The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The Final Spring Training Game (Nats vs. Mets)

If this doesn’t get you excited, then I don’t know what will — the Nationals wrapped up their Spring Training schedule today against the Mets, and will soon be boarding a plane and heading back to Nationals Park.  It’s been a long offseason, but baseball is finally upon us once again.  As far as Spring Training contests go, today’s game was about as compelling as the rest; the Nationals were backed by quality pitching, took an early lead, and added on once the regulars were out of the game.  Here now, the good, the bad, and the ugly, from the final contest in Florida, a 4-0 Nationals victory.

THE GOOD

Jordan Zimmermann was dominant all spring long, and today’s start was no exception.  In five innings, Zimmermann made 71 pitches, struck out 3, allowed 4 hits, walked none, and did not allow a run.  In the first inning, he got into a jam, putting runners on second and third with one out. However, he escaped the jam by striking out Curtis Granderson with the help of a slider that Stephen Strasburg would do well to take notes on:

zimmermann slider granderson

Coming to bat with the bases loaded and two out in the bottom of the second, Zimmermann even helped his cause by legging out an RBI infield single.  His final line for the spring: 18 innings pitched, 11 hit, 1 earned run, 1 walk, and 15 strikeouts.  He’ll make his first start of the regular season against these Mets a week from today.

— Plenty of Nats bats finished Spring Training in fine fashion.  Denard Span went 3-5 with a run scored, raising his average for the spring to a remarkable .370.  Bryce Harper went 2-4 with two singles, including this lined shot for an RBI, which flew over pitcher Jeurys Familia’s head at 107 MPH (according to the notoriously unreliable stadium gun):

harper linerDanny Espinosa went 2-3 with a double and a walk, while Kevin Frandsen lined a double to left in his Nationals’ debut.

— Three players who figure to be key members of the Nationals’ bullpen — Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard, and Drew Storen — all closed their springs on a positive note.  Each allowed a hit in a scoreless inning, but combined for five strikeouts on the day, including two apiece by Clippard and Soriano.  Soriano was put in a jam thanks to an error by Anthony Rendon, but escaped by striking out Granderson looking on a slider.

Jerry Blevins was even more dominant, allowing just an infield single while striking out the side to close out the Grapefruit League season.  For the spring, Blevins gave up only three hits and a run in 9.1 innings, with 11 strikeouts to 3 walks.

THE BAD

— Harper may have been good with the bat today, but he struggled on the basepaths in the sixth inning. Against Mets’ lefthander Scott Rice, Harper rocketed a line drive to the wall in left, but jogged out of the box and was held to a single.  Then, Harper went first move on Rice, but Rice threw over, and Harper was thrown out.

THE UGLY

— Anthony Rendon left five on base in the game, going 0-5 and dropping his spring batting average from an impressive .325 to a still-healthy .289.

The Nationals finish up Grapefruit League play with a 15-13 record (not that it really matters).  They head back to Nationals Park on Saturday for one exhibition game against the Tigers; Tanner Roark will get the start, while Taylor Jordan will enter in relief.  Then, it’s off to Citi Field for Opeining Day against Dillon Gee and the Mets; the game starts at 1:10 PM.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Nats vs. Cardinals, 3/26/14 (Spring Training)

Seeing as there are no real stakes and the games are essentially meaningless, spring-training contests are generally pretty uneventful. Most veteran players go about their business, doing so without the passion that comes when the games that matter begin. But in today’s Spring Training game between the Nationals and Cardinals, the second-to-last on the Grapefruit League docket for the Nats, we got a little action, courtesy of the always passionate Bryce Harper. Here now is the good, the bad, and the ugly from the Nationals’ 3-2 loss.

THE GOOD

Gio Gonzalez’s final spring outing of 2014 was solid if unspectacular; he struck out four in five innings of work, allowing seven hits and three runs (just one of them earned). Gonzalez was victimized by some poor defense behind him, including a passed ball and a botched double play, but also struggled to put innings away, allowing two two-out RBI singles to Yadier Molina. Gonzalez finishes with a 2.94 ERA in 18.1 spring innings; he made 81 pitches in today’s game, setting himself up nicely for his first start of the regular season.

