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Sizing up the National League

Jan 2, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT

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ESPN’s Buster Olney ranked his top 10 teams in MLB the other day, a list that included the Nationals. Olney had the Nats eighth, but if you break it down to only NL clubs, they’re fourth.

The NL teams ahead of the Nationals? The Dodgers (second overall), Cardinals (third) and Braves (seventh).

That seems fair. L.A. and St. Louis are the reigning NLCS participants, and each has either kept the vast majority of its 2013 roster intact or has bolstered in areas of need. (The Dodgers re-signed J.P. Howell and Brian Wilson and added Chris Perez to a very deep bullpen, while the Cardinals upgraded at shortstop with Jhonny Peralta and offset the loss of Carlos Beltran by trading for center fielder extraordinaire Peter Bourjos.)

The Braves have suffered more losses (Brian McCann, Tim Hudson, Paul Maholm) and so far have added only Gavin Floyd and Ryan Doumit. But Atlanta still boasts a deep and dangerous lineup, a deep rotation (albeit one without a true ace) and probably baseball’s best bullpen. Besides, they’re still the division champs until knocked off their perch, so they deserve to sit very slightly ahead of the Nationals at this juncture.

What should be obvious, though, is that the National League as a whole remains tough, and the Nats will face stiff competition throughout 2014, from all three divisions. In addition to those three reigning division champs, there are also the Reds and Pirates in the Central and an improved Diamondbacks club out West.

Throw in a Mets club that is getting better, a Rockies club that has made some aggressive moves this winter and a Giants team that has to believe last year’s disaster was a mirage, and you’re looking at no fewer than 10 teams believing they’ve at least got a shot at making the postseason in 2014.

What does that mean for the Nationals? Well, they have every reason to think they’re as good as anybody else in the league. They return just about everybody of consequence from last season, they’ve made a couple of key moves to bolster areas of need and they’ll enter 2014 with a bit of a chip on their shoulders after their disappointing 2013.

But the road back to October baseball won’t be easy. The Braves are a formidable hurdle in the NL East, and there are no shortage of candidates to fill the two Wild Card berths.

The Nationals can’t afford another slow start and can’t wait until midsummer to turn on the jets. That didn’t work last year, and it surely won’t work this year.

  1. David Proctor - Jan 2, 2014 at 6:14 AM

    I don’t particularly care how we do in the first series of the year against the Mets because they’re not contenders. I want us to win of course, but I won’t panic if we don’t. What I’m more interested in is the home opener against the Braves. We’ve got to win that series. All that talk about the beanball war the other day, none of that matters if you can’t beat them on the field. Win that series at a minimum–ideally sweep them–and let them know that last year was a fluke.

    I think it would be brutal for team morale to lose that series to the Braves.

    • sjm308 - Jan 2, 2014 at 2:06 PM

      Key to a good baseball team is to not let things get too high or too low. Doubt if team morale will be affected much by an early series, expecially if our new manager is as good as I hope he is.

      • therealjohnc - Jan 2, 2014 at 6:53 PM

        Yeah, fans are much more subject to swings of emotion based on a single series than any baseball team is – which is as it should be.

  2. JayB - Jan 2, 2014 at 6:57 AM

    “The Nationals can’t afford another slow start and can’t wait until midsummer to turn on the jets. That didn’t work last year, and it surely won’t work this year.”

    Really….wonder how this fact was not true last year last year?

    What should be painfully clear to Rizzo and Nats (Davey if he ever really wants to reflect on his performance as manager of Nats) is that the collective Baseball Industry was correct in 2012. Nats can not take future winning as a given. Nats do need to go all in when you have a change to win.

    The way 2012 was handled by GM and Manager set us back…..way way back….Playing Danny, refusing to remove Storen when it was clear he was rattled….that did nothing to prepare team for future winning….all it did was remove what looks like the best change they had for winning it all in this 5 year window (down to 3 now).

    • naterialguy - Jan 2, 2014 at 4:04 PM

      Oops you got some on your leg

    • therealjohnc - Jan 2, 2014 at 6:54 PM

      Oh, I deeply wish this blog had an “ignore user” function.

  3. Doc - Jan 2, 2014 at 8:36 AM

    Nats need to borrow some batting skills from the Cards–the best team in either league at making adaptations to pitching.

    Davey’s ‘slow learners’ need to step it up!!

    The talent is there on paper, but it needs to be on the field.

    Should be able to push the Braves around, like they did to us last season.

    Goooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo Naaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaats!!!!

  4. Faraz Shaikh - Jan 2, 2014 at 8:54 AM

    I have some doubts about Tigers being #1, when they have lost Fielder and Fister and added Kinsler and Joe Nathan. Besides off-season is far from over.

  5. NatsLady - Jan 2, 2014 at 9:06 AM

    It wasn’t so much that the Nats had a slow start (they were within 1/2 game of the Barves in May, despite the Barves hot start), it was that period of July 8 to Aug 7, when everyone, except Harper, was (presumably) healthy and we had a reasonable though not pancake schedule–and did NOT take advantage. In that period the Nats went 8-18, from 46-42 to 54-60. Five losses to PHI and MIA (terrible teams!), swept by LAD, three losses to PIT, swept by ATL.

    Let’s just see what happens if the Nats go .500 in that period, and are 13-13. That’s 91 wins right there. Gear up for the final Aug-Sept run, don’t concede to the Cards (swept in Sept) and get that last game in ARZ, that’s 93 wins.

    So please don’t tell me if they lose a couple of series in early April that’s the end of the season. It isn’t and it shouldn’t be. It’s up to the vets, the manager (and the trainers) to keep the team going through adversity.

    • Joe Seamhead - Jan 2, 2014 at 9:59 AM

      Great post, NL.
      +1

    • MicheleS - Jan 2, 2014 at 11:34 AM

      What She Said! +1

    • rogieshan - Jan 2, 2014 at 1:14 PM

      Losing early last season might not affected the team as much if Davey Johnson hadn’t made his bold “World Series or bust” prediction. The tone was set and the players carried about thinking they could switch up the dial later on. Truth is, there was more than one stretch of ‘winnable’ games that the team failed to take advantage of. It was inconsistent, uninspired baseball from April to August. Holes were exposed. The 18-9 run in September ultimately flattered the team in the end.

      • NatsLady - Jan 2, 2014 at 4:03 PM

        I think that is incredibly overblown–by the fans, not the players. A half-dozen football coaches said “Playoffs or bust” and one said the season is meaningless unless his team gets to the Super Bowl. I’m a big blamer of Davey for stuff, but not for that. I don’t think the problem started in Spring Training, not with “WS or bust” or with NASCAR. The team won 98 games in 2012 and was within one out of the NLCS–why shouldn’t Davey expect to go to the WS? It wasn’t an unreasonable expectation, and it wasn’t unreasonable to say so. As for Spring Training, Davey didn’t run it any differently in 2013 than he ran it in 2012, except that it was longer in duration than the WBC. The team went into the season healthy and swept the first series (Marlins).

        I don’t know exactly what happened mid-summer, but April was going along just fine until Harper, Werth and Ramos went down. That’s THREE big pieces of your line-up, pieces you were counting on. Their replacements (bench) were horrible, you had Henry, Duke, Storen, Espinosa, Suzuki, and LaRoche underperforming (along with Span, offensively and RZimm defensively), and the team still kept above .500.

        To me, Davey just seemed to run out of steam dealing with problem after problem, his creativity and energy ran out, long about July, when he had expected to be 15 games above .500 and leading the Division.

        This is just a guess, really a guess, but I have a suspicion that after that sweep by ATL, Werth said, the hell with this, the hell with Davey, and took the team on his back. By that time, RZimm and Ramos were healthy, Span’s offense woke up, etc., etc.

    • trom1 - Jan 2, 2014 at 1:52 PM

      It sure felt to me like they were still in the wildcard hunt and still capable of catching the Braves until the week before the ASG. Then by the trade deadline it was obvious even the playoffs were out of reach.

      • NatsLady - Jan 2, 2014 at 4:22 PM

        Agree–even with the last great run, it was a long shot.

        Just as you say, the key period to me is just before and after the ASB. The Divison (or even WC) was achievable. The team was relatively healthy, the egregious non-performers (Henry, Espinosa, Duke) were gone, and it was time! And it didn’t happen.

    • sjm308 - Jan 2, 2014 at 2:08 PM

      NL – don’t try and confuse JayB with facts. He is in true eeyore mode right now and every chance he can get to discuss the negatives of last year, believe me, he will.

      • NatsLady - Jan 2, 2014 at 4:05 PM

        “longer in duration DUE to the WBC” EDIT FUNCTION.

