Body’s Baseball Preview: The Washington Nationals

The fine folks here at Heading For The Exits were gracious enough to host my team-by-team baseball previews. Look for a new one every day from March 1st through March 30th. Last but not least, it’s the NL East. The final team we’ll cover is the only thing that anyone in D.C. can agree on.

Dear god, the eyes.
Cy Young Candidate / Fire-Fearing Bridge Guardian Stephen Strasburg Does His Thing

You remember that movie The New Guy, where the gawky, miserable teenager transfers schools after being expelled and serving time in prison and immediately attains rock star status amongst his classmates through a series of both planned and unplanned events? It has nothing to do with the Nats, I was just reminiscing about how fucking terrible that movie was.

For the Nationals, life atop the NL East appears to be the status quo. With two legitimate staff aces and Cy Young candidates heading the rotation, a deep, clutch bullpen (yes, yes, Drew Storen NLDS rage anger threaten his family with bandsaws), and top talent at just about every position on the field, only the Nats themselves can ruin their claim to the division. Last season ended on a sour note in the playoffs, but even reaching that stage was something of an accomplishment after finishing at or below .500 every year in their brief history. Considering they won 18 more games than 2011, 29 more than 2010 and 39 more than 2009, well, that steady amount of growth means something is going right. With the core of the team young and improving, D.C. could host a World Series game for the first time in 80 years.

How’d The Offseason Go?

Not much changed here. Rafael Soriano came in to close after keeping Mariano Rivera’s seat warm in New York. Dan Haren has also signed on, though this is much less newsworthy than it would have been in 2011. Edwin Jackson chases his fortunes with yet another team after a decent year for the Nats, and Chien-Ming Wang will join the Yankees’ minor league system with one last shot at making a Major League rotation. Tom Gorzelanny and John Lannan have also departed, bringing the comedic value of this team’s pitching staff down to a record low.

Tradewise? Mike Morse goes to the Baseball Seahawks Mariners in a 3-way trade for 3 prospects from the A’s and Denard Span comes from the Twins in exchange for pitching prospect Alex Meyer. Can’t hurt, I reckon.

The Nationals Will Make The Playoffs If

*checks other National League rosters* Yeah, they’re all set.

The Nationals Will Miss the Playoffs If

I dunno. I guess there’s a chance World War 3 will start by October.

How The Season Will Go

How’s The Farm?

Considering this team is pretty much locked in both on the hitting and pitching sides, there aren’t many notables out there. Top prospect Anthony Rendon isn’t moving up to 3rd while Ryan Zimmerman is in town, and the outfield is stocked, preventing the likes of Eury Perez or Destin Hood from moving forward. Short of Christian Garcia, who is currently on the DL, don’t expect to see any new faces stick around the pitching staff this year.

Looking for more? Umm… Lenny Dykstra’s kid is currently in the organization. So that’s neat, huh? His name’s Cutter, and he’s more well-known for impregnating HBO Series stars than playing baseball.

Your Brief Fantasy Preview

This team is not hurting for talent. Going around the horn, only Danny Espinosa stands out as a poor investment at his position. Ian Desmond is a top shortstop option, a 20-20 candidate with decent counting stats. The only risk is batting average given his propensity for strikeouts and a low walk rate, and his power might regress to home runs in the low teens if he returns to a 50%+ groundball rate. I would definitely draft Ryan Zimmerman with confidence, and Adam LaRoche strikes me as a value option at 1B. He’s being drafted outside of the top 20 on average there, behind even a battered David Ortiz.

In outfield, Bryce Harper is being hyped as an MVP candidate. I don’t see it myself as I can’t ignore his 2 month long slump last summer, and he still has a ways to go for figuring out lefties, but a finish inside the top 10 at outfield is still possible and nothing to sneeze at. Denard Span should finally take the next step as a fantasy option with a very strong line-up batting behind him. Target him for a solid average, 80-90 runs, and 20+ steal upside. Based on this spring, Jayson Werth could deliver at a discount… he’s currently going outside the top 50 for outfielders due to the recovery from his wrist surgery.

For pitching, you can’t go wrong with any of the top 3 options of Strasburg, Gonzalez, and Zimmerman. All three should deliver at least equal value at their respective draft positions, especially with Strasburg not looking at an innings limit this year. On the other hand, Dan Haren’s underlying stats couldn’t say “stay away” any clearer if they were waving red flags while standing underneath a piano hanging from dental floss. I’d rather let him go undrafted than spend a pick to find out if he’s actually done. Ross Detwiler, the fifth starter, might actually be worth owning. You can’t start him against everyone, but he is very risk-averse and won’t kill you on your ratios.

For relievers, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard would have been the options for closing had Rafael Soriano not parlayed his excellent 2012 season into a free agent contract. He has been absolutely abysmal this spring, and considering both Storen and Clippard are proven in the late innings (yes, yes, Storen NLDS rabble flabble four runs razzum frazzum), don’t be surprised if Soriano gets yanked should he stumble. For what it’s worth, my money is on Storen closing by the end of the year with Clippard being the most valuable reliever overall.

Projected Finish in the NL East?

1st. Their days of being the NL East’s pinata continue to fade away into the distance.

Oddly Apropos Futurama Quote

“Does anybody else feel jealous and aroused and worried?”

Body By Bacardi has been making bad sports jokes on Twitter since 2010 and on Deadspin since 2011. If you’re not tired of reading things he’s written, you can follow him on Twitter at @wineaccguy.

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