Ross Detwiler threw a 1-2-3 sixth inning, throwing 12 pitches and striking out the left-handed hitting John Jay on a good curveball. In four relief innings this spring, Detwiler allowed three runs (all in one outing) on three hits, walking three and striking out two.

— A day after finding out he had made the Opening Day roster, Aaron Barrett demonstrated exactly why the Nationals had so much faith in him.  The 26 year old righty put together another 1-2-3 frame, inducing two groundouts and a strikeout, while showcasing the slider considered to be the best in the organization by Baseball America:

barrett sliderIn 10.2 scoreless innings this spring, Barrett has given up just five hits, walked none, and struck out eight.

THE BAD

The Nationals’ offense once again seemed unable to figure out Cardinals’ ace Adam Wainwright. Wainwright went five innings today, allowing just one hit (a third inning single by Anthony Rendon), walking none, and striking out six. Wainwright has now thrown 14 scoreless innings against the Nats this spring, and went 2-0 with a 1.76 ERA in 15.1 innings against the team last year.

THE UGLY

— Leading off the top of the fourth inning, Bryce Harper hit a slow roller past Wainwright and towards the right side of the infield.  In one motion, second baseman Mark Ellis barehanded the ball, and flipped it to first, just in time to get Harper in the estimation of first base umpire Jeff Gosney.

harper ejected 2Harper was frustrated, either with the call or the fact that he had made an out.

harper ejected 4We won’t be sure exactly what Harper said until he tells us, but whatever it was, it caused Gosney to toss Harper from the game.  Because the games are meaningless, Spring Training ejections are fairly rare; I can only find only one other example of a player being ejected this spring.  At any rate, Harper not only had to leave the game, he had to leave the stadium as well:

harper ejectedThroughout his career, Harper has been given far less leeway to make mistakes than the average player due to the hype and reputation surrounding him — this ejection seems like another example of that fact.

The Nationals have just one more game in Florida; tomorrow, they head to Port St. Lucie to face the New York Mets.  Jordan Zimmermann will get the start for the Nats in the 12:10 contest, which will be televised on ESPN and MLB.tv.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly — Nats vs. Mets, 3/25/14 (Spring Training)

Editor’s note: We haven’t covered the last couple Spring Training games — frankly, after watching games that count in Australia, it’s kind’ve hard to get excited about the meaningless contests going on in Florida.  But we will have full recaps of the final three exhibition games, along with plenty of other great content leading up to Opening Day.

Today marked the final time the Washington Nationals will take the field at Space Coast Stadium, a welcome fact for players and fans who are ready to see their team leave Viera and head north for the regular season.  The contest against the Mets (the Nationals’ opponents on Opening Day) also marked the final Spring Training tuneup for Nationals’ ace and Opening Day starter Stephen Strasburg; Strasburg was backed by a lineup that featured Jose Lobaton in place of Wilson Ramos, but otherwise contained all regulars.  The Nationals, on the backs of a 5-run third inning, took down the Mets by a score of 6-3.  Here now, the good, the bad, and the ugly from the game.

THE GOOD

— In 2013, Bryce Harper had a mammoth spring — .484/.507/.734 — that he then followed up with a .344/.430/.720 April.  This spring, however, had been a different story, as Harper had gone just 8 for 36 with two extra-base hits.  But if there was any doubt that Harper was fully healthy and ready for Opening Day, he erased it today with this mammoth blast:

harper homerThat 3-run home run was Harper’s only hit on the day, though he added a walk in the sixth.  But Harper’s shot — a 420-footer to the opposite field, off the flagpole in left-center — is a good indication that Harper will be just fine in the regular season.

Denard Span continued a hot spring with a near-perfect day today.  He dropped a bloop single over second in the first, lined an infield single to second in the third, walked in the fourth, and singled again in the fifth.  Matt Williams seems intent on using Span in the leadoff spot, and the key function of a leadoff man is to get on base.  Span’s 3-4 performance today, and his .347/.360/.449 spring triple-slash — have shown he has the ability to do just that (though the fact that he has only one walk is odd indeed).

