The Washington Nationals have potentially the best lineup in the National League entering the 2013 season. A huge part of the composition of that lineup is in the projected third and fourth spots in the lineup that encompass the dynamic offense of Bryce Harper followed by the great all-around hitting makeup of Ryan Zimmerman.
Harper took home the Rookie of the Year after hitting 26 doubles, 22 home runs, 59 RBI and nine triples in only 139 games in 2012. His ability to steal bases makes him an even bigger threat in the Nats lineup as he swiped 18 bags last year.
Zimmerman, the Nats' cleanup hitter this season, hit 36 doubles, 25 home runs and 95 RBI after struggling through shoulder injuries for the majority of the season. His second half, after receiving treatment on his shoulder, might give a glimpse of what to expect if he's healthy in 2013. He hit .319 with 17 home runs, compared to an abysmal .243 average and only eight home runs in the first half.
When taking a look at the rest of the NL, it is imperative not to overlook the potential that lies in fellow NL East foes the Atlanta Braves.
Atlanta's addition of Justin and B.J. Upton will allow Freddie Freeman to hit cleanup in-between the brothers, setting him up for a tremendous year.
All three players and entering their prime and have the potential to be a part of an unstoppable force this season. Assuming that Freeman hits between the brothers, then he will be a part of a one-two punch in the lineup that might challenge Harper and Zimmerman.
Whether it is Justin and Freeman or Freeman and B.J., Freeman is poised to put up huge numbers with the Upton brothers surrounding him and one or the other acting as his tag team partner.
The more generic comparisons come in the big names of Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers. Although they are relevant as well, are the combined impact of the players that surround them enough to dethrone Harper and Zimmerman?
CBSSports.com projects that Kemp will be protected by Adrian Gonzalez, not a bad combination in L.A.
Gonzalez, however, struggled to find his power stroke as a member of the Dodgers after being traded last season, only hitting three home runs in 36 games. Overall last season Adrian hit 18 home runs and 47 doubles.
In parts of six seasons in the NL, Gonzalez hit .288 with a .511 slugging percentage and should settle in a bit more this season with a full year back in the National League and on the West Coast.
Kemp, when healthy, is one of the most dangerous players in baseball. Before succumbing to injuries last season, Kemp smashed 12 home runs in April and May.
He finished with 23 in 108 games, and just as Zimmerman's success will be determined by his health, so will Kemp's.
Ryan Braun might be playing with something to prove this season and could put up some scary numbers if he can avoid suspension for the second straight season. After posting a career-high 41 home runs and 112 RBI, Braun will look to do much of the same this season.
His protection will come in the form of Aramis Ramirez, who still managed to hit 27 home runs and drive in 105 RBI last season despite an atrocious start.
Ramirez hit .214 with two home runs in April last season. He increased his production to .274 and three homers in May, .295 with four home runs in June and then went on a tear in the summer and fall.
He had a .373 average and four home run sin July, a .305 average with eight home runs in August and finished September and October with six homers and a .321 average.
Without the first month of the season to hinder his numbers, Ramirez would have been able to surpass 30 home runs and 115 RBI.
The scary part is that he might do that this season.
In a perfect world, Troy Tulowitzki would remain healthy for an entire season and Carlos Gonzalez would learn to hit on the road away from Coors field. In a perfect world.
The two Colorado Rockies teammates will look to challenge the rest of the NL one-two punches this season, but they will have to be able to get through the season healthy and consistently.
Tulo's biggest flaw is his tendency to end up on the disabled list. He has played in 150-plus games only twice in his career. His potential can not be argued, though. Even in 2010 when he played in only 122 games, he still managed to smash 27 home runs and 95 RBI.
A healthy Tulo is a dangerous Tulo.
As far as Gonzalez is concerned, his success is primarily decided by his home and road splits. He is a career .338 hitter with a .609 slugging percentage at home compared to a .258 hitter with a .422 slugging percentage on the road.
When CarGo finds balance and Tulo can remain healthy, then they can compete with Harper and Zimmerman—though the chances of that happening in the same season are unlikely.
Although all of these teammates will challenge Zimmerman and Harper this season, the Nats' combo should come out on top of these elite players. They complement each other well and have the perfect lineup around them to allow them to succeed more than any of these other combinations this season.
As long as Harper can remain consistent all season and play as hard as he did in his rookie campaign, then they certainly have a shot to do so.
The final factor might ultimately be Zimmerman's health.
After missing time last season, he is looking to rebound in 2013, and reports are that Zimmerman is feeling healthy again. Stephania Bell of ESPN reports that Zimmerman is feeling significantly better this year, and with that news comes a great amount of optimism in D.C.