The Washington Nationals came up short in this year’s NLDS, but fans are embracing a new winning culture and should hold high expectations for 2013.
What we’re seeing in these Nationals is a team that’s successfully gone through the process of rebuilding. Like the Astros, Cubs and Royals of this year, the Nationals of three years ago were abysmal, posting a record of 69-93.
Few teams in history have been able to go from a 93 loss team to a 98 win team in a span of three years.
Through a few key draft picks and come-from-behind victories, the Nationals transformed their team. In three years, their staff went from a 4.13 total ERA to a 3.33, ranking second in baseball. Their offense improved as well, scoring 76 more runs than they did in 2010.
The Nationals didn’t go out and spend, spend, spend to get immediate results. They built their squad from the ground up, making free agent moves to fit their philosophy rather than carry the team.
Next season, the Nats have more to prove. As part of a team that came an inning away from a NLCS berth, Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond and Gio Gonzalez are looking to make a statement in 2013.
Here are five reasons Nationals fans should look forward to next season.
Washington mound visit in Game 2 of the NLDS.
The Nationals’ motto this offseason: “Out with the old; in with the new.”
They’re clearing out unproductive veterans and maintaining the core that propelled them to a playoff berth in 2012.
With the exception of Adam LaRoche, the Nationals will have all their starters back for 2013, including recently acquired catcher Kurt Suzuki.
LaRoche, who hit .271 with 33 home runs and 100 RBI, will most likely not be returning to Washington next season. He has an option for 2013 in his contract that management is hesitant to pick up.
“He's a great player, but I think a better teammate and a great leader in here,” said Nationals’ third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. “I think all of us would love to have him back."
This is a guy the Nats need in uniform next season. The 32-year-old veteran is widely respected in a youthful clubhouse, and has been an offensive leader on the field for this team.
Defensively, the Nationals had the second best pitching in baseball last season. In 2013 they’ll be returning four of their five starting pitchers.
Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler and a healthy Stephen Strasburg will make up next year’s rotation. All four pitchers had ERAs under four.
Edwin Jackson, who’s been with eight different franchises since coming into the league in ’03, seems to be on the move once again.
He’ll likely be replaced with the 28-year-old left-hander John Lannan in the fifth slot in the rotation. Lannan pitched well in place of Strasburg at the end of the season, posting a 4-1 record with a 4.13 ERA in 32.2 innings pitched.
The bullpen will be maintaining its core as well. Closer Drew Storen, set-up man Tyler Clippard and Craig Stammen will be back in 2013.
Mike Gonzalez, the injury-prone Brad Lidge and Chien-Ming Wang's contracts are up and they will be exiting Washington this offseason.
Sean Burnett, an important piece of this bullpen, has a $3.5 million dollar option for 2013 of which he’s deserving.
Burnett, used primarily in late innings as a lefty specialist, had a great year, posting a 2.38 ERA with 58 strikeouts.
With washed-up veterans exiting the bullpen, the rotation’s core remaining intact and the talent returning on offense, this should, once again, be an exciting team to watch in 2013.
Harper in the Game 5 loss to the Cardinals.
20-year-old first-round draft pick Bryce Harper made his mark this season as one of the premier up-and-coming players in the game.
Since his call-up on April 27, Harper has made an impact, not only for this Nationals lineup, but also for the game of baseball.
Harper batted .270 this season with 22 home runs and 59 RBI in 139 games. His hustle and energy was the spark behind this team’s 98-win season.
Maturity is also something Harper can work on in the offseason.
His altercations with Marlins’ manager Ozzie Guillen and Phillies’ pitcher Cole Hamels, pictures with Playboy girls and shaky press conferences were some unwanted highlights of this young slugger’s season.
Next year, Harper can only improve from his Rookie of the Year-worthy season.
Expect great offensive production and hustle on defense from Harper in 2013.
Werth's walkoff in Game 4 of the NLDS.
Washington D.C. was once a thriving baseball town during the beginning of the twentieth century. Once home to the Washington Senators, it hosted some of the greats, including Cecil Travis, Eddie Yost and Walter Johnson.
Now, after 52 years of irrelevant or nonexistent baseball, Washington is back in the national spotlight, hosting up-and-coming greats like Harper, Gonzalez and Strasburg.
The new winning culture in Washington has transformed the city from primarily a football town to a now-thriving baseball community.
Attendance is at an all time high for this franchise. In 2010 Washington ranked twenty-third in baseball in attendance, averaging fewer than 23,000 fans a game.
In 2012, Washington is now averaging over 30,000 fans a game, higher than the division rival Braves.
The Nationals should move into the top ten in attendance next season as they look to compete for their second consecutive division title.
Teddy's first victory in the presidents race Oct. 3.
Baseball is a unique sport—you are either entertained by it or loath it.
Football fans say there’s too much downtime, while hockey fans say there’s not enough action.
Washington is one of the more distinctive venues in which to watch a game, appealing to everyone in attendance.
From the mid-inning t-shirt cannons to watching big-headed presidents run the warning track, Nationals games are a lot of fun.
This season ended the most famous mascot story in baseball: Teddy’s inability to win a race (legitimately).
On Oct. 3, the Nationals' final game of the regular season, Teddy Roosevelt won the presidents race for the first time in Nationals’ history.
Nationals’ fans erupted in applause as Teddy broke the red tape to claim his first victory in seven years.
While the fourth inning race will always remain an exclusive Nationals’ event, this season fans will be applauding more than just mascots. They’ll be on their feet for a team with a legitimate shot at a World Series in 2013.