Around this time last year, I wrote that with some luck, the Washington Nationals could compete for a playoff spot in a few years.
I was wrong.
With upgrades to the starting rotation and an ultra-talented young outfielder ready to come up, it’s conceivable that the Nats could make the playoffs this season.
The Nationals finished a game under .500 last season, with a rotation consisting mostly of pitchers who, at best, would be fourth or fifth starters on playoff teams. As a general rule, if Livan Hernandez is a regular in your rotation, you’re not making the playoffs.
Well, Livo is gone, as is Jason Marquis, who is basically a slightly less terrible Livan Hernandez. Replacing them will be Gio Gonzalez, who the team received from the Oakland Athletics in return for four prospects, and Edwin Jackson, who the team miraculously signed to a one-year deal.
Gonzalez made his first all-star appearance in 2011, winning 16 games with a 3.12 ERA. While he ranked ninth in the American League in strikeouts, Gonzalez led the MLB in walks. He has the potential to be dominant, but also has the potential to get himself into trouble. For a pitcher who will not be asked to be the ace of the staff, Gonzalez is well worth that risk.
As for Jackson, a pitcher who seems to be on a new team every year, what you see is what you get.
In 12 starts with the St. Louis Cardinals last season, Jackson posted a 3.58 ERA. If the Nats can get that from a guy who is expected to be a third or fourth starter, they should be very pleased.
Washington’s rotation appears to be one of the best in the NL, with Jordan Zimmermann, Gonzalez, Jackson and whoever wins the fifth starter spot between John Lannan and Chien-Ming Wang. Ah, right, there’s also this Strasburg guy.
The Nationals offense should see an upgrade at some point this season as well. There’s a certain outfielder you might have heard something about. His name is Bryce Harper.
If they call him up, they can move right fielder Jayson Werth to center and Michael Morse to left, if first baseman Adam LaRoche comes back healthy after having surgery on his left shoulder last season.
Seeing how last year’s team had an outfield of Werth, Roger Bernadina/Rick Ankiel and a left field platoon of Laynce Nix and Jerry Hairston Jr., this would be a major improvement.
You also have to believe that Werth will not be as terrible this season.
While he’s certainly beginning the declining stages of his career, players do not often drop 60 points in batting average in just one season.
I am not saying the Nationals will make the postseason. There are still many question marks. They have a below-average shortstop in Ian Desmond, both offensively and defensively. While second baseman Danny Espinosa had a surprisingly good rookie campaign, he must continue to get better at hitting righties. And LaRoche’s health is no guarantee.
The odds are that the Nats still won’t make the playoffs this year, but with major rotation upgrades and a big bat already in the organization waiting for his time, October baseball is a definite possibility in D.C.