(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the 23rd of 30 major league baseball previews leading up to the opening game on Sunday, April 3. On deck: New York Yankees.)
The Washington Nationals were supposed to run away with the NL East a year ago. They failed miserably.
Number one reason, the New York Mets. There was only a two-run differential (+70 to +68) between the Mets and Nats in terms of scored and allowed against everyone else, but when facing each other it was all New York.
That was the how the Mets won the division by 7 games and went on to take the NL pennant. Washington dumped manager Matt Williams, brought in Dusty Baker and signed Daniel Murphy from (you guessed it) the Mets.
Murphy had a nice season (.284 BA, 14 HR, 73 RBI) but it was his epic power surge in the playoffs that led to him making $8 million this year playing second base for the Nats. He figures to hit fifth or six behind league MVP Bryce Harper.
All Harper did was hit 44 homers, bat .330 with an obscene on base percentage of .460 and become the face of the National League. Unfortunately everyone else was either on the DL or underachieved.
Max Scherzer brought Cy Young cred from Detroit, won 14 games with a fine 2.79 ERA and fanned 276. But again everyone else underachieved.
We’re still waiting for Stephen Strasburg to produce Cy Young stats and not sighs over 11 wins. Lefty Geo Gonzalez was also off his game and Jordan Zimmermann moved on to Detroit. Closer Jonathan Papelbon had a nice 2.13 ERA but a career low 24 saves.
Where it goes right: That Harper has another MVP season, Scherzer comes closer to 20 wins, Strasberg finally lives up to his all-world buildup and OF Michael A. Taylor’s monster spring carries over to the regular season.
Where it goes wrong: That Murphy can’t come close to last year’s numbers and both Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth again too much time on the DL.
Projection: The Nats are projected to win 89 games, six more than last year. In Murphy they will know all about the Mets great young staff. They have to find a way to beat the Amazins this year.