Formerly the Montreal Expos, the Washington Nationals have changed cultures since their move to the nation’s capital. New manager Matt Williams take over with World Series. With a young core consisting of the game’s best players, the Nationals are legitimate pennant contenders.
Three years removed from shoulder surgery, phenom Stephen Strasberg is no longer circled with the hoopla that made him a media darling during his rookie days. He has rebounded nicely since undergoing the procedure and produced All-Star results. He now returns to pre-surgery days with his fastball touching in the triple digits. Strasberg is a generation player, a unique talent who could eclipse many of even the toughest pitching records when his career is over. There is no longer an innings restriction on his arm as Nats fans are eagerly to see Strasberg let loose. If he can avoid the DL, expect a breakout season which might include 300+ strikeouts. Jordan Zimmerman won 19 games along with posting a 3.25 ERA. He does not have overpowering stuff but commands the strikezone well. He only allowed a league-low 40 walks en route to a 1.09 WHIP. With Strasberg receiving all the attention, Zimmerman has quietly put up solid numbers while creating a name for himself. If he continues to roll, Strasberg could be challenged for the ace role. Gio Gonzalez is just one year removed from winning 21 games. His arrival from the A’s was met with scrutiny as he was mentioned in the biogenesis scandal but he avoided any suspension. Gonzalez has thrown over 190 innings each of the past four years and looks set for another solid season. Ross Detwiler and Taylor Jordan round out of the game’s best rotations. The Nats are deep and Rafael Soriano, after closing for the Yankees when Mariano Rivera went down, knows how to pitch in big games.
The offense had six players who hit 15 or more home runs. Wilson Ramos is an underrated catcher. He socked 16 homers in only 287 at-bats. Fans are excited to see his potential over the course of a full season. Adam LaRoche’s batting average dipped to .237 though he managed to slug over .400. He needs to get off to a hot start to maintain his power numbers. LaRoche is past his prime but is a proven professional hitter and is capable of a 20 homer, 75 RBIs year. Ian Desmond ranked in the top-10 for NL shortstops with 80 RBIs while hitting 20 home runs with 21 steals. Desmond enters primed for a breakout, 30/30 year. He should put up career numbers across the board. Ryan Zimmerman is the slick, Gold Glove winning third baseman. In eight full years, he has career averages of .286, .352 OBP, and .478 SLG. He is a solid bat and is poised for a big year as long as he avoids injuries. Jayson Werth has always proven his critics wrong. Signed to a $100+ million contract after he turned 32, Werth likely will play much of his deal past his prime. However, he is a consistent hitter when healthy. In each of his full seasons, Werth has hit well and for power. He posted 25 homers and a team-leading 82 last year. He will have another good year. Bryce Harper is the face of the franchise. Rarely does a team get two phenoms but with Strasberg and Harper, but the Nats have two of the much hyped players to ever play baseball. Harper is known for smoking 500+ foot homers through Youtube videos as a 16-year old. He blasted on the scene as a 19-year old reminding fans of a young Ken Griffey Jr. with his flashy bat, enthusiastic play, and vibrant personality. Even through injury, he has managed 43 career home runs though he has missed 67 games. Barring getting hurt, Harper’s potential is limitless. He has the motivation to be remembered as the greatest power hitter ever but he needs a full 162 games to showcase his unparalleled skill. A 30 homer year is minimum with Harper’s talent, he likely will post much higher numbers this year.
With Strasberg and Harper, the Nats will always pose a threat for the NL pennant. Manager Williams brings a champion mentality to the young team which needed a jolt from Davy Williams’ old school methods. The Capital should expect baseball to extend into October this season.
All stats are courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/.