— The best thing about Stephen Strasburg’s outing is that it was his last of the spring — the next time we will see him, it will be on March 31st at Citi Field.  The second best thing about the outing was Strasburg’s pitch count — 84 over 5 2/3 innings, meaning Strasburg will likely be able to near 100 pitches on Opening Day.  And the third-best thing about Strasburg’s outing was how successful it was.  In those 5 2/3 innings, Strasburg struck out seven.  He had one poor inning — the Mets’ three-run third — but otherwise dominated.  All four of his pitches looked strong, including his brand-new slider:

strasburg slider strikeoutHe even added a base hit for good measure.  See you Monday, Mr. Strasburg.

Ryan Zimmerman seems to always find his swing in Spring Training, and this year is no exception.  Today, he went 2-4 with three RBIs, including a two-run single and this solo home run:

zimmerman home runThe homer was Zimmerman’s second of the spring, and it raised his batting average to .325.  He has also looked strong on defense, including on this play, where he ranged far to the right of second base on a shift.

THE BAD

— The Mets put together a three-run inning off Strasburg in the third, including a Travis d’Arnaud home run and an Eric Young RBI triple.  During the inning, Strasburg appeared to be squeezed by home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstadt.  In the at-bat against d’Arnaud, Strasburg fired a 1-2 fastball that appeared to catch the outside corner, but was called a ball by Wendelstadt — the very next pitch was d’Arnaud’s home run.  There have been times throughout his career — this game against the Cubs comes to mind — when Strasburg has let someone else’s mistake derail his outing.  Today, however, Strasburg regained his composure, pitching several more strong innings after the third.

THE UGLY

— Spring Training camera angles are notoriously shoddy, and on this day, it meant that that we couldn’t see on television exactly where Harper’s homer landed.  Other than that, not too much ugly on the day.

The Nationals have two more games left to play in the Grapefruit League.  Tomorrow, they head to Jupiter to play the Cardinals, while tomorrow, they once again head to Port St. Lucie to play the Mets.  Wednesday’s game will be at 1:05, while Thursday’s will be a 12:10 start — both games will be televised on ESPN.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Spring Training Games 14-15 (Nats @ Braves, Nats @ Astros)

Split squad days are often the most grueling days of the interminable grind that is Spring Training — with two games in one day, teams often have to stretch their roster thin, meaning two games filled with minor-leaguers, also-rans, and shoddy baseball.  The Nationals had their second such day of the spring, with the “A” squad (featuring several major league starters) heading to Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando to take on the Atlanta Braves.  Meanwhile, another squad, comprised of bench players and prospects, headed to Osceola County Stadium to play the Houston Astros.  The games (especially the latter game) were, as expected, sloppily played, with the Nationals losing both games on walk-off singles, 3-2 against the Braves and 10-9 against the Astros.  Here now is a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of the day.

THE GOOD

— The Nationals received some strong performances from their relievers in Orlando.  After starter Chris Young exited after allowing two runs in three innings, prospect Danny Rosenbaum came on to throw a scoreless fourth and fifth, allowing two hits and walking one while striking out right fielder Mark Hamilton.  Clay Hensley followed Rosenbaum with a hitless sixth, and Josh Roenicke kept the line moving with a perfect eighth.  Luis Ayala pitched the eighth, and continued to state his case for making the Opening Day bullpen, allowing just an infield single.  The final line for those four pitchers: 5 innings pitched, 3 hits, 3 walks, 2 strikeouts, and no earned runs.

Denard Span continued his strong spring with a 2-3 performance today, singling in the third and tripling in the fifth.  He raised his batting average in Grapefruit League play to .429 — 9 hits in 21 at bats.  Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper added hits in the game, each posting 1-3 lines on the day.