    • naterialguy - Jan 2, 2014 at 4:07 PM

      Wow. that’s enlightening and frightening

  6. Section 222 - Jan 2, 2014 at 10:35 AM

    Absolutely right NL. Back in September, I posted an analysis of the Nats’ performance in 18-game sets. Playing just two games over .500 in each of the nine sets gets you to a 90 win season. Two games under — you’re an also ran at 72 wins. The Nats played decently in all but two sets last year. The worst (6-12) was part of the stretch NL described, right before and after the All Star break. But we also went 7-11 in a stretch that included the home series against the Cubs (remember the Strasburg meltdown?), the disastrous West Coast swing where Harper ran into the wall and Espi had 2 hits and 14 Ks in 32 PAs, and the disappointing home and home series against the O’s. Those two stretches were where the season was lost. By the end of July, we were toast, and the sweep by the Braves just underlined that fact.

    To win the division you either have to put together a miraculous streak like the Dodgers did last year, or play consistent baseball — 10-8 (.555) or better in each 18 game set. So no, the first series against the Mets isn’t crucial, nor is the Braves series. But let’s win 10 of the first 18 or even 11. That will get the season off on the right foot, and can easily be done. For example:

    Mets — 2-0
    Braves — 3-3
    Marlins — 4-2
    Cards — 2-2

    Win another game against the Marlins and another against the Braves or the Cards and we’re off to a very good 13-5 (.722) start. The key, obviously, is beating up against the bad teams in your own division. Let’s start doing that right off the bat.

    • ArVAFan - Jan 2, 2014 at 10:48 AM

      I like what you’re thinking, but you might have missed the Mets home opener on March 31. So that actually makes your “Opening 18″ schedule slightly easier.

      • Section 222 - Jan 2, 2014 at 11:00 AM

        Holy cow! You’re absolutely right. You just made my day, not just because getting to 11-7 will be easier, but because the season starts a day earlier than I was thinking!

    • naterialguy - Jan 2, 2014 at 4:10 PM

      really if you think about it it’s not about wins and losses

    • NatsLady - Jan 2, 2014 at 4:15 PM

      On June 21 , the Dodgers were toast. They were in last place in their Division and had a record of 30-42 TWELVE games under .500 and Don Mattingly was within a week of getting fired.

      On June 21 the Nats were 33-32 and 5.5 games out of the Division lead. NO WAY were the Nats toast at that point. The basic problems had been more or less solved, and yet the team didn’t start its run until mid-August–LONG after Espinosa, Henry, and Zach Duke were gone…

      • Section 222 - Jan 2, 2014 at 5:20 PM

        Where does this June 21 date came from? If you were replying to me, I agree that Nats were not toast on June 21. I said they were basically toast at the end of July, after the Dodgers and Pirates series you highlighted and the Tigers beat Stras and Gio in back to back games. At that point, we were 52-56, 11 games back. I think you agree. I was basically agreeing with your point that the stretch right before and after the ASG was key. There was an earlier key part of the season as I noted, including the bad West Coast road trip and the O’s home and home series, but the death knell was July, for sure.

        I’m sure people will trot out the 2012 Dodgers for years to come as evidence that a team can come back from a ridiculously bad situation in mid-June and do quite well. But you have to admit that their season was a total outlier. It doesn’t prove anything other than Mattingly is very lucky that Puig is a god and having Kershaw, Greinke, and Ryu in your rotation is a really good thing. They also made some significant changes mid-season (Puig, Nolasco), something Rizzo was unwilling to do.

  7. ehay2k - Jan 2, 2014 at 11:32 AM

    The Barves are the team to beat in the NL East this year, at least as far as the Nats are concerned. And I am not convinced the Barves won’t drop down to third this year. What have they fine to improve? They are really putting a lot of stock in Gattis, which given his small sample size, is a huge risk. It will be very interesting to see how the Gattis experiment works out.

    Starting pitching is weaker than it has been in a while, and their bullpen suffered at key times last year from adjustments that teams made. Kimbrell is no longer automatic and his loss of the sense of his own invincibility may impact his pitching. We saw with Storen what can happen when young relievers start to tinker.
    To me, if the Nats take care of the Barves, everything else should fall into place.

