The Key to the Nats Season is… Playing

Programming note: This is the first in a set of weekly posts that will run this year on MASNsports.com. I’ll will post these on Wednesday mornings, after they have time to first appear on the MASN site.

There are plenty of things that really help swing a season one way or the other. For the 2016 Nationals, the answer is painfully obvious. Let’s look at a few possibilities:

The bullpen – it stunk last year, except… maybe not as much as you remember. The Nats ranked 10th in MLB in bullpen ERA. Mismanaged  and maybe too much in its own head (a.k.a. mismanaged)… but not necessarily what made 2015 bad. I have more faith in their free agent acquisitions, young talent and new pitching coach than some, but even without that, they have enough ability to not be the single point of failure for 2016.

The defense – this team will be able to hit some, they should be able to pitch, but can they field? Poor defense has helped sink the Nats plenty of times. But they’ve also won 90+ games more than once with pretty suspect defense. It won’t come down to their defense, especially considering it probably beats that of their biggest division rival.

Any one player – Bryce Harper was the MVP and Max Scherzer was 5th in Cy Young votes last season, that certainly didn’t get them where they needed to be. It’s easy to look at someone like Stephen Strasburg or even Trea Turner and think, “if they can just put it all together, that’ll be it.” But unless Harper has a 100 HR season in him, that aint it.

It’s more simple and basic than those. It’s health. Plain old staying on the field.

If they can keep the players who have a decent amount of injury history – Ryan Zimmerman, Strasburg and Jayson Werth, and for that matter Harper and Anthony Rendon – on the field, this team is going to be good.

There are plenty of things that really help swing a season one way or the other. For the 2016 Nationals, the answer is painfully obvious. Let’s look at a few possibilities:

The bullpen – it stunk last year, except… maybe not as much as you remember. The Nats ranked 10th in MLB in bullpen ERA. Mismanaged  and maybe too much in its own head (a.k.a. mismanaged)… but not necessarily what made 2015 bad. I have more faith in their free agent acquisitions, young talent and new pitching coach than some, but even without that, they have enough ability to not be the single point of failure for 2016.

The defense – this team will be able to hit some, they should be able to pitch, but can they field? Poor defense has helped sink the Nats plenty of times. But they’ve also won 90+ games more than once with pretty suspect defense. It won’t come down to their defense, especially considering it probably beats that of their biggest division rival.

Throw in a solid hitting Daniel Murphy, and decent production from Ben Revere and Michael Taylor. Add Danny Espinosa, who, as a shortstop with equivalent PAs, would have had higher value than the other starting shortstops in the division. All that before you bring up Turner.

Strasburg managed an ERA under 2.00 in the 10 starts he made after coming back from the DL last season, with a K/BB ratio of roughly a billion to one. A healthy Strasburg plus Scherzer gives the Nats one of the best one-two punches in baseball, with solid #3 and #4 pitchers in Gio Gonzalez and Joe Ross – who looks like a really good #3 starter at worst. Questions remain with Tanner Roark at the fifth spot, but what team doesn’t have those questions at #5, and his upside is incredible considering what we’ve seen out of him.

Every team has to worry about injuries, but the Nats have so many key contributors with health questions. One of them out of the lineup is no big deal, but three of them out for a significant time could be killer, like in 2015. And losing a starter is expected, but two at once is just scary.

But a healthy Nats team – one where Zim and Werth play 130+ games at mostly full health, where Rendon and Harper play 150+, and where Strasburg makes close to 30 starts – is going to be tough to beat. Health of guys who haven’t always been healthy is the Nats key, and if they stay on the field, they will win the division.

 

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