2011 was the bridge gap to 2012.
2012 was when the Nationals were supposed to be good. They were not good, but great by winning the NL East and the best record in baseball.
2013: nearly everyone’s pick the Nats to the World Series. However, they couldn’t met those lofty expectations and won 86 games, 4 games out of the second wild card.
2014 has the same feel as 2012 but with better expectations. You feel there’s a sense of urgency in this team because of what happened last year. Also, there’s a new regime at the manager’s spot (and to a certain extent, the marketing department), so everyone in the organization has to prove something this year.
This is virtually the same lineup from last year, and the only real difference is Anthony Rendon is your everyday second baseman and Danny Espinosa is now a utility infielder. There should be a lot of improvement from Span now knowing the National League, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, and Wilson Ramos being healthy, and Adam LaRoche’s contract year. The new, aggressive approach installed by Matt Williams will have a different feel to Davey’s “Earl Weaver” Ball.
According to Serious Jammage, the 2012 Nats bench WAR was 3.4. In 2013, it dipped to -3. That’s a 6 point difference. The problem last year was Rizzo stuck with the same bench that helped the Nats in 2012. This season, the bench had a major overhaul with the addition of Nate McLouth, switch-hitting catcher Jose Lobaton, and Kevin Frandsen, in addition to Espinosa and Scott Hairston. The bench is more veteran-laden, which can go a long way back to a positive WAR.
As of now, the Nats have 3 top pitchers and one of the best rotations in baseball with Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmermann. When Doug Fister comes into the rotation in May, at the earliest, it is likely the best rotation in baseball. The staff (with the exception of Zimmermann) was hurt by a terrible defense that had numerous issues. With new defensive coordinator, Mark Weidemaier, at the helm, the defense should improve. In addition, Ryan Zimmerman is healthy and making routine plays at third, so expect the ERA and FIP to reduce this season.
Bullpens are volatile and the Nats experience that last year with Storen’s worst season, no dominant lefty reliever, and Rafael Soriano’s inconsistency. This year, they traded for Jerry Blevins from Oakland and Ross Detwiler moving to the bullpen after inconsistency in the starting role. The bullpen should rebound with Storen new pitching stance, Clippard’s consistency and Soriano’s contract year (that’s not saying much). Expect the same this year.
The reason why Davey was a great manager is that he gave freedom to the players and acted as a teacher of some sort. It helped an eager 2012 team go to the postseason. Last year, the Nats had an air of arrogance and part of that was Davey (“World Series or Bust”). This year, it is in the hands of Matt Williams to mold this team back to the postseason. From spring training, it looks like the Nats will be aggressive at the base pads and play a little small ball. In addition, with Mark Weidemaier at the helm, expect the Nats to employ more shifts and defensive strategy. While Davey made the Nats a good to great team, Matt Williams is trying to make this a complete team
This is dangerous territory, but the Nats will win the NL East because of a variety of factors. Nats, on paper, do have close of a complete team. The other main factor is the Braves caught the injury bug with Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy out for the year and the NL East is depleted, with the exception of the Miami Marlins, who could be the surprise team to make the postseason. In addition, this could be the best shot the Nats to win the World Series because in 2015, the Braves will be back healthy, the Marlins might be good, the Mets get back Matt Harvey, and the Phillies are screwed.
It is the Nats time or it could be a lost opportunity. I guess I’m not the only one.