    • sjm308 - Jan 2, 2014 at 2:09 PM

      agree

    • therealjohnc - Jan 2, 2014 at 7:17 PM

      The Braves have lost McCann and Hudson, yes. But McCann was only OK last year (.256/.336/.461 – 115 OPS+ which is a bit off of his career best) and Hudson’s ERA+ was actually below league average (97). Not that they couldn’t have improved, but my point is that the level of production that the 98 win team from last year received from these guys can be replaced. It’s unlikely that Uggla or B.J. Upton are allowed to have the horrifically bad seasons they had last year. They will either produce more or be replaced – and even replacement level players would represent improvement over what those guys did in 2013. Their bullpen was really good last year, and will get Ventners and (likely) O’Flaherty back from injury at some point in time this season. There is some room for improvement in Justin Upton (who had two great months and a bunch of mediocre ones) as well.

      I’m not saying the Nats should concede – Chris Johnson and Freddie Freeman are unlikely to be quite as good as they were last year – Johnson on BABIP regression and Freeman on RISP regression. But don’t write off the Braves because they haven’t made moves. The Nats were the second youngest team in the NL last year – average batter’s age of 27.7 years. Only one team was younger … the Braves, 26.8. The Nats were fifth youngest in pitcher age, also at 27.7. The Braves? Third, at 27.2. The Braves may get better just by age-related improvement of players like Freeman, Hayward, Simmons, Teheran, etc.

  8. micksback1 - Jan 2, 2014 at 11:34 AM

    Its great to be back Coach! I thank you all for the nice welcome. I missed you all as well. I still followed all the posts. Finally figured out how to get back, only took 4 months.

    • sjm308 - Jan 2, 2014 at 1:20 PM

      thanks Mick – lets make sure we take lots of deep breaths when the season starts!!

  9. micksback1 - Jan 2, 2014 at 11:44 AM

    my final take on 2013 season, Nats made it exciting, took it all the way to the 158 game, finished 10 over 500 is not bad at all.

    I am excited about Fister and McLouth. Hope Harriston and McL can be platooned in outfield which would keep the outfield fresh. still would like 1 more lefty in bp, hope Det can stay healthy and I like Williams as our skipper!

    health will be the deciding factor on whether team can will 90 plus

  10. natsguy - Jan 2, 2014 at 12:02 PM

    David Proctor,

    The Nats need to play with a sense of urgency early this year. Focus on winning every series not necessarily every game. Last year they kept playing like some miracle was going to happen when that very rarely does. Miracles happen to those who play well enough to deserve them.

  11. mjhoya - Jan 2, 2014 at 12:19 PM

    Just to add, I usually break the season down like this: At home I want to win each series, and away I want to at least go .500 on the road trip, especially if they include a west coast leg.

  12. texnat1 - Jan 2, 2014 at 12:40 PM

    I remain concerned that the lineup isn’t good enough to win a championship. We talk about slow starts, hot streaks etc, but at the end of the day, this isn’t an elite lineup. And that puts a lot of pressure on the guys, which in turn leads to the long, team-wide droughts.

    Hopefully the other upgrades to the team achieved this offseason will be enough to push them over the top, but I agree with Olney in that it seems likely that the Nats aren’t any better than the fourth best team in the NL. Simply put they can’t hit enough.

    • unkyd59 - Jan 2, 2014 at 1:03 PM

      Tex, whom would you replace, with whom, to make our lineup “elite”?

      • Faraz Shaikh - Jan 2, 2014 at 1:14 PM

        I know you asked Tex but I will trade for Stanton without giving up anyone of value and put him in OF, with werth moving over to 1st and throw ALR to wolves. :P

    • Faraz Shaikh - Jan 2, 2014 at 1:11 PM

      88 wRC+ in 1st half and 105 in 2nd half. that’s an improvement to me.

      • texnat1 - Jan 2, 2014 at 2:37 PM

        You can move either Laroche or Span. Span isn’t a bad player, but I think they lineup needs to get better, and he is easily movable. Laroche is who he is. If you move Laroche you can get a new 2b, 3b, or 1b. Or a new corner outfielder if Werth can make the move.

        I’m not sure who is available and prices are admittedly high. But when you are close you should do what you can to get over the line. I said they weren’t “elite,” but really, last year they weren’t even particularly good. Sure Harper and Rendon and others might improve, but it is just as likely (if not more so) that Werth will regress to his career norms.

        This just isn’t a particularly good offensive team. They are solid, and with some good breaks they can be very good. But that is true of many teams.

        Hopefully pitching and defense and some clutch hitting will carry the day.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Jan 2, 2014 at 9:56 PM

        honestly I think that’s what worked for us in 2012 and I don’t see Rizzo or Williams trying to make any changes to that aspect.

