Something better than before: a Washington Nationals preview

Jayson Werth cannot stand for smudges on helmets. - Joe Robbins

The White Sox take on their first NL opponent this week.

Offense: Denard Span-CF, Jayson Werth-RF, Bryce Harper-LF, Ryan Zimmerman-3B, Adam LaRoche-1B, Ian Desmond-SS, Danny Espinosa-2B, Wilson Ramos-C. Bench: Kurt Suzuki-C, Chad Tracy-1B/3B, Tyler Moore-1B/OF, Steve Lombardozzi-UTIL, Roger Bernadina-OF.

WAS R/G: 3.50. CHW R/G: 3.67.

Our old friend Denard Span was shipped off to the National League as part of the Great Minnesota Center Fielder Exodus this winter. So while we no longer have to see him on a regular basis, we can never truly escape our Denarded fate. He's the same player he's always been, which is to say a good defensive center fielder who is a decent thief with gap power and good plate discipline. If he hadn't played for the Twins, I think I would actually like him. But he did. So I don't. Because screw that noise. Back when the Nationals were still making terrible financial decisions they chose to give Jayson Werth a 7 year/$126MM contract with a full no trade clause. Because that could only end well. Last season hopefully showed that his ability to hit wasn't strictly limited to Philadelphia's tiny dimensions. He's not the same hitter he was with the Phillies, but who is when they get older? Expect a 20-20 season with okay defense and a respectable OBP.

Bryce Harper somehow managed to live up to the hype, racking up 5.2 bWAR as a 20-year-old rookie. That's just not fair. He's only going to get better too, which is kind of terrifying. He's a pretty good corner outfielder with legitimate 25-25 potential that could easily become 30-30 as he matures physically. Really the only knock on him is he could stand to strikeout less but that's picking nits. Be happy we will likely only see him three times a year every other season or so. Ryan Zimmerman's reign as the face of the franchise was fairly short, which kind of blows. Injuries and playing for a team that just kind of existed in limbo for the start of his career tends to help people forget that he's been one of the best third basemen in baseball over the past decade or so. He's done so with a combination of good defense, good plate discipline, and a strong bat. He might not hit 30 homeruns again any time soon, but he won't fall below 20 either.

Adam LaRoche has not yet had a hit this season, which is both interesting and meaningless all at once except that when he gets one against us we'll get to see some derisive cheering. If we were taking bets on who will finish with the most homeruns for Washington, the safest bet would be LaRoche, seeing as he led the team last year and all. He's a good defensive first base man as well and the Nationals benefited greatly from other teams being scared off by the threat of losing a draft pick, allowing them to resign him at a very reasonable rate. Last year Ian Desmond decided being average was not for him and somehow became a power hitting short stop out of nowhere. He more than doubled his career homerun total in one year without losing any doubles. Is this permanent? I have no idea! But let's say kind of and take the easy way out and then eat pizza for lunch. He's improving defensively and should give the Nats yet another 20-20 hitter. They're essentially every baseball video game roster I ever created because stealing bases and hitting homeruns is far more fun than everything else.

Confession: I love writing the previews for NL teams that we only play once and away from Chicago because then I don't have to write about a pseudo-DH and can skip two pitchers. I'm lazy! Danny Espinosa led the National League in strikeouts last year, which is pretty neat because he's not Jim Thome and when is the last time a second baseman did that? It's unique! Mark Bellhorn in the American League in 2004 is the answer, but still, pretty neat. Other than the strikeouts, Espinosa fits the general team mold of 20-20 ability with good defense and an okay eye for drawing walks. I still can't believe the Twins gave up Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps. My brain refuses to process that information. Ramos had a pretty good 2011 season for Washington before tearing the ACL in his right knee and losing almost the entire 2012 season to that injury. He has a league average bat with mid-teen power, which is a dandy thing to have out of a catcher that can throw people out.

Pitching: Stephen Strasburg-RHP, Gio Gonzalez-LHP, Jordan Zimmermann-RHP, Dan Haren-RHP, Ross Detwiler-LHP, Rafael Soriano-CL.

WAS RA/G: 4.67. CHW RA/G: 3.17

Good and bad news. First the bad news: we don't get to see Stephen Strasburg pitch this week. Now the good news: the Sox don't have to face Stephen Strasburg this week. And that is the last we will talk about him, because if he isn't playing the White Sox then he is not a part of this southern Chicago-centric universe. Nope, instead we will be facing the 2-4 starters, starting with former farmhand Gio Gonzalez tonight. The man of many trades led the NL in K/9 last season while finally managing to get his BB/9 under 4.0. He's one of those rare groundballers that gets a ton of strikeouts, also known as a lefty that will dominate our lineup. Oh yeah, and he doesn't give up homeruns. I'm not expecting this matchup to go particularly well for us. He has a strong sinking mid-90s fastball that he complements with a curveball and a changeup. Jordan Zimmermann is the unsung third starter in what could be one of the best rotations in baseball this year. Over the past two seasons, Zimmermann has walked fewer than two hitters per nine innings, a number that does things for me. And it's not like he doesn't get strikeouts, as his K/9 sits at 7.0 over that same stretch. He throws a mid-90s four-seamer, a strong slider that he calls his "baby cutter", a curveball, and the rare changeup.

Dan Haren avoided a fate worse than death when the proposed Haren for Carlos Marmol deal fell through, resulting in him being able to sign with a team that should make the playoffs as opposed to being traded to one that will finish at the bottom of their division. He had the worst full season of his career last year, which also happened to be the first time he finished under 200 IP. He's a workhorse groundballer who gets strikeouts, so if he bounces back this could be a very nice one year deal for Washington. His fastball sits in the upper-80s now, but he responded by adopting a pretty nice cutter to go along with a good splitter and a curveball. For whatever reason, Mike Rizzo didn't think Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen were a reliable enough late inning tandem and signed Rafael Soriano this winter to become the new closer. Soriano is the same high strikeout/acceptable amount of walks right-handed closer he's always been, so it's not like it was an awful move. And it looks like half the salary is deferred towards the future so hey, why not? Raffy tosses a mid-90s four-seamer and a biting slider.

Outlook: This is a team firmly entrenched in their playoff window for the next few seasons. We're in limbo. I hate predicting three game series. I think we take one of the three games.


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