Washington Nationals 2013 Season Preview

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*This article is contributed by Joe Falchetti, a writer for Intense Gambling. So check them out and get your gamble on.*

With spring training just a few weeks away, we’ll take a look at the Nationals’ off-season acquisitions and preview their opening day roster as they began another quest for a World Series Championship.

The Rotation

The Nationals projected starting rotation for 2013 is made up of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, Ross Detwiler and Dan Haren.

Baseball fans would be hard pressed to find a better one-two punch than Strasburg and Gonzalez atop of a starting rotation.  Strasburg looks to dominate again, and should be in for a season without the dreaded innings limit he endured last season.  Gio Gonzalez was just about as impressive last season, posting a 21-8 record, 207 strikeouts and a 2.89 ERA in 2012.  However, during the offseason he has been linked to a Miami health clinic suspected of supplying players with performance enhancing drugs.  While it still seems unlikely Gonzalez may face a suspension, the Nats should have alternatives ready if the MLB decides to take action.

Jordan Zimmerman anchors the third spot in the rotation and is coming off a 12-8 season in which he posted a 2.94 ERA.  The team hopes to avoid arbitration with the right-hander and is open to a multi-year extension.  Ross Detwiler avoided arbitration and came to terms with the Nationals on a $2.3 million deal for the 2013 season.  Improving tremendously in the 2nd half and improving his control, he finished the season with a 10-8 record and an ERA of 3.40.

Finally, the Nationals signed Dan Haren to a $13 million contract in the offseason.  Haren has been durable over his career, throwing for over 200 innings every season except last year, a season in which he was marred by back and hip injuries.  Haren is a terrific addition to the rotation and is likely the league’s best fifth starter.

The Bullpen

Rafael Soriano will take over as the team’s closer after becoming the highest paid reliever in the game when he signed a two year deal with the Nationals for $28 million.  He converted on 42 of 46 save opportunities for the Yankees last season.

The move bumps Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard into setup duties.  Despite Storen’s postseason collapse against St. Louis – he  had a productive year – especially considering he was coming off elbow surgery.  In 30 1/3 innings, he finished the season with a 2.37 ERA and a 0.989 WHIP.  Clippard pitched above expectations last season, as well.  Notching 32 saves and finishing with a 3.72 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 77 2/3 innings.  He has proven he can excel as a setup man and closer and is a valuable commodity for the Nationals.

Position Players

The Nationals projected starting lineup: 1B Laroche, 2B Espinosa, SS Desmond, 3B Zimmerman, LF Harper, CF Span, RF Werth and C Suzuki.

The big offseason acquisition for Washington was no doubt Denard Span.  The Nats sent minor leaguer Alex Meyer to the Minnesota Twins for Span.  Span immediately becomes the Nationals best leadoff hitter and best outfield defender.  He’s a solid bet for .280 average and an on-base percentage of around .330.  He set a career high in on-base percentage last season with .342.

At only 28 years old, Span likely has a few great years still ahead of him.  Though he rarely hits for double digit home runs, his speed and excellent gap power make him a threat on the base paths.

The rest of the outfield hopes to make strides in their game, as well.  With the addition of Span,  Bryce Harper will likely move to left field with Jayson Werth moving to right.  Harper had trouble hitting breaking balls late in the season as pitchers adjusted to him, but he still finished with a respected .270/.340/.477 line.  He hit 22 homers and snagged 18 stolen bases.

Despite battling injuries, Werth put a respectable season.  In 300 at bats, he hit .300 and finished with a .387 on-base percentage.

Adam LaRoche was resigned after having a career year with the Nationals last season to a two year $24 million deal with a mutual option for 2015.  One of the best defensive first baseman, LaRoche seems like an underdog to repeat his 100 RBI and 33 homer 2012 season, but even a small drop off would amount to another great season from LaRoche.

Danny Espinosa played the end of last season with a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder.  Since his is right handed his throwing arm was not affected, but an injury like this can do a lot to a player’s swing.  He led the league strikeouts last season but still produced a solid line hitting for .247/.315/402 in 2012.  He opted not to have surgery in the offseason and decided to let his muscles heal.  An excellent defender and solid bat for a second baseman, the Nationals would be wise to keep an eye on his injury progress in spring training and early parts of the season.

Lastly, Ryan Zimmerman who was hampered with injuries in April got off to a rough start at the dish, just hitting .232 through mid-May.  However, his season quickly turned around.  Zimmerman finished with a .293 average, 25 home runs and a .824 OPS.  As consistent as any player in the league, Zimmerman is in the prime of his career and is fully healthy heading into 2013.

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