  13. Section 222 - Jan 2, 2014 at 12:44 PM

    Well put natsguy. Unless, as I suggested above, you’re the Dodgers and can go on a 53-13 run, (that’s just sick!), consistently good play throughout the season is the key to winning the division. And that means winning series. In 2012, the Nats were 32-12-8 in their series. In 2013, they were 25-21-5. (Through the Atlanta sweep in early August, which put the nail in the coffin of their playoff chances, they were 12-18-5.) We have the kind of rotation that lends itself to consistent winning and few losing streaks, so hopefully they can get back to 2012 form and win their season series series, so to speak, by a wide margin.

    Disclaimer: I did the 2012 and 2013 calculation quickly, so it might be off by a series or two.

  14. sjm308 - Jan 2, 2014 at 1:31 PM

    I think Natslady nailed it after the first couple of posts discussed the importance of fast starts etc.

    The baseball season is like no other. 162 games in 6 months. We will have highs and lows throughout and I do agree that wins in April are just as important as those in Sept. I am not going to concern myself with wins and losses early as much as I will concern myself with how we are playing. No sloppy throws, no sloppy baserunning, good execution and focus. This is why I kept recoiling in anger with the “don’t worry, we got this” philosophy on here by one of my favorite posters. I never thought we “had it” the way we were playing. I think things will even out this year if we stay aggressive and play intelligent baseball.

    As for the Braves, they still impress me. Just as we are hoping to see LaRoche return to form, they have to be feeling the same way about the Uptons and the Uptons have youth on their side. If they play well that gives them a potent group of offensive power with Freeman and Heywood. I think Gattis is a huge question mark and might be a reason they do not return to the playoffs and I don’t see Uggla helping them one bit. They have a terrific shortstop as well. Their pitching is still just as good as ours and tell me you wouldn’t take Kimbrell over anyone in our bullpen? I realize 10 games is really only 5 more wins for us and 5 more losses for them but it was still 10 games to make up. We start 0-0 this year and I just hope we are in this race the entire year. I have waited 68 years to attend a World Series and as always am hoping this is our year!!

    Go Nats!!

    • Joe Seamhead - Jan 2, 2014 at 6:44 PM

      Come on,308! I was trying to stay positive and there were too many on here that were ready to jump off the Calvert Street Bridge on every AB. God’s truth, the day after the Strasburg “meltdown” over Zimm’s error I stressed how important it was for that team to win the the next game. It was against the Cubs. In the 9th inning the game was tied, the Cubs got a guy on, sent in a pinch runner that stole 2nd. Next batter hit a pop foul ball that ALR caught, but the runner tagged up and got to 3rd. Adam never even looked to make throw. My son was sitting next to me and I said,”That’s the season right there. We’re toast.” [My son got pissed at me, and Nats Lady said after the game that ALR had no chance to make the play. I disagreed, felt he lost track of the situation and got caught with his pants down by the runner]. The guy scored on the next play, we lost and the air went out of the balloon for about 2 weeks. That Cubs game was the point that I thought we probably really didn’t “have it.” But, yes, I stuck to my matra most of the way of , “Relax, we got this.” I also stuck up for Rizzo, Davey, Soriano,Span, etc. but I also never let up on how pissed I was that they kept sending AAAA level infielders to play the outfield when they had Brown and Perez available instead. Any way, sorry if I made you recoil in anger. I won’t promise that I won’t do it to you again this year because I think that the Braves have lost another leader in McCann. Who is really their team leader now?

  15. sjm308 - Jan 2, 2014 at 1:38 PM

    Just off the top of my head – no stats, no baseball reference
    First Base – Braves
    Second Base – Nationals
    Shortstop – Braves (by an eyelash)
    Third Base – Nationals
    Catcher – Nationals
    Left Field – Nationals
    Centerfield – Nationals
    Right Field – Braves
    Starting Pitching – a tie (again I am just using my gut, no stats)
    Bullpen – Braves
    Bench – no clue but I would have to think we have at least improved and I honestly don’t know their bench
    Nationals – + 5
    Braves – + 4
    with one tie – hope its not that close but it sure could be

    • zmunchkin - Jan 2, 2014 at 2:44 PM

      Unless Werth regresses and Heyward has a great year, the advantage in right has to favor Werth.

      And the starting rotation is clearly no contest – advantage Nats.

      And at Shortstop, I was going to say Desmond – but not by much. But I decided to check the stats at baseball reference. And that made it a no contest for Desi. Simmons had better defensive numbers; Desmond’s offensive numbers are much better. So that has to go to the Nats as well.

