Last year had to be a letdown for the Washington Nationals after failing to make the playoffs one year removed from when they won the NL East crown in 2012. After that season they looked like they were on an upward trajectory.
The Nationals did surge toward the end of the season last year, though, finishing the season with a more than respectable 86 wins. The hope here is it all comes back together again under the leadership of new manager Matt Williams. The Nationals are clearly not short on talent and have all the pieces to make a run toward claiming their second NL East title in three years.
Let’s look at five questions surrounding the Nationals from a fantasy perspective.
1. Is Bryce Harper more hype than substance? Although Harper has been a strong fantasy factor in his two years in the league (44 home runs, 117 RBI’s and 29 stolen bases), it’s hard to argue that he’s been more hype than substance thus far.
Harper has been going in the first round in many drafts, but is he worth it?
Sooner or later, Harper should fully deliver on his immense talent. This could be the year it all comes together. Seriously, have you seen how big he is now? If it wasn’t for a collision into a Dodger Stadium wall late last season, well maybe Harper would have finished the year in style.
Harper looks healthy, strong and primed to bust through to fantasy greatness.
2. Is this the year Stephen Strasburg puts it all together? After recovering form Tommy John surgery in 2011, Strasburg has still yet to top 200 innings, although he came close last year, completing 183. By any measure, striking out 191 batters and compiling a 3.00 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP is a fantastic season.
However, we’ve been sold a bag of goods on how special Strasburg was to be and we all want more. This may be the year that Strasburg fully explodes.
He has been healthy and been pitching lights out this spring, allowing just four runs in 20 1/3 innings while striking out 16 batters.
There should be no hesitation in making him your ace.
3. Who’s the fifth starter? With Dough Fister on the DL with a lat strain, the Nationals had to keep both Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan in the rotation. Both of them will now get extended auditions in the regular season, but once Fister comes back, who will be the odd man out?
At the moment, it appears Roark has the upper hand in the competition, as he has had the better spring. Also, Roark was very successful to end last season. He compiled a 1.51 ERA in 53 2/3 innings, although much of that was in relief. He excelled in five September starts, though, going 3-1 with a 1.74 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP.
Taylor Jordan could also play a factor, but Roark possesses more upside and is the pitcher you should want in the long run.
4. What can Anthony Rendon offer your team? At the moment, the Nationals have yet to state who will start at second base between Rendon and Danny Espinosa, but coach Matt Williams is ‘leaning’ toward Rendon.
If the battle for second base took that long for Rendon to beat out Espinosa—who couldn’t get out his own way last year—maybe Rendon is not as good as he was once built up to be.
Rendon hit .265 with seven home runs and 35 RBI’s in 351 at bats in his rookie season last year. If you extrapolate those numbers to a full season and more room for growth, Rendon could tap out to be a 15-20 HR, 70 RBI type of player.
There will be some hiccups along the way, but Rendon is at least worth a roster spot.
5. Can we rely on Rafael Soriano to hold down the closer job all season?
Ever since replacing Mariano Rivera when he was out for the majority of the 2012 season for the Yankees, Soriano has been quite the revelation. He has now had back-to-back 40+ save seasons. Not to mention, he had a career high 45 saves with Tampa Bay in 2010.
However, with the Nationals also having dependable late-inning arms in Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen waiting in the wings, the leash Soriano will be on will be quite a short one. With six blown saves last year as well as a pedestrian K/9 rate (6.9), Soriano will have to pitch lights out to keep the job.
He has also not pitched well this spring giving credence to his shaky job status. Buyer beware with Soriano.
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