Nationals fans searched for hope about their ballclub since their team came to the District in 2005.
2005 was an overachieving year for the Nationals, but there was no promise with a team that featured a barren farm system, which is why the last few years resulted to them being bad enough to get the top draft picks.
Now, the fanbase have something to be excited about with this year’s 80-81 campaign. It isn’t just Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper playing for the Nationals. It’s about a team establishing themselves as a good team.
The young players established themselves in the majors. Watching Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Drew Storen, Ross Detwiler, Ryan Mattheus, Henry Rodriguez and Wilson Ramos develop into productive players should serve as a good springboard for the next few years.
When young players have success quickly, it speeds up the timetable for a team to have success. That was the case this year for the Nationals, which is how they were able to win 80 games.
It wasn’t just the results. It was about how guys grinded in a long season. They went through funks, but they were able to figure it out in due time. That showed in September when they all of a sudden clicked on the mound and at the plate. It was beautiful to watch after the team showed inconsistencies for most of the season.
That experience is going to serve them well. They will know that slumps are part of the deal in a regular season, and that they know how they are going to respond.
There’s no question the young hitters took the lead of Jayson Werth, who struggled for most of the season, but managed to have a decent season by hitting 20 home runs. His RBI total may not be up there, but he started to hit better in the second half. He kept grinding by playing through his funks, and that set the tone for the young guys. That’s the leadership he brings to the team, and that’s why the Nationals were willing to overpay for him. It’s not the numbers that make a player, but it’s how a player leads in tough times, and that’s where Werth flourished.
The pitching is what should get the Nationals to believe they can contend for a playoff spot or having a winning season. It was enough to get them to improve this year.
If Stephen Strasburg is healthy, he is good enough to win 20 games next year. A team needs an ace that will win games every fifth day or be the stopper that ends the losing streak. They have it with their franchise player.
Strasburg did well in his comeback this month. He picked up off where he left off last year by striking out every hitter out there and not giving up that many runs. There’s no question the team won games in September with him on the mound. His presence got everyone to work harder and not mail it in this year. That should bode well heading to next season.
Then, there is Jordan Zimmermann. He took the next step by having a good season. He put his team in a position to win games by pitching well. He should have won at 15 games this year if he had run support or if he knew how to pitch past 100 pitches, which is something he has to do next season for him to be a great pitcher.
Zimmermann and Strasburg give the Nationals two aces. That is how a team builds a winning team, and how they can win in the postseason. Both are power pitchers that can help a team win a championship.
If Brad Peacock can develop into a legitimate starter, this Nationals team will make a run for the playoffs. He showed a glimpse of what he can do by winning games this month. He was dealing when he was out on the mound. The team has been high on him when they drafted him, and he showed why.
The starting pitching and an improved bullpen next year will help the Nationals contend.
Let’s also give credit to Davey Johnson here. He had a rough start to his managerial career with the Nationals, but he figured out how to use his pitchers and he had his team playing in September. He still has it. He should be managing next year, and he might be good enough to get this team to contend for a playoff spot next year. It’s a risk Nationals are willing to take.
Of course, it’s going to come down to the players. They have to perform, so that Johnson can look good as manager as he did last month. If they do, he will have success.
The Nationals should invest on some free agents. If they can convince Prince Fielder to sign with them as a free agent, their offense will improve. They could feature three home run hitters in him, Ryan Zimmerman and Mike Morse. They should also try to get another bat in if possible.
It will come down to how the young guys continue to develop. If everything goes right and if the team spends wisely on what they need to address, next year will be something to remember in September.
Next year should be something to look forward to with what took place this year. This team learned a lot about how to win and how to deal with adversity, and that’s something to be encouraged next year.
It’s about time progress is being made with the Nationals organization.