— There were also several standout offensive performances in the game at Kissimmee.  Will Rhymes, who is attempting to keep his name in the discussion for the Nats’ utility infield spot, put together three hits in five at bats, including a two RBI single in the fourth.  Jamey Carroll, in a similar situation as Rhymes, went 2-4.  Scott Hairston, who only had two hits in the spring entering today’s game, managed two today in two at bats.  And Nate McLouth lifted his first home run of the spring season, a two-run shot off left-hander Darin Downs.

mclouth hr 1

THE BAD

Tanner Roark’s final line today isn’t pretty — three runs on three hits in 3 1/3 innings, with three strikeouts, two walks, and a long home run allowed to catcher Jason Castro.  Roark struggled with command, but was also victimized by windy conditions that allowed lazy fly balls to become doubles in the gap.  Roark himself noted the conditions:

The outing didn’t look good on paper, but many of the factors involved in the poor outing were beyond Roark’s control.

THE UGLY

Xavier Cedeno came on to protect a two-run lead in the bottom of the ninth, and managed to get the first two outs of the inning without incident.  He then proceeded to allow a single to Jesus Guzman, a single to Delino DeShields, Jr. which scored Guzman, a double to Marwin Gonzalez which scored DeShields, and a single to George Springer, allowing Gonzalez to score.  Just like that, a 9-7 Nationals’ victory became a 10-9 defeat, with Cedeno taking the blown save and loss.   Before this disastrous appearance, Cedeno had not allowed a run in 5 IP thus far in spring.

The conditions were as much a factor today in Kissimmee as any player on either team.  After an hour-long rain delayed the start of the game, the wind gusted throughout, making routine pop-ups anything but.  In the second inning, Tyler Moore hit a pop-up that started on the third base line, then seemingly took a right turn and headed for the middle of the diamond.  Shortstop Jonathan Villar pursued, but the ball ended up eluding him, leaving us with this .GIF:

villar dropsThis wind affected the Nationals and Astros equally — just watch Mike Fontenot try to catch this Dexter Fowler pop up:

fontenot

This game was often brutal to watch.

Just one game tomorrow, as the Nationals head back to Space Coast Stadium to take on the New York Mets.  The game starts at 1:05, but doesn’t appear to be on either television or radio, so have your MLB At Bat apps handy to follow along.

The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly: Spring Training Game 8 (Nats-Astros)

Photo by @ebjunkies

Photo by @ebjunkies

A week and a half into the Grapefruit League season, and we’ve already started to move into the dog days of Spring Training, when players and fans alike begin to become sick of meaningless baseball, ready to come back north for Opening Day.  Today, the Nationals took on the Houston Astros at Space Coast Stadium, with Tanner Roark taking the mound opposite Astros’ southpaw Brett Oberholtzer.  The Nationals had a power surge in the first inning, then managed to withstand a Houston rally to win, 8-5.  As always, there was some degree of good, some degree of bad, and some degree of ugly in today’s game, and we’re here to chronicle it.

THE GOOD

— Against right-handed pitching last year, Bryce Harper looked every bit like the megastar he is expected to be — his .405 wOBA against them ranked tenth in the major leagues (min. 300 PA), between MVP candidates Freddie Freeman and Troy Tulowitzki.  But against southpaws, Harper’s wOBA dropped to .297 — 27th-worst in the big leagues (min. 100 PA), just behind Zack Cozart.  So Harper’s two-run home run right down the right field line off Oberholtzer was a hopeful sign of things to come.  Harper improving against left-handed pitching would go a long way towards making him a truly complete player.

Wilson Ramos has put his immense potential at the plate on display this spring.  In his first at bat, he took an Oberholtzer fastball over the left-field fence, over the stands, over the trees, and out of Space Coast Stadium for a three-run home run that capped the scoring in the 6-run first.  In his own words:

Then, in his third at-bat, he added a line drive single to left.  Ramos now has seven hits in 13 at-bats — his slugging percentage is .846.  You get the sense that, if Ramos can manage to stay healthy, he could be among the top catchers in the National League.

Tanner Roark continues to perform in his uphill battle for the Nationals’ fifth-starter job.  In his second spring appearance, Roark struck out three and walked none.  He managed to pitch out of a two-on, two-out situation in the first, and gave up just one run on a wind-aided third inning home run by Marc Krauss.  Even if Roark doesn’t make the Opening Day rotation, the positive impression he is making this spring will give the Nationals added confidence in their rotation depth.

