Washington Nationals Who Are Most Critical to a 2013 World Series Ring
Coming off of a heartbreaking loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the National League Division Series last season, the Washington Nationals are looking to do what they were unable to do last year and bring a World Series ring to the nation's capital.
A World Series win would certainly bring baseball to the forefront in a town that is dominated by talk over the Washington Redskins and Robert Griffin III's knee, and it will take a special group of players to do that.
The Nationals have one of the best bullpens in Major League Baseball heading into the 2013 season, and they now have one of the most complete batting lineups as well, with the re-signing of first baseman Adam LaRoche and the trade to the Minnesota Twins for outfielder Denard Span.
Getting through the National League in the playoffs won't be an easy task this year for the Nationals, as they must go up against the Cardinals, the San Francisco Giants and the Cincinnati Reds if they want to get there.
Washington will need all its seasoned veterans—such as Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Kurt Suzuki—to work with their young guns—Bryce Harper and Ian Desmond—to accomplish something that seemed like a long shot only a few seasons ago.
Yes, it will take a complete effort from everyone sitting on the Nationals' bench, including manager Davey Johnson, to win a World Series, but there are a few players who stand out on the roster who need to either keep up their numbers from last year or improve on them if they plan to go where no Washington baseball team has ever gone before.
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LaRoche's stock went up this week when the Nationals traded Michael Morse to the Seattle Mariners after the Nats re-signed LaRoche to a two-year, $24 million contract, leaving Morse without a spot in the field.
The Nats' first baseman will need to have a similar year to what he had last year to prove his worth, as he hit a career-high 33 home runs and tied his career high in RBI's with 100.
It's also important for LaRoche to stay healthy this year, as his health has been a major concern, since he missed most of the year in 2011. His health did seem to come around in 2012, though, as he played a career-high 154 games.
LaRoche's power is needed in the Nationals lineup if they want to drive-in runs this year, and it is needed to keep Nats fans from calling for a trade to get Morse back halfway through the season.
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Speaking of the Michael Morse trade, Denard Span also took away a spot from Morse on Washington's roster.
Traded to the Nationals back in November, Span will play in the outfield along with Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth. Out of those three, Span certainly isn't the biggest name, but he could make the biggest impact.
Span only averages six home runs and 63 RBIs per year, but he does bring the element of base-stealing to the lineup. Span averages 25 stolen bases, which is higher than Ian Desmond, the team's leader in stolen bases last year, who had 21.
The former Minnesota Twin also brings a strong career on-base percentage of .357 to Washington, whose leader last year was Jayson Werth with .387. After Werth, the next highest everyday starter was Ryan Zimmerman with .346.
Span could also be the answer to the Nationals' leadoff hitter problems, as the team rotated that job between Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper last year.
If Span can get on base and steal after that, LaRoche, Zimmerman and Harper can drive him in.
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This just wouldn't be a story about the Washington Nationals without mentioning Bryce Harper.
The 20-year-old gave the Nationals an adrenaline shot last year when he entered the lineup, stealing bases and driving in runs on a regular basis.
And of course, who could forget Bryce Harper stealing home against Cole Hamels and the Philadelphia Phillies?
Harper needs to follow up his Rookie-of-the-Year numbers if the Nationals want to have the high-powered offense they did last year, since Ryan Zimmerman's power is a concern and Adam LaRoche's health is always in question.
Last season, Harper scored 98 runs, which led the team.
If Washington wants to go where it has never gone before, it needs to have its phenom capitalize on his breakout year last year and also improve on his batting average, which was .271.
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Coming off of a shortened season where the Nationals' No. 1 pitcher was shut down prior to the postseason to recover from Tommy John surgery, Stephen Strasburg will need to post similar numbers if the Nationals plan to bring a ring back to Washington.
Strasburg struck out 197 batters last year, finishing with a 15-6 record and a 3.16 ERA.
Even with those numbers, Strasburg still wasn't the best starter on the team, as Gio Gonzalez took that title.
If the Nationals want to go deep in the postseason this year, they'll need Strasburg to win at least 15 games again and bump down his ERA a little, although the team will take his 197 strikeouts any year.
If Strasburg posts similar numbers to last year, he and Gonzalez could possibly be the best one-two starting combination in the league.
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As previously mentioned, Gio Gonzalez was the best pitcher the Nationals had on their roster last year and was in the conversation for the National League Cy Young Award as well.
Gonzalez won 21 games, had a 2.89 ERA, struck out 207 batters and only had a 1.129 WHIP.
The biggest 2011 offseason move the Nationals made by acquiring Gonzalez certainly paid off, as Gonzalez led the rotation once Strasburg was shut down.
The former Oakland Athletic cut down on the problem he had with walks while he was with the A's, walking 76 batters in 2012, as opposed to 91 in 2011 and 90 in 2010.
Washington couldn't have asked for much more out of Gonzalez last year, and if he keeps up those numbers, partnered with the return of Strasburg, it would be close to impossible to win the first two games in a postseason series against the Nationals.
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If Bryce Harper and Denard Span are on this list, then we might as well go around to the remaining outfielder, Jayson Werth.
Werth missed part of the 2012 season with a broken wrist, but he still led the team in batting average, hitting .300, and for on-base percentage, he got on base 38.7 percent of the time.
While Werth probably won't be seeing the leadoff spot anytime soon with the signing of Denard Span, he will still probably hit somewhere near the top of the lineup, probably second or third, and Washington could use Werth's strong OBP.
Werth can also steal bases. Although he only stole eight last season, he stole 20 in 2008 and 2009 with the Phillies, and 19 in 2011 with the Nationals.
The highest paid player on the Nationals, Werth needs to prove his worth this year and can't afford to have a lackluster season with the number of great talents around him in the field.
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Ryan Zimmerman has been through it all with the Nationals. He was there last season during the good, and he was there through all of the season before that, when he played on one of the worst teams in the MLB.
Washington's third baseman had to fight through some injury problems last year, but he was able to improve his numbers after some cortisone shots in his right shoulder.
Zimmerman led the team in hits with 162 last season, but his batting average has declined over the past three seasons, hitting .282 last season compared to .289 in 2011 and .307 in 2010.
However, it always seems that Zimmerman can come through in the clutch when his team needs him, and he is one of the more reliable and seasoned players on the team.
If a World Series ring is in Washington's sights, it's going to get there with Ryan Zimmerman leading the charge, both on the field and in the clubhouse.
Signing Rafael Soriano to a two-year, $28 million deal was the Nationals' biggest move so far this offseason.
Yes, the Nationals already have two possible closers on their roster in Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen, but Soriano makes this one of the best bullpens in the National League and possibly the MLB.
Soriano, who spent last year with the New York Yankees, had a 2.26 ERA and saved 42 games.
Even if the Nationals decide to rotate their closers, Soriano could be the postseason closer that the Nationals clearly lacked in Game 5 against St. Louis last year.
Soriano will also need to prove that he is worthy of the large contract the Nationals gave him. If the top three starters in Strasburg, Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman are clicking, along with Clippard, Storen and Soriano in the bullpen, it will be tough for any team to score runs on the Nationals.