The Atlanta Braves may have made the most high profile moves to compete with the Washington Nationals in 2013, but Washington knows that the Philadelphia Phillies are quietly plotting to regain their place atop the NL East as well. The Nationals and Phillies know that what separated them last season was Washington’s ability to play through injuries while Philadelphia could not. This led to the Nationals and Phillies trading places in the standings from 2011 to 2012.
Early last season, Washington had to deal with injuries to key starters in third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, shortstop Ian Desmond, relief pitcher Drew Storen, left fielder Michael Morse and right fielder Jayson Werth. The Nationals lost two catchers in the span of a week in Wilson Ramos and Sandy Leon. Before last season, Washington did not have the depth to overcome injuries. In 2012 they did and went from third place in 2011 to the top of the NL East.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s injury woes began at the end of 2011 when all-star first baseman Ryan Howard tore his Achilles tendon in his last at bat of the team’s NL Divisional Series loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. The 2012 season saw second baseman Chase Utley, pitcher Roy Halladay and catcher Carlos Ruiz all suffer early season injuries. Utley suffered from chronic knee pain that hampered him the entire year. By the time the Phillies regained their health they were too far behind the Nationals to make a serious run at the division title. After five years of ruling the East, Philadelphia switched places with Washington and finished third.
This season, the Nationals are counting on the Phillies being healthy. Howard should be productive though one never knows with an Achilles. Utley thinks that his knees will get him through the year. Halladay is working himself into shape.
Though Philadelphia is led by veterans in Utley and shortstop Jimmy Rollins they made some changes to get younger. The outfield is now manned by Delmon Young, Ben Revere and Dominic Brown all of whom are in their twenties.
If the Phillies are healthy and can stay close to Washington then their head to head matchups will become very important. The Nationals have never had much success against Philadelphia and last season was no exception. After winning four of their first five matchups Washington lost seven out of eight to the Phillies. The Nationals finished 9-9 against Philadelphia and were swept in a three game August road series. One can bet that neither team has forgotten this.
The Nationals are a confident bunch going into 2013, but know that they will be pressed all season by the Braves and Phillies. Washington knows that Atlanta has made the biggest off season moves, but a healthy Philadelphia club will want to take back a division that they ruled for five years.