Do the Nationals really expect to be a contender for the 2012 season? I like the optimism but I just don't see it. When you're in the same division as the Philadelphia Phillies, you're counting on the wild card, which means you count on being better than the Cardinals or Brewers, who both made it to the NLCS, the Diamondbacks or the Giants, and the rest of the NL East division.
Last season, the Nationals had an 80-81 record, playing 161 games after not making up a game against the Dodgers as it wouldn't have affected the end standings and playoff picture.
I'm a sabermetrics guy, so let's go ahead and look at last season's stats. The Nationals scored 624 runs last season, placing 24th in the majors and 12th in the NL. They also gave up 643 runs, good 10th best for the NL.
According to the formula for amount of wins*, the expected amount of wins for the 2011 Nationals was 78, which is pretty accurate for their record. But scoring only 624 runs in a season, I would hardly call last year's team a contender.
Don't get me wrong, the Nationals are doing everything right. Their record gets better with each passing year, and they have a young core with Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, and Jayson Werth. They will get there in a couple years.
I also like manager Davey Johnson. He led the team to a 40-43 record last year, which is respectable, but I'm confident he can do better next year with the chance to manage the team for a full year.
What the Nationals showed us last year is they aren't afraid to spend the money, inking Werth to a 7 year, $126 million contract. Will they give Pujols and Fielder a call? Absolutely. However, getting one of them to agree to come to Washington could be tricky.
The Nationals have a number of needs to fill this offseason, most notably their offense. They are very close to reaching the post season, however, I don't see it for next year. Once Bryce Harper is officially called up, the young guys further develop, and they make a big signing, I'm positive they can play ball in October. But for next year, I just don't see it.