Zach Walters may not make the team, but he’s making quite an impression.  A bases-loaded 2-RBI single in his first at-bat was his seventh hit in eight at-bats — an .875 batting average.  He made a loud out in the eighth inning on a sharp ground ball to first, lowering that average all the way down to .778.  Yes, these at-bats haven’t exactly come against the highest-quality competition.  But Walters has succeeded to the point where he has given himself an outside shot at making this team.

Jerry Blevins hasn’t been mentioned so far in this space, but he has quietly put together a very productive early spring.  Blevins’ first multi-inning appearance of the spring lasted an inning and two thirds, in which he did not allow a hit. In fact, Blevins still hasn’t given up a hit in Spring Training, allowing just 2 walks in 3 2/3 innings.

THE BAD

Rafael Soriano is notorious for easing his way into the season, and in today’s outing, he certainly didn’t look ready for Opening Day.  Facing a lineup filled with the Astros’ reserves, Soriano got knocked around, giving up two runs on three hits, all of them well-struck.  The key blow in the inning was a two-out, two-run double off the bat of Carlos Corporan.  Despite his 43 saves last year, Soriano’s season was full of troubling omens for the future, including a 1.23o WHIP and a decrease in velocity.  Good spring training outings would go a long way towards soothing the minds of Nationals’ fans, and this was certainly not one of them.

THE UGLY

— When the Nationals acquired Doug Fister from the Detroit Tigers for what essentially amounted to spare parts, many began to wonder whether there may have been something wrong with Fister. Well, today’s news wasn’t a good sign; Fister was scratched from his start with elbow inflamation.  The MRI came back clean, and both Fister and the Nationals have said that this is nothing to worry about.  Still, elbow pain is never a good sign for a pitcher, and now I can’t shake the feeling that the Tigers knew something that the Nationals didn’t.

The Nationals have their first split squad day of the spring — one squad will take on the Braves at Space Coast Stadium, while the other heads to Roger Dean Stadium to play the St. Louis Cardinals.  Ross Detwiler will start at home, while Chris Young will get the start on the road.  Nationals-Braves will be on WFED and WJFK; you can listen to Nationals-Cardinals through the Cardinals’ radio feed on MLB.com.

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly: Spring Training Game 6 (Nats vs Mets)

In Game 6 of the Grapefruit League season, the Washington Nationals put together something resembling a possible Opening Day lineup for the first time, against the split-squad New York Mets.

This was Jayson Werth’s first start of the spring, after Werth was scratched several days ago with a minor bicep bruise.  Perhaps more interestingly, the lineup featured Bryce Harper in the fifth spot.  Matt Williams has made no definitive statements on what his Opening Day batting order will be, but he is considering batting Harper fifth, saying this:

I think back to my day, and the 5-spot is a really nice spot,” the manager said. “It allows him to get freed up a little bit. He’s not necessarily worried about running in front of the 3-4 guys, if he’s hitting 2. There’s a lot of cleanup RBIs there. And it may provide protection for the 3-4 guys as well, depending on the matchup, righty-lefty.

The Nationals fell behind early, but tied the game in the seventh before putting the game away with a 7-run eighth inning, winning by a final margin of 11-5.  Here once again is the good, the bad, and the ugly of Game 6.

THE GOOD

Gio Gonzalez was the last player of the Nats’ probable starters to make a Spring Training appearance, and he looked very strong today.  In his two innings, he allowed just a first inning Kirk Niewenhuis single, striking out one without walking a batter.  Gonzalez did struggle a little with fastball command, and the lineup he faced wasn’t exactly the ’27 Yankees — the only player in the Mets’ lineup who projects as a starter was the light-hitting Juan Lagares.   But Gonzalez pitched well enough, and will continue to build on this outing as he readies for the regular season.

Ian Desmond continues to look very strong with the bat this spring.  He took a fastball from University of Maryland alum Adam Kolarek over the right field fence for an opposite field home run, his second home run in the last two days.  In four games, Desmond has four hits in ten at bats, including a double and those two home runs.

