When discussing the Nationals, the topic will always begin and end with pitching.
The Nationals could make a move towards the top of the NL East standings if their improved pitching staff is the real deal. The Nationals are no slouch when it comes to hitting either with a lineup that includes Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and last yearâ€™s breakout star Michael Morse leading the way.
If it all comes together for the Nationals, it could be a banner year in the nationâ€™s capital. With that said letâ€™s dig deep and assess the five most pressing questions facing the Washington Nationals.
5. Will Stephen Strasburg live up to the hype this year?
After returning from Tommy John surgery last September, starting five games and posting a 1.50 ERA while striking out 24 batters in 24 innings, Strasburg looks determined to make the next step this year.
Fantasy owners highly covet Strasburg and for good reason: heâ€™s an elite pitcher in the making. Strasburg is blessed with a blazing fastball and off-the-chart breaking balls that maliciously fools hitters.
As long as the Nationals limit his innings to keep him fresh, Strasburg should be drafted after the first 10-15Â pitchers are picked and should be a mainstay in fantasy for years to come.
4. What can Mike Morse do for an encore?
Morse powered his way onto the scene last year bopping 31 home runs while also hitting a commendable .303.
So, can Morse keep it up?
Well, yes and no.
Morse will still slug a lot of home runs for sure, but his batting average should regress considering his propensity for striking out. Morse should come close to last yearâ€™s power numbers but a dip in batting average is conceivable.
The only concern now is if his lat strain will hamper him in the early portion of the season. As it is, Morse will likely begin the season on the DL.
3. Should we worry about Drew Storenâ€™s health?
After breaking out with a fantastic sophomore campaign in 2011, Storen came through on his promise as an electrifying closer. Storen apparently has it all going for him while getting the chance to close games behind a fantastic starting rotation.
However, a funny thing happened on the way to the 2012 season: Storen got sidetracked with an elbow injury. The injury has already landed Storen on the DL and he has many fantasy owners on edge.
Elbow issues are always cause for concern, but Storen looks like he may miss only the minimum requirement of days on the DL. Regardless, Storen is worthy of being one of the first 12 closers selected on Draft Day. The reward is much bigger than the risk in this case.
2. Is Wilson Ramos an emerging option at catcher?
With the dearth of options at catcher, Ramos has the chance to ascend up the backstop ranks. Ramos is coming off an impressive second half in 2011 in which he hit .358 in the month of September.
With Ramos poised to be the Nationalsâ€™ full-time catcher (no longer having to split time with Ivan Rodriguez), Ramos should be drafted with confidence. Hitting over 20 home runs should come easy for Ramos, considering he hit 15 in 389 at-bats last year.
1. Can the additions of Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson make the Nationals contenders in the NL East?
The Nationals made headlines this offseason by being aggressive on the market while signing Jackson and pulling off a big trade to acquire the services of Gonzalez. Add those two arms with Strasburg and the emerging Jordan Zimmerman and all of a sudden the Nationals have a staff that can compete with anybody.
Gonzalez is legit and he should have no trouble transitioning from the AL to the NL. However, many are not sold on Jackson and itâ€™s natural to be skeptical about him. After all, Jackson does not possess a great strikeout rate and is far too hittable on most occasions.
The addition of Gonzalez should be enough though. At this point, anything Jackson gives the Nationals is gravy. As long as Strasburg lives up to his end of the bargain and Zimmerman makes the natural progression in his game, this staff is quite capable of getting the Nationals to the playoffs.
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