By Trevor Utley
2013 wasn't supposed to go the way it did for the Washington Nationals. After a Major League best 98 wins in 2012, the Nats regressed to just 86 victories in 2013 leaving them a full ten games behind the division champion Braves. What went wrong? Their top three starters (Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez) all made at least 30 starts. Five of their nine regulars (Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth) hit 20 home runs even with the last two missing significant time. Rafael Soriano stayed reasonably healthy and racked up 43 saves. So what the hell happened? Washington could not beat their peers. Against the three National League division winners, they went a putrid 7-24. That isn't to say they were any better against everybody else until the end of the July. Their record for the first four months was 52-56. Matt Williams takes over for the legendary Davey Johnson to try to be better earlier. To do so they have made several significant moves in the offseason. First, they acquired Doug Fister from the Tigers for a pu pu platter of prospects. Fister went 14-9 for the AL Central champions in 2013 and the move to the NL can only help the talented right hander. After losing Werth and Harper for a combined 77 games a year ago, they signed utility outfielder Nate McLouth from Baltimore. The 32 year old McLouth had a return to form after three disappointing seasons with 12 home runs and 30 stolen bases for the O's. He can play all three outfield positions and gives the Nationals much needed depth that they lacked last year. The third move was a bit more under the radar in lefty reliever Jerry Blevins. The southpaw went 5-0 in 67 appearances for the A's in 2013 and will be the primary left handed set up man opposite the Drew Storen/Tyler Clippard pairing from the right side. If the Nationals can stay healthy, they will be the class of the division. Even if they get a bit dinged they've done enough through Major League transactions (see above) and stockpiling quality young hitters (Anthony Rendon, Michael Taylor) and pitchers (A.J. Cole, Taylor Jordan, Matt Purke) to keep themselves buoyed at the top of the NL East podium.
PREDICTED RECORD: 93-69
PREDICTED ALL-STAR REPS: Bryce Harper, outfielder; Ian Desmond, shortstop; Stephen Strasburg, starting pitcher; Doug Fister, starting pitcher; Rafael Soriano, relief pitcher
Image Credit: Nationals logo (sportslogos.net)