— Top outfield prospect Brian Goodwin has had a rough time so far this spring.  In his first four games, he had managed just one hit, and had a few hiccups in the outfield.  But in the seventh inning today, Goodwin connected with a fastball from Mets’ righthander John Church, powering a game-tying two run home run off the light stanchion in right.  Goodwin has better than average power for a center fielder (he hit 10 home runs at AA Harrisburg last year), and that power was on full display today.

— The 7-run eighth inning featured another Nationals’ top prospect hitting a two-run home run.  Matt Skole, ranked just behind Goodwin at fourth in the Nationals’ system by Baseball America, took a Cory Mazzone offering just over the right field fence, scoring Goodwin and capping the scoring in the eighth.  It was Skole’s fourth hit in eleven at bats this spring, as the 24 year old continues to show he has fully healed from the Tommy John surgery he underwent in April 2013.

THE BAD

Denard Span had a rough game today, going 0 for 3 with two strikeouts, both against Mets’ starter Jennry Mejia.  But prior to this game, Span had looked everything like the leadoff hitter the Nationals hope he will be — three hits in six at-bats, with two stolen bases in two attempts.  Bad games will happen, and today, Denard Span had a bad game.

THE UGLY

— After an extremely poor first appearance (4 runs in two innings), Matt Purke came on the third inning with another chance to put his $4.4 million arm on display.  Purke got hit hard in the third, putting two on with one out, but managed to work out of the jam.  But in the fourth, Purke issued a one-out walk, then allowed consecutive singles to Eric Campbell and Zach Lutz, allowing a run to score.  After a groundout moved the runners to second and third, Purke allowed shortstop Anthony Seratelli, a 31-year old with no big league experience, to single to right, scoring two.  Purke’s line for the spring: 7 runs, 9 hits and 3 walks in 3 1/3 innings.

The Nationals meet the Braves for the third time this spring, tomorrow night at 6:05 at Champion Stadium in Orlando. Jordan Zimmermann will pitch for the Nationals; the Braves’ starter has not yet been announced. The game will not be televised, but can be heard on Gameday Audio through the Braves’ radio broadcast.

10 Bold Predictions For the Nationals in 2014

2013 was a year of disappointment for the Nationals. After being everybody’s favorite to win the World Series, the Nats fell flat on their face, missing the playoffs by a handful of games. As we turn the calendar to 2014, we make several bold predictions for the Nats this year.

10. They are not done this offseason

Over the course of this offseason, the Nationals have traded for Doug Fister and Jerry Blevins, and have signed Nate McLouth. To many experts, the Nationals have completed everything that they needed to this offseason and are ready to start the 2014 season. However, I still believe that Mike Rizzo and Co. have one more trick up their sleeves. Earlier this off season, the Nationals were rumored to be in on several free agents, including catcher John Buck and infielder Eric Chavez. Since then, Chavez has re-signed with the Diamondbacks. However, Buck is still available. While the Nationals seem content with Jhontan Solano and Sandy Leon being the backup catchers, and Buck’s asking price being a little hefty for a backup, the Nationals might surprise people by making this small move. They could also still be in the market for a utility infielder or a lefty power bat. Be on the look out for the Nationals to make another under-the-radar move.

9. Wilson Ramos plays 125+ games this season

In an interview during the winter meetings, GM Mike Rizzo was asked about signing another catcher. Rizzo responded that he thinks Ramos can play most of the season. He was quoted as saying, “I don’t know what the average everyday catcher caught … what, about a 125-128 games? I think he can take on that load.” Many people thought that this claim was ludicrous, since in the past two seasons, Ramos has played in a total of 103 games. However, it is possible for Ramos to achieve this feat. In 2011, Ramos’s rookie season, he was able to play in 113 games, while still sharing time with Ivan Rodriguez. However, in 2012, Ramos tore his ACL, and missed the majority of the season, and this year, Ramos dealt with numerous hamstring issues. The injuries have caused people to lose faith in Ramos’s abilities to stay healthy. However, Ramos changed his approach on the basepaths later in the season last year, so that he wouldn’t injure his hamstring again. That change in approach allowed Ramos to stay healthy and fresh in the second half of the season. It also allowed Ramos to play in 20 consecutive games at catcher, before a double header forced Ramos to sit. If Ramos can pick up where he left off, there is no reason to believe he won’t play at least 125 games.

