With opening day right around the corner, each day until then District Sports Page’s Nats staff will take a look at one of the biggest issues concerning your 2013 Washington Nationals. We borrowed a quote for the title of the series from Nats manager Davey Johnson’s Spring Training proclamation that he expects a “World Series or Bust” in Natstown this season.
We’ve also invited the other credentialed blogs to chip in with their answers. Then on Opening Day, look for the results to the DC Chapter of the Internet Baseball Writers Association Preseason Survey, where we polled The Natosphere on various topics related to the Nats, as we have for the last several seasons.
Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief, District Sports Page
Alyssa Wolice, Staff Writer, District Sports Page
Ted Starkey, Contributor to DSP, author and Editor at SBNation.com
Ryan Kelley, DSP Prospects Writer and founder of BaseballNewshound.com
Patrick Reddington, Editor, Federal Baseball
Joe Drugan, Managing Editor, The Nats Blog
Tom Bridge, Editor, WeLoveDC.com
Part III: What aspect of the Nats has you most excited for the coming season?
Dave: Harper’s progression and maturation as a ballplayer are obviously the big draw for the Nats and that will rightfully garner the lion’s share of media attention — especially nationally. But I’m a big pitching guy, so I’m looking forward to watching Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler and Haren carve up opposing batting orders. The Nats’ batting lineup is good, but their starting pitching could be great. With Davey Johnson announcing this would be his last year managing, he’s got a “World Series or Bust” mantra going, and all of Natstown is hopeful that his team can give him a Series send-off. Obviously a lot has to go right for that to happen, but this team is deep, talented and focused, a far cry from the consecutive 100-loss seasons in the not-too-distant past.
Alyssa: I’m excited for ridiculous, SportsCenter-worthy plays made in the outfield (and I’m excited for that grace period where runners seem to forget just how great a cannon Bryce Harper is in the outfield – regardless of how long it takes him to adjust to left). I’m excited for the dynamic the Harper-Span-Werth trio brings to this club and I think the Clippard-Storen-Soriano force will also leave fans sitting on the edge of their seats for all the right reasons. I’m also looking forward to seeing a healthy Ryan Zimmerman step into his role again as the face of a franchise that is better than it’s ever been in his previous seven years with the Nationals.
That said, put simply, I’m giddy to see a team that’s itching to make up for how things ended last year by playing top-notch baseball all year long. Oh, and I’m excited to lay to rest the debates over the “Strasburg Shutdown.”
Ted: Not having the Strasburg shutdown sideshow will be good for the club. Losing their star pitcher for the stretch drive wasn’t the reason they lost in the first round to St. Louis, but the season-long distraction might have caused problems down the stretch. Without any limitations to this season for Washington’s ace, it certainly will be a bit more fun to watch him pitch without an eye on the odometer.
Ryan: The Nats’ young hitters. I’m excited to see what Harper and Desmond can do following their superb 2011’s, but also if Danny Espinosa and Ramos can bounce back in the wake of injury. I still believe Espinosa is a borderline All-Star, and he’s been a favorite of mine since hanging out with him and Joe Kelly when I worked at the USOC. His strikeouts and platoon splits are troubling for a switch-hitter, but he knows how to work the count, has rare power for a middle infielder and is a plus defender at the game’s toughest positions.
I’m most excited to see how Nats prospects Anthony Rendon, Brian Goodwin, Christian Garcia, Zach Walters and Sammy Solis can make an impact. In my opinion, Rendon is one of the top-five prospects in the game, and reminds me of a young Edgardo Alfonzo. He has the beautiful swing and power to hit .300 with 20-plus home runs, the batting eye to get on base at a .380 clip and the defensive skills to be an above-average defender at third, second and first. After watching him tear-apart pitching this spring, I’m confident that he’ll push Espinosa for playing time by May, and will be the team’s first choice if Zim or LaRoche go down.
Walters showed me a lot this spring too, and I think he’ll come up this season as a glove-first, switch-hitting back-up—especially if Chad Tracy or Lombo don’t produce. I’m also a firm believer that Christian Garcia is one of the best young relievers when healthy—his groundball rates and K/9 rates suggest he’s a future closer.
I want to see Brian Goodwin make his MLB debut this summer. He’s closer than most give him credit for, and I believe he’s one of the top-10 hitting prospects in the game. He has a beautiful left-handed swing, an extraordinary batting eye for his age, and the plus speed and athleticism to be a complete centerfielder. He still has plenty to figure-out, but I believe he’ll be pushing Denard Span very soon.
Finally, I want to see how Solis rebounds from elbow surgery. He was a favorite of mine when healthy, and I believe he could be the team’s answer for lefty relief later in the year. His stuff isn’t jaw-dropping, but he commands a low 90’s fastball with precision, and his slider and changeup are both MLB-caliber. He’s also a very smart pitcher, the kind that can succeed in an array of roles for a long time. The key for him will be adding more flexibility and athleticism to his delivery, which gets very stiff and top-heavy.
Patrick: A full season (hopefully) of a healthy and angry Stephen Strasburg with something to prove. That’s what’s got me excited about the 2013 season. His rookie year was nothing but constant hype and attention, his second season was spent rehabbing from Tommy John and then last season was chock full o’ innings limit chatter. Now the right-hander finally gets a chance to concentrate (hopefully if people stop asking about 2012) on what happens on the mound and nothing else. Finally.
I’m looking forward to seeing him at 100% with everything he’s learned over the last few seasons. He’s saying all the right things. Concentrating on his command, working on a sinker, determined to go deeper in games, hoping to be there when the Nationals make a run at the postseason. He’s been electric to watch all along in spite of the drama surrounding him and he’s
been fun to watch already this year in Grapefruit League starts. Really looking forward to seeing knees buckling and bats breaking as he piles up the Ks (and a lot of grounders).
Joe: For me, it has to be the pitching rotation. That said, I don’t think there is a right answer here. If you told me that the Nationals lineup did it for you, how could I possibly blame you? With a one through six of Span, Werth, Harper, Zimmerman, LaRoche, Desmond, there is significant potential for a huge offensive season for the Nats.
However, there isn’t going to be a single day of the week that I’m not excited about who is taking the bump for the Nats to start every game. From Strasburg to Gio to JZimm to Haren to Detwiler, there’s not a slouch among them, and on many, many teams, those three through five starters are one through three starters. K Street will be back in full swing… and miss… form. (Sorry, I couldn’t avoid the pun there.)
Tom: I can’t pick! I’m excited for a full year of Strasburg-Gio-JZimm. I’m excited for Span-Werth-Harper-Zimmerman-LaRoche. I’m excited to see if Ian Desmond can reprise his “Daddy Mode” strength and poise. I’m excited to see if that bullpen is really as stacked as it looked on paper. I’m just plain excited.