Better Luck Next Year: Washington Nationals fail to make the playoffs

The Nationals were expected to be World Series contenders. What went wrong? Photo: Jayson Werth/AP

CHICAGO, September 24, 2013 — The time has come. A year after making the decision to sit Stephen Strasburg and shelve any October dreams for the hope of future championships, the Washington Nationals’ 2013 is effectively over. Today’s column wishes better luck next year to the Washington Nationals.

What Went Right: Jayson Werth hit like the player the Nationals thought they were getting in 2011 when they signed him. Werth has posted a .318/.397/.532 line so far this year with an OPS+ of 154. The key for the Nationals will be seeing if he can repeat his 32% line drive rate, which is the highest since his rookie year.

SEE RELATED: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim miss playoffs despite lofty expectations

Ian Desmond has become one of the best shortstops in baseball. While overshadowed in the NL by Troy Tulowitzki and Hanley Ramirez, Desmond has held his own posting a .285/.337/.463 slash line with 5.0 WAR.

Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg both had good years on the Nationals’ staff. Zimmermann threw 206.1 innings with a 118 ERA+, striking out 19.0% of the batters he faced while walking just 4.8% and will likely receive consideration for the Cy Young thanks to his 19 wins, but it can be argued that Strasburg had a better year.

Stephen Strasburg threw 176 innings with an ERA+ of 125, striking out 26.6% of the batters he has faced and walking just 7.7%. Strasburg’s win total pales in comparison to that of Zimmermann’s though. Stephen Strasburg has just seven wins and is receiving the 78th best run support in MLB, 3.31 runs/game, compared to 4.48 runs/game the offense has given Zimmermann.

Finally, Wilson Ramos has had a very good year for the Nationals when healthy. Ramos has played in just 74 games this season while battling a hamstring injury, but has a .281/.315/.478 slash line with 3.0 WAR. If Ramos can stay healthier next year the Nationals should see an improved offense and defense.

SEE RELATED: Arizona gets knocked from playoff contention after loss to Dodgers

Bryce Harper runs into Dodger Stadium wall/AP

What Went Wrong: Bryce Harper did not emerge as the force that many expected. While some of the blame can be assigned to injuries and Harper had a stellar year for just about any other 20-year-old, he is not just any 20-year-old. Harper has a .279/.374/.496 line with a 138 OPS+. Held up with some of the other young stars in the game though like Mike Trout and Manny Machado, it is hard to call this season a success for Harper. All of the skills that made Harper so hyped  as a prospect are still there though, and it is entirely possible that he sets the league on fire next year.

Danny Espinosa’s season has gone so poorly that he found himself finishing it in the minor leagues. Espinosa posted just a .158/.193/.272 slash line before being demoted in early June. Espinosa’s strikeout rate had escalated to over 28% in both 2012 and 2013 limiting his usefulness.

The Nationals have the seventh best starter’s ERA in baseball at 3.64, and although Dan Haren has been better lately, the Nationals could use better production from their fourth and fifth starters. There are no impact pitchers close enough to make the jump from the minors for next year, as Lucas Giolito is at least a couple years off. The organization will have to look at the trade market or free agency to improve those two spots.

Lastly, many teams around baseball have been locking up young players to longer-term contracts. By buying out some of the arbitration years the team is often able to get a discount on some of the players free agency years as the team has done to mixed results with Ryan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez. With Jordan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper all slated to hit free agency after 2016 efforts should be made to see what it would take to lock up one or more of the players.

What to Look for in 2014: This team was expected to make the playoffs this year, and after shutting down Strasburg early last year, that would have management’s job a lot easier. The team could use some better starters in the back of the rotation and some better luck with health and they should be able to have a good shot at making the playoffs next year, but as the team learned this year that is far from a certainty.

Free Agents/Options: Dan Haren, Chad Tracy  

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Steve Adler

Steve Adler was born and raised in NH in a town called Westmoreland. He currently resides in Chicago, IL with his wife and daughter. He has worked in Commodities and Banking. Steve has been a sports columnist for The Washington Times Communities since July 2013.

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