Few teams in Major League Baseball will enter 2014 as confident as the Washington Nationals. The team finished strong last season, boasting the best record in baseball over the last two months of the season, and have only gotten better throughout the course of the offseason.
General manager Mike Rizzo traded for a top of the line starter in Doug Fister, bolstered the bench by signing outfielder Nate McLouth and added a much-needed left-handed reliever in Jerry Blevins. Perhaps the most important move for Rizzo has been hiring new manager Matt Williams, who appears to be the right guy to lead the club to the next level.
The Nationals will enter 2014 as the favorites to win the National League East and play deep into the playoffs, and Nationals fans should feel comfortable with where their team stands right now.
That being said, the team will also enter 2014 with some concerns, primarily injuries. And given how badly injuries hurt the team in 2013, this is a concern that simply cannot be ignored.
Several Nationals players have gone under the knife this offseason, mostly to fix some of the issues that plagued them last season. Outfielder Bryce Harper had surgery early in the offseason to eliminate the bursitis in his knee which he had been dealing with since he crashed into the wall at Dodgers stadium last May. Harper is not the only player who has undergone an offseason surgery as RHP Stephen Strasburg and first baseman Adam LaRoche both had elbow surgeries earlier this offseason.
All of these players are expected to be ready to go by Opening Day, but surgeries can never be taken lightly, no matter how minor they are. In an interview with Fox 5 Friday morning, manager Matt Williams expressed his concerns with the health of some of the Nationals’ key players.
“We’re looking, certainly, at Wilson Ramos and his health,” Williams said. “Stras is coming off an elbow surgery. Adam LaRoche is coming off an elbow surgery. I think Ryan Zimmerman is beyond his shoulder surgery from last year. Certainly Harp’s knee is a question mark at this point.”
In a game as unpredictable as baseball, injuries are not only expected, they’re anticipated. They’re a part of the game that simply cannot be ignored because, as we saw last year, injuries can derail a season.
Every team has injury concerns, but for the Nationals it is especially crucial that all of their players arrive at Spring Training in three weeks healthy and ready to go. Nobody understands this better than Williams, who plans on being very careful with the team’s injured players until they prove they are 100 percent healthy.
“And so we’ll ‘kid-glove’ them, if you will, early on in spring training, making sure that they’re okay,” Williams said. “And once they prove that they are, we’ll let ‘em go.”
Fortunately for the Nationals, it appears as though all the surgeries went well and everyone will be healthy entering Spring Training. There’s no denying the consequences that injuries can have on a team, but there’s also no denying the fact that, if healthy, the Nationals are poised to accomplish big things in 2014.
“We have a very talented, young team. We’re the fourth-youngest team in the National League. You wouldn’t think that ’cause these guys have been around so long. But we are. So these guys are getting into themselves at this point, becoming the players that they wanna be, and should be. And I’m along for the ride. It’s gonna be fun,” Williams said.
On paper, the Nationals are arguably the best team in baseball right now. They boast some of the best young talent in the Majors and may very well be on their way to bringing the World Series trophy back to Washington for the first time in 90 years. That being said, October is still ten months away and a lot can happen between now and then.
For now, all we can do is hope that the Nationals will find a way to stay as healthy as possible. Baseball is an unpredictable game, and in a 162 game season… anything can happen.