Time For Washington Nationals To Heal And Look to 2014

By James Williams
Brad Mills – USA Today Sports

Time of death of the Washington Nationals‘ 2013 NL Wild Card hopes: 11:07 p.m. ET. Cause of death: a 4-3 loss to the host St. Louis Cardinals. Ironically, it was the Cardinals that ended the Nationals’ run to the World Series last season in Game 5 of the NLDS in 2012.

The Nationals have five games left on the 2013 schedule, two more with Cardinals and then a season-ending series in the Valley of the Sun against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Their mission for the rest of this week will be to help Jordan Zimmermann get his 20th win of the season and to finish the 2013 campaign strong and healthy.

As most Nationals fans know, this season was really lost when the team got off to a terrible start in April and May at the same time that the Atlanta Braves were scorching hot. The Braves built up a lead that the Nationals could not overcome and despite an impressive last 42 games of the season that saw Washington go 30-12, it was too little and too late to make a return trip to the postseason.

The Nationals know that the early season mistakes they made both on and off the field can be fixed, and their top goal in 2014 is returning to the playoffs and challenging the Braves for the NL East title.

Now, first up on the agenda is to get some players healthy, and that means Bryce Harper will likely make one last trip to Florida to see Dr. James Andrews again to make sure his hip and knee are okay. Then it will be home to Las Vegas for some much needed rest and relaxation.

First baseman Adam LaRoche will put on some weight and work with his doctors to find a medication that he can take for his ADD that won’t cause him to drop pounds during the season. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman will continue to build strength in his right arm, which looked very healthy down the stretch.

Shortstop Ian Desmond will be able to get some treatment for his ailing hamstring and also some much-needed rest. The Nationals will also make sure that fourth starter Ross Detwiler will be set for the 2014 season.

President of baseball operations and GM Mike Rizzo has a number of offseason duties. They start with finding a replacement for the retiring manager Davey Johnson, making a choice as to sign another starter to replace Dan Haren, or the more likely route of staying within the organization with Tanner Roark, Taylor Jordan, Ross Ohlendorf (who would have to be re-signed) or someone else in the Nationals’ farm system getting that final spot in the rotation.

Rizzo will also have decide who the everyday second baseman in 2014 will be. Will it be Steve Lombardozzi or Anthony Rendon, or does Danny Espinosa  get one final chance with the Nationals? There will be work to make sure the bullpen has the right mix of right- and left-handed talent; again; it is unlikely that the team will go outside the organization to get someone to be part of the relief staff.

There is plenty of work to be done, but it is no major overhaul and the most important free agent signing will be the new Nationals manager. Washington wants this season to be the last time for a long while that they did not make the playoffs.

Rant Sports columnist James Williams is a seven time Emmy Award winning producer, director and writer, Follow him on Twitter @Wordmandc

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