Ranking the Washington Nationals' Most Important Players Come Playoff Time

Robert WoodCorrespondent IOctober 1, 2012

Ranking the Washington Nationals' Most Important Players Come Playoff Time

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    The Washington Nationals are in the playoffs.

    Let that sink in for a little bit.

    Now that the shock and euphoria have worn off, the team and their fans have to concentrate on the task at hand.

    For any baseball team to reach the ultimate goal, individual players need to step up and deliver when called upon. Here is a ranking of the five most important players on the Washington Nationals come playoff time.

5. Michael Morse, LF

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    Michael Morse is the most feared hitter in the Nationals lineup, and when he's hot, he can carry the team on his back for a few games at a time.

    Well, he's hot right now.

    Over the last two series, Morse is 6-for-23 with three home runs and eight RBI. Two of those home runs came on September 27 in Philadelphia in a 7-3 win that reduced the Nationals' magic number to three. The second home run of the contest—a mammoth shot that even Morse had to stop and admire—provided insurance in what was then a close game.

    Just two nights later, with the magic number down to two, Morse muscled a grand slam over the right-field wall, staking the Nats to an early 4-0 lead. They would hold on to win the game against the Cardinals in St. Louis and bring their magic number down to one.

    Michael Morse has come up big for the Nationals in their drive towards the division title. The Beast may be playing well now, but just wait until he is unleashed this postseason.

4. Drew Storen, RP

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    It took almost the entire season, but the Washington Nationals finally got their closer back. Just in time for the franchise's first playoff run since moving to D.C.

    Drew Storen did not make his season debut until July 19 due to injury, and in his stead, the Nats first used a closer-by-committee approach. After that failed, they settled on Tyler Clippard, their invaluable eighth inning setup man. Clippard had wanted the closer role and filled it quite well at first, but he began to falter over the last two weeks, just as Storen was rounding into form.

    In the same week, Clippard's two blown save opportunities on September 19 and September 21 were sandwiched around Drew Storen's brilliant performance against the heart of the Dodgers order on September 20. He needed only 13 pitches to strike out Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez.

    That is exactly the type of relief pitching the Nationals will need during the playoffs.

3. Bryce Harper, CF

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    The 19-year-old phenom has lived up to the hype and is having a sensational rookie season.

    Bryce Harper is currently hitting .269 with 251 total bases, 22 home runs, 59 RBI and 97 runs scored. He also has 17 stolen bases in 23 attempts and a .339 OBP.

    What's more, Harper is heating up at the right time. In the month of September, he is batting .330 with 69 total bases, seven home runs, 14 RBI and 26 runs scored. He has stolen four bases in five attempts in September and has an impressive .398 OBP.

    Bryce Harper is a spark plug for this Nationals team, and not just at the plate. He is an aggressive baserunner that values his production as a baserunner more than as a hitter, per Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post:

    I like those runs a lot better. Just getting on base, letting them get those ribbies and whatnot, getting things going. Getting on base for all the guys to drive me in, being key in that aspect, doing things on the base paths, I think that’s huge. 

    Additionally, Harper has refined his defense in center field. His eight outfield assists rank him 10th in the National League and are tied for first among NL rookies with Norichika Aoki of the Milwaukee Brewers.

    The Washington Nationals will need all of Bryce Harper's talents this October in order to succeed.

2. Edwin Jackson, SP

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    A quick glance at his season statistics may not reveal as much, but Edwin Jackson has indeed pitched well for the Washington Nationals this season.

    He is 9-11 with a 4.13 ERA, 162 strikeouts, a 1.22 WHIP and a .243 batting average against. Jackson's win-loss record can be explained in part by a run support average of 3.90. That is worst on the staff and 11th-worst in the National League.

    But the Washington Nationals acquired Edwin Jackson for the postseason. Quality starting pitching is vital to the postseason success of any ballclub, and Jackson has provided just that in the past.

    Last season, he helped lead the St. Louis Cardinals to the 11th World Series title in franchise history, winning his start against the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS and finishing 1-1 with a 5.60 ERA in four starts during the 2011 postseason.

    Jackson's postseason experience becomes especially important for the Washington Nationals. The rest of the starting rotation does not have any playoff experience whatsoever, and on top of that, they are without ace Stephen Strasburg. Jackson will have to fill those two voids as best he can.

    After Friday night's abysmal performance against the Cardinals in his return to St. Louis, the pressure is mounting for the veteran right-hander. If Edwin cracks, the Nationals are in trouble.

1. Jayson Werth, RF

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    Jayson Werth gets the Nationals offense going.

    Coupled with Bryce Harper at the top of the lineup for almost every game since August 17, Werth has become even more valuable to the Nats as a leadoff hitter. His ability to start the offense on the right foot will be crucial to solving the stellar starting pitching they will face in the playoffs.

    The Nats can apply pressure from the start, and that begins with Werth's ability to put the ball in play as well as get on base. Through Sunday, he has a strikeout percentage (SO%) of only 16.7%, a batting average on balls in play (BAbip) of .353 and a .387 OBP.

    Once on base, he is a smart, aggressive baserunner. Jayson has a mere eight stolen bases but has only been caught stealing twice. Plus, he has 10 bases taken on fly balls, passed balls, wild pitches, balks and defensive indifference, and he takes an extra base on a single or double 38 percent of the time.

    But what makes Jayson Werth the most important Nationals' player come playoff time is his playoff experience. He has played 44 postseason games and is the only Nationals starting position player to play in the World Series, let alone win one. In his postseason career, Jayson has hit .268 with 13 home runs, 26 RBI and a .379 OBP. During his two postseasons that resulted in a trip to the World Series, Werth hit .292 with nine home runs, 17 RBI and a .395 OBP.

    Jayson Werth needs to show the Washington Nationals how to win in the postseason from his first swing of the bat.