The Washington Nationals were one of the favorites to win the World Series in 2013, but they were never seriously in the running for a playoff spot. It was kind of an after thought, but the Nationals closed 2013 strong and they ended up finishing just 4 games back of the Wild Card. Perhaps the Nationals can live up to the their potential this season and with the Braves starting rotation injuries, this squad has a pretty direct path to the NL East crown.
1B: Adam LaRoche
2B: Anthony Rendon
3B: Ryan Zimmerman
SS: Ian Desmond
The one weakness of this Washington team has to be in the middle of their batting order where Adam LaRoche will bat 5th. LaRoche is a serviceable veteran, but not the kind of bat a title contending team would like in the middle of their order. LaRoche is in the back nine of his career and his best days are behind him. Last season Adam hit .237 with 20 HR and 62 RBI in 152 games. These numbers were a considerable dip from his 2012 production and I have a hard time seeing him getting back to those 2012 kind of statistics.
Rendon is a very intriguing prospect at the second base position and he will likely slot into the 8th spot in the batting order. Rendon played in 98 games in his rookie season with the Nats and he hit .265 with 7 HR and 35 RBI. Rendon had a decent BB to SO rate for a young batter and if he can increase his on base percentage he has a chance to move up in this batting order.
Ryan Zimmerman was able to play 147 games last season and it will be interesting to see if his shoulder holds up through the 2014 season. Zimmerman will probably bat third in the lineup which gives him solid fantasy value if the guys in front of him get on base consistently. Zimmerman saw a very slight decrease in his batting numbers from 2012 to 2013, but nothing to get concerned about. Ryan will likely have another season where he hits around .275 with 20+ HR and 85+ RBI.
The shortstop Ian Desmond isn't a guy you hear much about, but he is having an excellent career with the Washington organization. Desmond had another solid season in 2013 as he hit .280 with 38 2B, 20 HR, 80 RBI, and 21 SB. Desmond is in the prime of his career and if he plays 158 games like he did in 2013 he should continue to put up excellent numbers.
Starting C: Wilson Ramos
Backup C: Jose Lobaton
Ramos is coming off a productive season for the National and he looks to increase his GP and AB for the 2013 season. In 2013 Wilson averaged .272 with 16 HR and 59 RBI in just 287 AB. With increased time behind home plate look for Wilson's statistics to take a jump in 2014.
Jose Lobaton comes over to Washington from the Tampa organization where he played 100 games last season. Lobaton doesn't have the kind of offensive numbers that jump off the page, but he is a solid number 2 guy at the catcher spot.
LF: Bryce Harper
CF: Denard Span
RF: Jayson Werth
At the ripe young age of 21 Bryce Harper will already be entering his third season of pro baseball. Harper hasn't played a full season yet, but as he grows into his adult body he should be more built to withstand a 162 game schedule. Harper is expected to anchor the top part of this batting order and don't be surprised to see his numbers take a jump this season. Last year Bryce hit .274 with 20 HR and 58 RBI and these were right around the numbers he had his first season, but he played in 21 less games in 2013.
Span is likely to bat leadoff and it's a smart move considering his solid career OBP and he is a threat on the base path. Denard played nearly every game in 2013 and that is a good sign considering the shortened time on the field he had with the Twins in the two seasons prior. Last season Span hit .279 with 4 HR and 47 RBI, but the power numbers aren't needed from him in the leadoff spot. The Nats just want this guy to get on base and that is likely to happen frequently with his excellent BB to SO rate.
It is going to be nearly impossible for Werth to duplicate the kind of numbers he had in 2013, but I also don't expect him to have the terrible numbers he saw in his first season with the Nationals. Last season Werth his .318 and this was a great improvement from the .232 he hit back in 2011. Jayson will likely take a slight dip in average this season, but I expect his power numbers to stay relatively the same.
1SP: Stephen Strasburg
2SP: Jordan Zimmermann
3SP: Gio Gonzalez
4SP: Doug Fister
5SP: Ross Detwiler
Strasburg will lead what is the best starting rotation in the NL East and possibly the best starting pitching staff in all of baseball. It was pretty close between this staff and Atlanta, but with Medlen and Beachy out for the season with the Braves, this is hands down the best rotation in the NL East. In his 4th season with the Nats Strasburg went 8-9 with a 3.00 ERA, 191 SO, and a very impressive 1.05 WHIP.
Zimmermann has been an anchor for this staff over the past 2 seasons starting 32 games in 2012 and 2013, and he has had a 3.25 ERA or below in each of his past 3 seasons. Zimmermann is just 27 years old and he should have many more years of solid ball in front of him. Last season Jordan went 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA, 161 SO, and a 1.09 WHIP. Despite having slightly worse numbers than Strasburg, Zimmermann won 11 more decisions.
Gio Gonzalez is another Nats pitcher in the prime of his career and there is no reason to think he will deviate from the All-Star caliber numbers he has had over each of the past 4 seasons. Gio has pitched right around 200 inning in 4 straight seasons and that kind of durability is tough to come by in this day and age of baseball. Last season Gonzalez went 11-8 with a 3.36 ERA, 192 SO, and a 1.25 WHIP.
The big acquisition for the Nationals during the offseason was picking up Doug Fister to bolster the back end of this rotation. Last season in the AL Doug went 14-9 with a 3.53 ERA, 159 SO, and a 1.31 WHIP. All of these numbers are likely to improve in the more pitcher friendly NL, but Fister is going to have to bat and he has to cut down on his WHIP if he is going to continue to be a top level pitcher.
Ross Detwiler is likely to start the season at the 5th spot in the rotation, but if he continues to struggle he will likely get demoted in favor of a guys like Taylor Jordan, Tanner Roark, or Chris Young. In 13 starts last season Detwiller went 2-7 with a 4.04 ERA, 39 SO, and a 1.49 WHIP.
1RP: Tyler Clippard
2RP: Drew Storen
3RP: Jerry Blevins
4RP: Ryan Mattheus
5RP: Craig Stammen
6RP: Ross Ohlendorf
There is a lack of left handed pitching in the bullpen with Blevins being the only left hander, but even he was better against right handers. Tyler Clippard is an absolute stud and a guy like Storen has the potential to be a shut down late inning guy.
Closer: Rafael Soriano
Soriano was brought in at for a bring price tag last season and it will be tough for him to completely live up to the 28 million over 2 seasons with the Nationals. Last season with Washington Soriano had a 3.11 ERA with 51 SO and a 1.23 WHIP. More importantly he saved 43 of 49 attempted saves and I'm sure the Nationals would be happy with these kind of numbers in 2014.
The path to the NL East title got a lot easier with the Braves injury struggles, but it's not like Atlanta will just hand over the division crown. Washington has a ton of strengths starting with their starting and relief pitching, and they should have enough offense to win a ton of games. The only weaknesses I can see are with a lack of left handed pitching in the bullpen and power bats in the middle of the lineup.