2012 Washington Nationals: 10 Things They Did Right
2012 Washington Nationals
Despite losing their NL Divisional Series in five games to the St. Louis Cardinals the Washington Nationals had a very successful season. The team won more regular season games than anyone in baseball. They played solid defense and hit well all season. Washington won the NL East for the first time in franchise history.
The Nationals were not on anyone's radar outside of the Washington area when spring training began. Despite the fact manager Davey Johnson stated publicly that if the team did not make it to post season play he should be fired no one really believed they would. Washington was considered to be improved after going 80-81 in 2011, but not better than anyone in the East.
The defending division champion Philadelphia Phillies were expected to win again. If they were to slip the Atlanta Braves, New York Mets and Miami Marlins were ready to pounce. The Nationals only shot seemed to be winning a spot in the new MLB post season play in game.
The Phillies started off slowly and never really go on track. Despite signing free agents Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle the Marlins were a disappointment. Their manager, Ozzie Guillen, never got them to play up to their potential. The Mets were just bad.
This left the Braves. Atlanta fell behind Washington early, but made a move in September. After falling behind by 8 1/2 games the Braves were able to cut their deficit to three. Washington finally clinched the East with two games to play.
How were the Nationals able to do it? How did a team that had never had a winning record, suddenly fall two games short of 100 victories? What were the things that Washington did which led to their success?
There are a lot of things the Nationals did right. Though critics will say that none of it matters, because of their decision to shut down pitcher Stephen Strasburg, Washington made more good decisions than bad.
Here are the 10 things that the Nationals did right in 2012.
10. Finishing 50-31 at home
Washington won 50 games at home for the fist time. They finished the season at 50-31. The Nationals only lost three series at home. The New York Yankees were the only team to sweep them at Nats Park. The Phillies were the only NL team to beat them in a series at home. Whenever Washington had an unsuccessful road trip they righted the ship after returning to D.C..
Washington may not have been successful in the playoffs at home, but were plenty good in the regular season
9. Finishing 48-33 on the road
Finishing 15 games over .500 on the road may have been better than winning 50 on the road. The Nationals were swept four times away from home. They swept their opponents six times. The team got an important three game sweep of Atlanta in May. They went 6-0 on an inter-leaugue road trip against the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays in June.>
Washington may not have been the most consistent team on the road, but was good enough to win 48 games.
8. Fighting through injuries
Washington had its share of injuries in 2012. Outfielder Michael Morse who led the team in just about every offensive category in 2011 did not play until June. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman played with a bad right shoulder for most of the year. Outfielder Jayson Werth broke his wrist in May. Shortstop Ian Desmond suffered a back injury in July. The bullpen was without closer Drew Storen for most of the year with a sore elbow.
Washington overcame these injuries as first baseman Adam LaRoche picked up for Morse and infielder Steve Lombardozzi for Desmond. Tyler Clippard did well in the closers role while Storen recovered.
All teams suffer injuries, but the Nationals showed their depth by playing well without key personnel.
7. Trading for catcher Kurt Suzuki
Washington lost its starting catcher Wilson Ramos to a terrible knee injury on May 12. Then they lost catcher Sandy Leon the very next day. Jesus Flores took over the regular catching duties, but wore down as the season progressed.
So in August the Nationals traded with the Oakland Athletics for Suzuki. He immediately came in and took charge. Suzuki handled Washington's pitching staff well and was solid defensively. By September he was also coming up with big hits when the team needed them. If not for the Cardinals come back in game five, Suzuki's RBI single in the eighth would have been considered the biggest hit of the season to date.
The Nationals hope that Ramos will be back healthy next season. If so they will have to make a decision as to who will be their catcher?
6. Bringing up Bryce Harper
There were those who said that Harper was not ready for the big leagues. Johnson was not one of them. He felt that Harper could start the season in the majors, but the organization had him go down to Triple A Syracuse. By the end of April Harper was with the big boys. The 19 year old phenom finished with a .270 batting average, 22 home runs and 59 runs batted in.
Along the way, Harper gave the team a spark day after day. He made the mistakes of youth, but always hustled and played with intensity.
Harper left little doubt that he was ready for the big stage.
5. Improving at the Plate
The question going into 2012 was whether Washington would ever hit the baseball. The team had put together a solid pitching staff and strong defense. All that was left to do was score runs.
The Nationals put together their best offensive season since coming to Washington. From top to bottom the team improved at the plate. Once Jayson Werth moved into the lead off spot and was followed by Harper, Zimmerman, LaRoche, Morse and Desmond the offense took off. When Kurt Suzuki arrived from Oakland his average went up 49 points.
As much as anything the Nationals bats helped them improve as a team in 2012.
4. Winning 98 games
This one is pretty obvious. Winning close to 100 games is always a good thing. It almost guarantees a playoff spot. This year, 98 wins led to the best record in baseball and home field advantage throughout the post season.
3. Winning the National League East
By winning the division Washington gave their young players a chance to experience a true post season series. If the Nationals had finished as a wildcard and not won the play-in game it would have been a quick end to a successful season. It also would have been four less games to prepare them for their next trip to the playoffs.
Washington will make it back to the post season. Winning the division gave them a chance to experience what the playoffs are truly like.
2. Trading for pitcher Gio Gonzalez
Washington traded three prospects to Oakland for left handed pitcher Gonzalez. It was hoped that he would give them another ace to go with Strasburg and fill the top role in late September and October.
Gonzalez did just that as he became the Nationals first 20 game winner with a 21-8 record. He pitched well enough to be considered a candidate for the NL Cy Young award. Washington has Gonzalez signed for the next four years. Together with Strasburg, he should give the Nationals a strong one-two top of the pitching rotation.
1. Bringing back Davey Johnson as manager
Johnson took over as interim manager when Jim Riggleman resigned in June of 2011. It was not known if he would return for 2012. General Manager Mike Rizzo wanted Johnson to stay on and he did.
Though Riggleman had done a good job with the Nationals no one knows if he could have done what Johnson did in 2012.
Johnson got Washington's young players to play with confidence. He gave them a goal of reaching the post season in spring training. The team bought in and Johnson took them to their first division title. He should get strong consideration for manager of the year.