8. Doug Fister will receive Cy Young votes at the end of the season.

By far the Nationals’ biggest move this offseason was the acquisition of starting pitcher Doug Fister in exchange for Ian Krol, Robbie Ray, and Steve Lombardozzi. By making this trade, the Nationals filled out their rotation, adding one of the most undervalued pitchers in baseball. This upcoming season, Doug Fister will show baseball how good he is by not just being one of the best pitchers in the vaunted Nationals rotation, but in all of baseball. Over the past three seasons, Fister has, in terms of fWAR, been the ninth best pitcher in the major leagues, just behind Cy Young Winners Justin Verlander, David Price, Clayton Kershaw, and Max Scherzer. Fister is also making the transition from the AL to the NL — in 12 career starts against the senior circuit, Fister has a 2.09 ERA. Although that is a small sample size, it bodes well for Fister’s transition.

7. Strasburg won’t be ready by Opening Day

A few weeks after the season ended, Stephen Strasburg underwent surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow. While Strasburg wasn’t the only National to get surgery (Bryce Harper and Adam LaRoche also had surgery to repair various injuries), Strasburg’s is the most worrisome, as he has already dealt with numerous injuries throughout his career. This new injury that Strasburg suffered this season is only another addition to Strasburg’s long and well-documented injury history. Historically, the Nationals have been very careful when handling Strasburg and his myriad injuries. Don’t look for him to be rushed back if he the Nationals don’t feel that he is ready.

6. Danny Espinosa will play 120+ games this season in DC, and will start in at least half.

Espinosa’s 2013 was an unmitigated disappointment for both himself and the Nationals organization. After a very good rookie year, Espinosa suffered a slight “sophomore slump” in 2012, batting .247/.215/.402 and leading the league in strikeouts with 168. In 2013, things only got worse for Espinosa, as his average dropped to .158, and he whiffed in 28% of his at bats. Then, in June, Espinosa was sent to the minors, where he continued to struggle, batting .216/.280/.286 in AAA Syracuse. While Espinosa struggled all of last year, both in the majors and the minors, he still has a good shot of making the major league roster out of spring. His plus defensive abilities make him valuable as a defensive replacement in the later innings. However, I think that Espinosa will be used for more than that. At the end of the last season, the Nationals had first round draft pick Anthony Rendon as their starting second baseman. Rendon had a good rookie year, hitting .265/.329/.396 with 1.5 fWAR. However, one of the Nationals main concerns with Rendon is that he is often injured. Throughout college and even in his pro career, Rendon has dealt with various injuries, including one in 2012 which cost him most of the season. Of course, no one can really predict an injury. But the Nationals will want to keep Rendon healthy, and one way that they could do that is by limiting his playing time, and having Espinosa make starts at second. Combine that with the fact that Rendon will see some time at third base, with Ryan Zimmerman seeing occasional time at first, and it seems likely that Espinosa will get some solid playing time this year.

5. Denard Span will hit over .300

In the 2012-2013 offseason, the Nationals acquired center fielder Denard Span for top pitching prospect Alex Meyer in the hopes that Span could be the franchise center fielder that the Nationals have long sought out. Span’s first year in D.C. was decent — while his offensive numbers were slightly below his career norms, he was one of the top defensive center fielders in baseball. However, in 2014, Span’s offensive numbers will make him as valuable on offense as he is on defense. In 2013, Span started off the year on a bad note, and was hitting .265/.320/.355 through the teams first 90 games. Then, on July 22nd, the Nationals fired hitting coach Rick Eckstein and brought in minor league hitting coach Rick Schu. Schu’s arrival brough marked improvement from Span, as Span managed to hit .303/.337/.418 through the teams final 62 games. Another reason for Span’s success might be a change of approach at the plate. On August 25, Denard Span received a text from his mom telling him “to swing the first pitch more often.” From August 25, until the end of the season, Span hit .336/.374/.451, including a 29 game hitting streak. While the league will probably adapt to Span’s new approach, his offense will still be more of a factor in 2014.

