The Washington Nationals head into spring training 2013 with high expectations after winning the NL East and advancing to the playoffs for the first time last season. Manager Davey Johnson is confident that the Nationals will return to post season play and make a run at the pennant. In order to do this, Washington must first get through spring training. Here is the Nationals best case scenario going into opening day.
Having five healthy starting pitchers when they head north is a good place to start. For the first time since arriving in 2010, ace Stephen Strasburg is expected to pitch a full season with no restrictions. Gio Gonzalez returns after winning 21 games in 2012. Jordan Zimmerman and Ross Detwiler will man the third and fourth spots in the roation. It is hoped that newcomer Dan Haren will return to the all-star form he once showed with the Los Angeles Angels. If everyone is up to speed the Nationals will have one of the best starting rotations in baseball.
The bullpen will be just as strong as the rotation with the addition of closer Rafael Soriano. He is expected to take the place of last year’s closers Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen. Clippard and Storen will be the setup men for Soriano and all three will be capable of closing out an opponent if necessary.
With the pitching staff in order Washington’s defense will be stronger. The addition of center fielder Denard Span will make the outfield one of the best as Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth can man the corners. The Nationals infield returns intact and, hopefully, second baseman Danny Espinosa’s left rotator cuff is healed. Catcher Kurt Suzuki picks up where he left off last season after coming over from the Oakland Athletics.
Span not only solidifies the outfield, but strengthens the batting order by moving into the lead off spot. With his speed at the top, Washington is able to put Werth in the two hole then place Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche and Harper behind them to drive in runs. Johnson could also opt to maximize Harper’s number of at bats by making him the number two hitter. The Nationals would have a lineup with pop from one to seven as Ian Desmond and Espinosa are capable of doing damage as well.
With all of the starters healthy, Washington would have one of the best groups of backups in baseball. Wilson Ramos would return from knee surgery and back up Suzuki behind the plate. Steve Lombardozzi is the dependable utility man. Roger Bernadina is the number one back up in the outfield. Chad Tracy can also play the outfield and will spell LaRoche at first base. Each of these men is a capable pinch hitter as well.
Anything can happen between February and April. The Nationals know this as well as anyone as recent years have seen spring training injuries to key personnel.
However, if Washington can get through the next month and a half healthy their best case scenario will be a pretty good starting place for 2013.