      WRT the bench, that one is close, but McLouth probably gives the Nats the edge. But lets call it a tie anyway.

      So I have it as Nats 8; Braves 2; Tie 1;

  16. jd - Jan 2, 2014 at 1:57 PM

    sjm,

    I agree with most of what you say but I don’t consider the Braves starters to be in the same league with the Nats. I think they are fine but I think all of their ceilings are ‘mid rotation’ and lower. Ours is much higher and Fister widens the gap.

    I think the Braves will miss Mc.Cann greatly and I think Hudson brought more to the table than just his game.

    All things being equal I like our chances without disrespecting the Braves.

  17. letswin3 - Jan 2, 2014 at 1:59 PM

    Here’s some of my Nat Math….I will understand if some of you have a different take on these numbers:
    Fister should be good for 2 to 3 more wins in ’14. The absence od Dukes, H-Rod and Danny should account for at least 2 more wins. The improved health of Zim, Werth and Ramos could mean another 2 wins. The improved bench (probably still need a solid backup catcher) might give the club another win. And, most important of all, a healthy Harper should give them at least 2 more wins. That totals 9 or 10 more wins, and I haven’t even attributed a single win to the new skipper since he’s somewhat an unknown factor at this point. Also unknown are the factors of the fifth starter and Rendon (he should be able to capitalize on the experience he gained in the bigs last year), and the knowledge of opposition pitchers that Span surely must have gained. Add in a few more steals, and a quicker hook with relievers, and who knows how many games they might win. Yeah, it would be fair to call me an optimist.

  18. jd - Jan 2, 2014 at 2:06 PM

    BTW,

    O’Flaherty hasn’t signed yet. I would still love to add that arm.

    • sjm308 - Jan 2, 2014 at 2:15 PM

      I have had that same hope. I realize he might not pitch until after May but wouldn’t you rather have us taking that gamble than the Braves. I bet if Rizzo went for two years it might seal that deal but again, I have no clue.

      Win3 – I like your math in that there are no negatives involved, just positive numbers and if I could add one more which will likely bring some moans by others – LaRoche can’t possibly be as bad as last year and if he is, hopefully the new manager will not be playing favorites or waiting for him to catch fire. Give that another 2 wins for your total.

      Go Nats!

  19. veejh - Jan 2, 2014 at 2:10 PM

    Expectations were through the roof last season. Tie that with in infamous “World Series or bust” Davey comment and pretty much every analyst picking the Nats to win it all put WAY too much pressure on these young guys. With all that gone this year, I expect these guys to settle in nicely and cruise this year. BOOK IT!

  20. sjm308 - Jan 2, 2014 at 2:17 PM

    Add to all these other positive thoughts. The team actually was upset at the results from last year and will have that in the back of their minds as well. I think this team will use last years lack of making the playoffs as some sort of rallying cry.

  21. Section 222 - Jan 2, 2014 at 4:43 PM

    I agree that the high expectations had an effect last year, especially, as rogieshan suggests, in convincing the players, Davey, and Rizzo, that the team was so good that things would turn around without making significant adjustments. But I’m not sure what “young guys” veejh is referring to. Certainly not:

    Werth (age 34 in 2013, 10th year in MLB)
    ALR (33, 10)
    Tracy (33, 9)
    Soriano (33, 12)
    Haren (32, 11)
    Duke (30, 9)
    Suzuki (29, 7)
    Span (29, 6)
    Bernadina (29, 5)
    Stammen (29, 5)
    Zim (28, 8)
    Clipp (28, 7)
    Gio (27, 6)
    Znn (27, 5)
    Det (27, 5)
    Desi (27, 4)

    That’s 16 of the 25 players on the Opening Day roster who were at least 27 years old and had at least 3 years of MLB experience, and often many more, before 2013. They really can’t be called “young.” Manny Acta used to use that excuse all the time and it wasn’t really true then either. Last year’s team was a veteran team. They should have been able to handle the pressure, especially after making the playoffs in 2013. They didn’t.

    • Section 222 - Jan 2, 2014 at 4:45 PM

      Zim was in his 8th year in the majors last year. I guess an 8 and then a ) = 8)

    • David Proctor - Jan 2, 2014 at 5:17 PM

      Maybe, but listing ages out like that isn’t particularly instructive. We were the 4th youngest team in baseball last year, with an average age of 27.8. The Braves, Athletics, Astros were the only teams younger.