4. Jayson Werth will regress, a lot.

Last year, Jayson Werth had his best season as a Washington National, and possibly the best in his career, hitting .318/.398/.512 with a 4.8 WAR. Werth also finished 13th in the NL MVP vote, and was probably the best the NL offensively last season. While he did suffer a hamstring injury that kept him out for almost all of May, it didn’t detract from his amazing season. That being said, there is very little chance that Werth will be able to keep that up next season. In the past two seasons, Werth has missed almost 115 games with various injuries. Werth, who is turning 35 in May, is the Nationals oldest position player. Every year Werth gets older, he will be more likely to get injured, and it will be more and more difficult to overcome those injuries. While it is impossible to predict injuries, Werth might be the most likely offensive player to get injured.

3. Rafael Soriano wont be the closer by the end of the year.

After signing a two year, $22 million deal in the offseason of 2012-2013, Soriano became the closer for the Nationals. The team hoped that he could repeat his 2012 performance with the Yankees, where Soriano saved 42 of 46 opportunities and had a 2.26 ERA while replacing Mariano Rivera in the back of the Yankees pen. On the surface, Soriano’s 2013 campaign seems pretty good; Soriano saved 43 games, putting him in the top five in that category, and converted 88% of his saves, which was above league average last season. However, if we dig deeper into Soriano’s season, we see more troubling signs. According to Brooks Baseball, Soriano’s average fastball and slider speed were down almost a full MPH from 2012 to 2013. On top of that, almost all of his pitches had less vertical movement than in years past, making Soriano more hittable. His contact percentage was up to 88%, the highest in his career, and his WHIP was also a career high. Soriano is on the downswing of his career, and it is unlikely that he will improve in 2014. Moving Soriano from the closer role will be made easier because…

2. Drew Storen will return to his 2011-2012 form.

From 2010-2012, the Nationals seemed to have their closer of the future in Drew Storen. In his three season, Storen converted 52 of 60 save opportunities, including 43 of 48 in 2011, his first and only full year as closer. There were times in those three years where Storen looked like one of the top closers in baseball. Then, on one fateful night in October, everything changed. Come April, Drew Storen was no longer the Nationals closer. After being demoted to set-up man, Storen struggled through his first 47 appearances, collecting a 5.65 ERA with a .355 BABIP (batting average of balls in play). After a July 24th outing where Storen gave up 3 runs in 2/3 of an inning, he was demoted to AAA to work on his mechanics. After about a month in the minors, Storen was called back up to the majors. After that, he was a different pitcher. From August 16th (the day he was called up) to the end of the season, Storen gave up just 3 runs in a little over 19 innings, giving him a 1.40 ERA during that stretch. That Storen resembled the Storen who got those 43 saves in 2011. If Storen can keep that up in 2014, he will return to the closer role by the end of the season.

1. Bryce Harper will finish top 3 in the NL MVP vote.

Last April, this seemed like it was going to happen in 2013. Harper started off the season on a tear, hitting .356/.437/.744 with 9 home runs in the month of April. Then, on April 29th, Bryce Harper flung his body against the wall in Atlanta, bruising the entire right side of his body. After that night, Harper wasn’t the same player. From April 30th until May 13th, Harper batted .138/.297/.241. His batting average dropped almost 50 points in the matter of two weeks. Then, on May 13th, Harper made things worse by running face first into the wall at Dodger Stadium, further injuring his side and his knee. These injuries kept Harper in and out of the lineup for the next two months. He ended up missing the entire month of June due to his injuries from running into the walls. After his various run-ins with the wall (see what I did there?), Harper’s performance dipped considerably. While it wasn’t expected for him to keep hitting at a .356/.437/.744 pace, he was surely expected to do better than what he did. If Harper hadn’t run into those walls, he could have had a year for the record books. Barring another wall collision, Harper will have a phenomenal third season.