2012 MLB Team Preview: Washington Nationals

Washington Nationals Logo

As the Washington Nationals head into their eighth season, they finally have something to get excited about.

What started last off-season by signing Jason Werth, the ownership has continued that they want this team wants to contend now.

The franchise’s best divisional finish was in 2011, as they placed third place in the NL East with an 80-81 record just a game short of .500. The Nats did go 81-81 in 2005, but that was only good enough for last place that season.

Even though the Nationals have brought little success, the organization seems to be headed in the right direction but is it enough for the team to compete in 2012? Or is it another season of continual rebuilding?

THE POSITIVES:

Being the worst is finally paying-off…. Since becoming the Nationals in 2005, the team has been the literal bottom feeders of the NL East, until finishing in third last season. From 2008-2010 the team only won a combined 187 games, which did give the Nationals a lot first round draft picks and now the results are starting to emerge.

The Nationals starting rotation has much improved by trading for Gio Gonzalez and signing Edwin Jackson in addition to Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman.

Gonzalez is coming off a great 2011 with the Oakland Athletics, as he went 16-12, with a 3.12 ERA and those numbers should get better coming from the AL.  As for Jackson, who inked a one-year deal with the Nationals, is presumably hoping to hit the free agent market again following 2012, so expect him to want to perform as best he can. Last season he went 12-9 splitting time between the White Sox and the Cardinals, and pitched just shy of 200 innings.

The Nationals bullpen was already good with duo Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen but they went out and solidified it by signing now ex-Phillies closer Brad Lidge. This should pose for few problems at the end of the games, and having a solid group of relievers is so vital for a team down the stretch; and especially since it takes pressure off the starters a bit, which the Nats can benefit from.

THE NEGATIVES:

Staying healthy was a problem for the Nationals in 2011 and if they want to finish above .500 that is essential. For a team that lacks depth offensively, losing Adam Roche and Ryan Zimmerman for almost all of last season cannot happen again in 2012.

The team seemed to lack motivation last season, especially from guys youngsters Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa. Both middle infielders need to work harder to avoid making defensive errors, as well as being more consistent at the plate. And that can be chalked up by how hard a player works and the Nationals will need a lot of that if they want to stay a float in the NL East.

PLAYER(s)/GAME-CHANGERS TO WATCH:

1) The hope is that Stephen Strasburg will finally be able to build on his five starts from 2011 before he had to get Tommy John. Over those five starts he posted a 1.50 ERA, with 24 strikeouts, allowing just two walks over 24 innings. Strasburg looks to be the real deal and having him for an entire season will be a vital strength for the Nationals.

2) Prospect Bryce Harper is just 19 years old, and while he plays well above his age on the baseball field; off the field his youth is still an issue. Harper is primed to make the team in 2012, but his cocky attitude might need another year in the minors. To say Harper has a big ego is an understatement, but he is the #1 ranked prospect in baseball so it will be a tough decision to make. Maybe the veteran guys, like Werth can put this kid in his place but from what I have gathered it will be tough.

2012 PREDICTION:

The Nationals play in a very competitive NL East, which is owned by the Philadelphia Phillies; and unless there is some catastrophic issue in the City of Brotherly Love, that is how it should stay in 2012.

Also, the emergence of the Miami Marlins, who went on a shopping spree to go with their new uniforms and ballpark, will be a contending team pending all he personalities don’t clash. And the New York Mets will be better than people think and whether the Nationals can keep pace is a serious question.

A lot will be pending on how active the Nationals are at the trade deadline in 2012. I presume if the Nats are in the hunt for one of the two NL Wild Card spots, they are going to try to capitalize off it.

Look for the Nationals to be over .500 at the end of 2012. The chances of this team winning the NL Central this season is very slim to none, but it would be unwise to count this pesky group out of the playoffs completely.