Washington Nationals: Top 5 Team Needs for 2013
The 2012 NL East Champion Washington Nationals
The Washington Nationals won 98 games in 2012. This gave them the best record in all of baseball. The team won its first NL East championship and made its first post season appearance.
With their recent success what are the top 5 needs for Washington going into 2013?
Hopefully, it is not a manager. Davey Johnson is currently at the helm. 2012 was his first full season leading the team. Johnson is 69 years old and signed through 2013. He says he will be back so must be taken at his word.
It should not be an ace starting pitcher. Washington should have two in left hander Gio Gonzalez and righty Stephen Strasburg. Gonzalez finished 2012 with a 21-8 record. Strasburg went 15-6 before being shut down after pitching 159 1/3 innings.
The Nationals are solid in the infield. They have a Gold Glove third baseman in Ryan Zimmerman. Adam LaRoche has the potential to win one. Up the middle second baseman Danny Espinosa and shortstop Ian Desmond seem set for years to come.
Washington has a potential five tool superstar in Bryce Harper. He played center field for the Nationals after joining the team in April. Harper is not a true center fielder and this leads us to one of the things Washington needs.
The Nationals could use a center fielder. They could also use a true lead off man. Though the pitching was solid for most of the year, Washington could use a couple of starters to fill the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation. They could also use some shoring up in the bullpen.
That's four needs for 2013. The number one need should not be a surprise, but read on to find out what it is.
5. A True Centerfielder
The Nationals have been searching for a center fielder since coming to Washington in 2005. Going into 2012 it was hoped that Roger Bernadina would win the position. He did not and the team filled it by committee. Bernadina does get an occasional start and comes off of the bench in some late game situations for defense.
When Harper came up he started in left field while Jayson Werth played center. Eventually Harper moved to center and Werth went back to his normal position in right field.
For a 19 year old learning the outfield on the fly, Harper has done well. He has made the mistakes of youth such as throwing to the wrong base and been victimized by fly balls lost in the sun and stadium lights. However, overall Harper has done a fine job.
The Nationals would be better off with Harper in right, Werth in left and a true center fielder. Rick Ankiel filled the position for a while, but was thought expendable when Harper came aboard and Werth returned from the disabled list after missing time with a broken wrist.
In eight years Washington has not been able to solve the center field problem. They will continue to experiment with Harper until they do.
4. A True Leadoff Man
This problem has almost been an extension of not having a true center fielder. Washington has tried Bernadina as a center fielder and lead off hitter. Desmond and Espinosa have been given chances to bat at the top as well. Right now Werth is the man who is called on to start things off.
Desmond began the 2012 season as lead off man. He filled this role in 2011 as well. Though a good contact hitter with speed, Desmond is not good at taking pitches and working counts. He is a first ball, fastball hitter and better batting fifth or sixth.
Espinosa replaced Desmond in the lead off spot early in 2012. He shared the role with Steve Lombardozzi when Werth was injured. Espinosa led off against right handers and Lombardozzi against lefties.
Espinosa's problem is the same as Desmond's. He does not work the count well and strikes out too much.
Werth is good in that he takes pitches and puts the ball in play. When he gets on Werth is a smart runner and capable of stealing a base. However, he is not the type of person who puts the fear of Ricky Henderson in a defense.
Right now Washington really does not have a true lead off hitter. With the power they have in their lineup a good one would make them almost lethal.
3. Sound Fourth and Fifth Starters
The Nationals are pretty set at the top of their rotation with Strasburg, Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman. It is the fourth and fifth spots that are still up in the air.
Right now, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler fill those roles. Jackson was acquired as a free agent before the 2012 season. He has been spotty at best as his 10-11 record attests. Though he does not possess a winning record Jackson eats up innings which allows the bullpen and the other starters to get some rest. Sometimes he pitches very well. When he doesn't, Jackson gets knocked around in the first couple of innings and has to be taken out of games early.
Detwiler has been the same. He finished with a 10-8 record. When the left hander is on he has almost unhittable stuff. When he is not, he walks too many batters and has a hard time working out of jams.
The Nationals may already have a fourth starter on their 40 man roster in John Lannan. He spent the season at Triple A Syracuse while Detwiler took his spot in the rotation. Before Strasburg and Gonzalez, Lannan was the top pitcher in Washington's rotation. He is not overpowering, but when on his game gets a lot of ground ball outs.
Maybe if Strasburg pitches a full season the Nationals starting rotation will remain stable. The team could still use a solid fourth and fifth starter, but what MLB team couldn't?
2. The Nationals Need More Consistency from the Bullpen
The Nationals bullpen is young and strong. They have a ton of talent that has not quite reached its potential. In 2012 the bullpen was one of the main reasons why Washington won 98 games. It could still use some sorting out and a main man to close out games.
Drew Storen was supposed to be the closer going into the season, but an elbow injury shelved him until July. Tyler Clippard took over and did a good job. He was called on 37 times in save opportunities and came through on 32 of them. Though almost every appearance was not smooth Clippard did enough to warrant a look in 2013.
If he can not keep the job then Storen will probably get it. In game one of the NLDS Johnson brought Clippard in to pitch the eighth inning with Washington ahead 3-2 then had Storen close. This may be what the Nationals go with next year.
Whether it is Clippard or Storen the rest of the bullpen will have to bridge the gap between starter and closer as they did in 2012. Craig Stammen, Tom Gorzelanny, Ryan Mattheus and Sean Burnett pitched well. Christian Garcia was brought up in September and may find a permanent spot in the pen.
If Washington's middle relievers remain solid and either Storen or Clippard becomes consistent in the closer's role the Nationals should remain one of the top teams in baseball.
1. A Full Season From Stephen Strasburg
This is not a knock on the Nationals decision to put an innings limit on Strasburg this season. I am in total agreement with that move. This is only about next season.
The Nationals will need a full season from Strasburg in order to be successful. Unlike, this year there will be no restrictions and he will probably be the number one starter.
Strasburg finished the 2012 season with a 15-6 record and 3.16 earned run average. One can make a case that the team could have stretched his pitch limit by giving him more days off. This may have made Strasburg available for post season play. A case can also be made that Washington would not have built a big enough lead to hold off the Atlanta Braves and win the East without Strasburg.
If the Nationals can go an entire season with Strasburg, Gonzalez and Zimmerman at the top of their pitching staff they will be tough to beat. There is no guarantee of this as we will see if Strasburg is completely back from Tommy John surgery.
The Nationals were cruising before Strasburg was taken out of the rotation. They have not been the same team since the move. If he can complete a full season in 2013 they may cruise into the post season again. Then we will see how Strasburg fairs in October.