      • Section 222 - Jan 2, 2014 at 5:25 PM

        You think the average age is more instructive than a list of our veteran players, well more than half the Opening Day roster? Do you think the fact that we had the fourth youngest team in baseball means these were “young guys” who can be excused for folding under the pressure of expectations? Really?

      • Section 222 - Jan 2, 2014 at 5:37 PM

        DP, can you provide the source for your assertion that we had the 4th youngest team? According to this ESPN link, we now have the 11th oldest. That would be quite a leap.

        http://espn.go.com/mlb/stats/rosters/_/sort/average_age/order/true

      • therealjohnc - Jan 2, 2014 at 7:26 PM

        The age stats are here: http://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/MLB/2013.shtml

        Go to the “Team Standard Batting” and you can sort by “Batter age.” This weights by number of at bats, not overall roster – a better way of analyzing age.

        Using the measure of who actually played, the Nats had the fourth youngest batter age in all of MLB (behind the Astros, Braves and Royals), at 27.7 years. You can do the same with pitcher age – the Nationals had the 8th youngest pitcher age in all of MLB, also at 27.7 years.

  22. David Proctor - Jan 2, 2014 at 5:39 PM

    The ESPN list is for 2014. You can tell because it has Bryce listed as 21. Do i think young players should be “excused” for folding under pressure? No. I think it helps explain it though. And I think they’ll be better prepared moving forward.

    http://www.statista.com/statistics/236223/major-league-baseball-clubs-by-average-age-of-players/

    • Section 222 - Jan 3, 2014 at 9:08 AM

      I guess that’s where we differ. I don’t think youth explains it at all.

      I’m also a little perplexed by the link you provided. Could the average age on the team be 27.8 when 16 of the 25 were 27 or higher? Perhaps this site averages the ages of all the players who were on the roster at any time, no matter how much they actually played, including Rendon, TJordan, Ian Krol, etc. There’s no indication of methodology that I can find, which is another reason not to rely too much on averages.

      Still, I think looking at the actual age of the players tells you more than an average and I’m surprised you would assert otherwise. 4 of our 5 starting pitchers and 5 of our 8 starting position players were 27 or older. The youngsters were Espi, Ramos, and Harper, Lombo and TyMo, Stras, and some relievers. Not the core of our team by any means.

  23. Theophilus T.S. - Jan 2, 2014 at 6:40 PM

    The Nats might be the fourth best team in the NL, or the third, or the second or the first. Not to be lost sight of is the fact the NL has a lot of bad teams. Rockies, Padres, Brewers, Phillies, Cubs and, of course, Marlins all lost 88 or more games and the Giants are close behind — and I think all of them are threatening to lose 90 or more in 2014, not having accomplished squat in the off season. Meaning that a lot of teams are going to get a bunch of cheap wins and it will probably take at least 90 wins to make the POs, even with two wild card teams. So carrying all nine 18-game segments seems attractive but I’m not sure its a guarantee of much — or maybe a guarantee of nothing.

    This is why I resist the notion of forming goals like that, or even “win every series.” It leads to thinking like, “well, it’s OK if we drop this one; we’ll catch up next week.” Which may be difficult if next week is the Braves, Reds, Pirates or Cards. If you couldn’t count your chickens coming into this series, what makes you think you can count them going into next week? (Im pretty sure that was what they were thinking about the Orioles home-and-home: “We’re going to get well against these schmucks.”)

    Crush the bad teams. Every game you lose against the Marlins should be cause for locking the clubhouse doors. Be competitive against the good teams on the road; dominate at home against everybody. Take a deep breath only after you’ve won 98.

  24. Joe Seamhead - Jan 2, 2014 at 6:52 PM

    sjm308, Please note my response above to your 1:31p.m. post. Things get easily overlooked on this format.
    I got into the forum late today. Duty called. Anyway, lots of good stuff posted today.

    • sjm308 - Jan 2, 2014 at 9:42 PM

      Seamhead – you know you are one of my favorites & anger is probably the wrong description but I was worried about what I saw & as the season went on & you kept up with your mantra it just didn’t make sense. It’s another season and I just want to see good clean play on defense and aggression on the base paths. 98 wins wouldn’t be bad either

    • Sonny G 10 - Jan 2, 2014 at 10:48 PM

      FWIW, Joe, I enjoyed your mantra last year. I knew it might not come true, but I didn’t feel jinxed by it. I thought it was just staying positive. Now, Davey’s World Series or Bust statement did make me shudder.

