Harper and Strasburg will start season for Nationals

Mar 9, 2013 7:01 AM

(EDITOR’S NOTE:  This is the ninth of 30 team reports by GT sports editor Mark Mayer on major league baseball projections for the start of the 2013 season. Today: Washington Nationals. On deck: Colorado.)

WASHINGTON NATIONALS (2012: NL East 98-64, 4 up)

The Washington Nationals won the National League East last year despite not having Bryce Harper to open the season and Stephen Strasburg to close it.  The “what ifs” could linger on for years.

Many think shutting Strasburg down to save his career was wrong. If it were me, I would have started his season in June to have him for postseason play, but what’s done is done. The two prized possessions in the organization are here in 2013 from the start and the Nationals are rated along with the Detroit Tigers as the best teams in baseball, according to the Vegas books.

The Nationals have improved every season since 2009 (59 wins to 69, to 80 to 98) and it’s very possible that the projected 92½ is too low. For a team that barely missed 100 last year and better on paper with offseason moves, we’re figuring at least 95 and another NL East title.

Strasburg seems to be throwing fine in spring training and Harper won’t have to bang into walls in center field with the addition of the fleet Denard Span from Minnesota. As for pitching the Big Three (Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman) are ace material and Danny Haren in the No. 4 slot could thrive.

The lineup aside from Span is essentially the same. Heck, if it ain’t broke . . . Ryan Zimmerman is arguably the best all-around third baseman in baseball and expectations for Harper are off the chart. If RF Jayson Werth can just stay healthy, 100 wins is not beyond reach.

The Nationals won the division by four games over Atlanta and the Braves will again put up a strong challenge along with the underrated Philadelphia Phillies. The Mets and Marlins will add to the Washington win total.

Another major acquisition was Rafael Soriano coming over from the Yankees now that Mariano Rivera is back for his final season. Soriano inherits the closer role Tyler Clippard handled last year. That makes the Nats bullpen all the better and having veteran Kurt Suzuki back up Wilson Ramos behind the plate is gravy.

Davey Johnson is aging gracefully leading this young and hungry group ready bring a pennant and World Series to the nation’s capital. There’s a better chance of that happening in DC than balancing the budget.

Projected wins (92½)

Infield: C: Wilson Ramos; 1B: Adam LaRoche; 2B: Danny Espinosa; 3B: Ryan Zimmerman; SS: Ian Desmond

Outfield: LF: Bryce Harper; CF Denard Span; RF: Jayson Werth.

Pitching: Stephen Strasburg, Geo Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, Dan Haren, Ross Detwiler.

Closer: Rafael Soriano

Top reserves: RP Tyler Clippard, C Kurt Suzuki, OF Roger Bernandina.

Mark Mayer has over 35 years covering sports events and is the sports editor at GT. Reach him at [email protected].

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