more. The Nationals won a league-best 98 games last season, earning their first National League East crown and the No. 1 seed going into the postseason. Washington’s season ended a little earlier than hoped—falling to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS—but the season was still very much a success.
Here are a few reasons why Washington can replicate its 2012 success and do even more in 2013.
A FULL year of Stephen Strasburg
After missing nearly all of 2011 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Stephen Strasburg was ready to come back and help the Nationals win the division. He went 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA in 159.1 innings over 28 starts for Washington.
The entire season, however, Strasburg was faced with a set limit on how many innings he was going to be able to throw, handed down by the Nationals front office. On September 8, Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post reported that Strasburg’s season was over.
Strasburg did not toss one inning past September 8 and did not make an appearance in the playoffs for the Nationals. In hindsight, they probably could have used him against the Cardinals, but that’s not the point here.
2012 has come and gone, and Strasburg will head into 2013 without a cap on his innings, at least that’s what his agent, Scott Boras, thinks (via Jon Morosi of Fox Sports):
“He’s going to have six months now to prepare for next season, when you consider he didn’t pitch in September and October. He’s going to be a No. 1 who’s going to throw couple hundred innings.”
Even though Gonzalez finished second in the NL Cy Young Award voting, Strasburg is still an ace and he’s still the ace of Washington’s staff. A full season of Strasburg in 2013 can only mean good things for the Nationals.
More of the National League’s top young star
April 28 was one of the biggest days of the year for the Nationals despite a relatively meaningless loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was the major league debut of top prospect Bryce Harper.
Harper played his heart out each time he stepped on the field and his rookie-season statistics showed that. Harper played in 139 games for the Nationals, hitting .270, .340/.477 with 22 home runs, 59 RBI and 98 runs. He also stole 18 bases and was a force in center field.
Harper’s 4.9 WAR was tied for the 24th-highest among qualified batters (via FanGraphs) and the second-highest among qualified rookie hitters behind Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout (via FanGraphs).
Although Harper couldn’t help the Nationals win a World Series, he was recognized for his regular season accomplishments with the National League Rookie of the Year Award.
With more at-bats, Harper is going to improve incrementally. He has the potential to his 30 or more home runs and drive in around 100 runs.
Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Robert Wood believes that Harper can even have a better 2013 than Trout—who also won his respective league’s Rookie of the Year Award. Whether Harper can outplay Trout in 2013 is beyond me, but I do believe both will continue to grow as stars of the game.
Harper is a special talent that Washington waited a long time to have in its lineup each day and 2013 will be another reason why it made the right decision to draft him No. 1 overall in 2010.
Eagerness to Win Now
Washington wants to win now. The Nationals have grown their minor league system just about as well as any other team in baseball and they’ve started to cash in on it.
As I mentioned earlier, many of Washington’s impact moves started last season—more specifically the deal that pried Gonzalez from the Oakland Athletics. In that deal, Washington sent four minor league prospects to the A’s, all of who had good-to-great potential.
Washington knew that it would need another ace-like starter in order to win anything and didn’t hesitate when given the opportunity, still knowing how good those prospects could end up being.
After a disappointing finish to 2012, Rizzo has been working to make sure that 2013 ends with the biggest celebration of all: a World Series title.
This offseason, Rizzo dealt another one of the touted prospects away in order to try and improve the club’s roster. He sent Alex Meyer to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for center fielder Denard Span.
The addition of Span really speaks to how much Rizzo wants to win. Span now takes over in center for Harper who can move back to right field and also will hit in the leadoff spot—a position in the lineup that wasn’t very consistent in 2012.
Span is just another piece of the puzzle for the Nationals—contributing to a team with enough talent to win at least 100 games in 2013.
The record for most wins in a season is 116—done by the Chicago Cubs in 1906 and Seattle Mariners in 2001. Is it too early to think the Nationals could hit that mark? You never know with this great group of young talent.