  25. Sonny G 10 - Jan 3, 2014 at 12:24 AM

    My assessment of the 2014 Nationals (assuming no serious injuries) is as follows:

    I believe we will be a better hitting team in 2014 and score more runs than we did in 2013. The biggest reason for my optimism here is the return to health of Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper. Those two were ineffective for much of the year because of injury. Though they both may be streaky hitters, they are not going to have the prolonged slumps like they had in 2013 IMO. The other hitters in the lineup will do well enough to keep the offense going. Our bench will be improved over last year which should help our offense when they are in the game.

    Our starting pitching should be better with Doug Fister replacing Dan Haren. It shouldn’t be hard for Fister to easily beat the performance we got from Haren. Then, if the National Det can’t hold down the 5th starter job, we have several good replacements waiting in the wings. Our bullpen is a big question mark right now. Can Storen return to form? Can Soriano be a real closer? Can Mattheus get the job done? With Blevins in the mix now and possibly Solis or Purke, our southpaw relief pitchers should be in good shape. With the pitchers who do not make the starting rotation in the BP, our bullpen should at least do as well as last year.

    For those of you that are concerned about our window of opportunity closing, IMO I don’t think that is ever going to happen. The window may have different panes of glass from time to time, but the window is always going to be open, barring injury. I really believe this is the way Rizzo and the Lerners have designed the team. They make sure that players can not only be good for us now, but in the long term also.

    • therealjohnc - Jan 3, 2014 at 1:19 AM

      Add Wilson Ramos to the list of those that will lift the Nationals’ offensive considerably if they stay healthy. 120 games with Wilson Ramos (OPS+ 111) in the lineup vs. 98 games last year with Suzuki (OPS+ 64), Solano (OPS+ 2) or Sandy Leon would make a huge difference to the Nationals.

  26. Joe Seamhead - Jan 3, 2014 at 4:05 AM

    Sonny and 308, last year had so many things not fall into place.Morse’s departure hurt in more ways than just his bat, but his run production was really missed.Span was supposed to get on base with great frequency, rattle the opposing pitchers, lead the team in runs scored. Harper was supposed to have a MVP like year. Ramos was supposed to be the main battery mate for the year. RZimm was supposed to be surgically repaired. Espinosa was expected to actually listen to his coaches and shorten his swing.The infield was supposed to one of the best, not just about lead the league in errors. Strasburg was to be in contention for a Cy Young. Mattheus was to be the go to guy for Davey, even against lefties. With Harp, Span, and Werth the outfield was to be maybe the best in the NL. ALR was hoped to be the guy we had in 2012. Tracy, Lombo and Moore were supposed to be the Goon Squad bench like they were in 2012. Dan Haren was going to give us a solid #5 starter and provide veteran leadership to a talented young staff. Rizzo was supposed to get us a LH reliever to make up for the loss of Burnette, instead he got us a closer that Davey didn’t know he needed. Davey was supposed to have all of the answers for all of the injuries like he did in 2012. Atlanta was supposed to miss Chipper Jones’ and Martin Prado’s leadership.
    So, now we kick 2013 in the tookus and move forward with a stronger bench, a healthier overall team, a slightly improved bullpen, a real solid starting rotation and a new manager that much is expected from. If the chips fall into place like they were expected to last year, then Matt Williams can be the next new baseball genius. It’s baseball, and it’s the off season. Hope springs eternal.

  27. sjm308 - Jan 3, 2014 at 7:45 AM

    Seam/JohnC/Sonny

    I doubt if you guys will come back down here but I just wanted to let you know I start Insider with the last post from the day before to see who has commented and these last 3 really were terrific. I am not always a glass half full guy but you all give valid reasons why this team “could” fulfill my dream of actually watching a World Series and rooting for my home team. Thanks!!

    Go Nats!!

    • therealjohnc - Jan 3, 2014 at 5:58 PM

      De Nada. We’ll ignore my other comment above where I opined that the Braves aren’t likely to fall off much from 2013 :-)

Archives

NLDS: NATIONALS VS. GIANTS

FRI: Game 1 at Washington, 3:07 p.m. (FS1)
SAT: Game 2 at Washington, 5:37 p.m. (FS1)
MON: Game 3 at San Francisco, TBA (MLBN)
TUE: Game 4 at San Francisco, TBA (FS1)*
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