Please welcome back guest contributor Bryan Frantz to Mr. Irrelevant. Here he is on your 2014 Washington Nationals.
It says a lot about the Nats’ expectations that an 86-win 2013 season was considered a bitter disappointment. Going into this season, the song remains the same: They’re projected to go to the playoffs, Bryce Harper is an MVP candidate and the starting rotation is spoiled with Cy Young candidates.
The optimism is slightly different in 2014, though: bottom-of-the-roster holes have been filled, a new manager takes over the talented team and the glaring injury problems seem to be resolved (knock on wood).
Without further ado, here are three reasons the Nats are poised to win at least 90 games this season. Tomorrow, we’ll list why they won’t.
1. New Additions
One of the biggest problems last season was bench support. GM Mike Rizzo addressed that by adding outfielder Nate McLouth and catcher Jose Lobaton, both of whom provide depth at positions where the team had significant injury problems. McLouth will back up Harper and Jayson Werth, who missed a combined 77 games. Lobaton, a switch-hitter acquired from the Rays, will back up Wilson Ramos, who has only played in 80 or more games once in four seasons.
The most significant addition comes in the form of Doug Fister. Fister, acquired in an early winter deal with the Tigers, takes over the No. 4 spot, left vacant by the departure of the wildly inconsistent Dan Haren.
Fister brings playoff experience and reliability, as well as consistency. Last season, he finished with a 3.67 ERA and, in 32 starts, lasted at least six innings 27 times. Conversely, Haren finished last season with a 4.67 ERA and pitched six or more innings just 18 times.
Fister would be a No. 2 on most teams and has the potential to make the Nationals’ rotation the best in the MLB. He does start the season on the DL, though.
2. Pitching Changes
Rizzo and new manager Matt Williams have made a few other changes to the pitching staff, moving Ross Detwiler to the bullpen and adding lefty reliever Jerry Blevins. The Detwiler move leaves the No. 5 spot available, and righties Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan are the frontrunners. The Blevins move gives the bullpen its only left-hander other than Detwiler.
Roark, 27, made his major league debut last year and put up a 7-1 record with a 1.51 ERA. Jordan, 25, also made his debut last season, going 1-3 with a 3.66 ERA. Both have looked solid this spring and could provide an upgrade to the back of the rotation, which was unreliable last season.
Blevins has been solid for Oakland the past two seasons, and he’s been sharp this spring. He should help upgrade a bullpen that was inconsistent last season after a strong 2012.
3. Improving Young Core
Strasburg, 25, and Harper, 21, are the present and the future of the Nats. Despite notable improvement last year, they still suffered hiccups.
Strasburg’s win-loss record was unimpressive, though that can be attributed to a lack of run support. Harper was on an absolute tear until he literally hit a wall, then his season fell back to normal human level.
Spring has brought Nats fans a Strasburg slider and bulkier Harper, showing the work they put in during their longer-than-expected offseasons. All indications are they’ll be better than ever in 2014.