Nationals Not Planning Big Changes: Are The Late-Season Nats The Real Nats?

Rob Carr

Washington's 34-20 record in August/September got them close in the end, but the hole the Nationals put themselves in early with a slow start to the defense of their NL East crown was too big to overcome. Are they the team that ended the season with an 18-9 September?

A disappointing end to the 2013 campaign in D.C. has those who talk to Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo these days asking the 52-year-old General Manager and President of Baseball Operations what went wrong that resulted in the Nats failing to make it back to the postseason after bringing October baseball back to the nation's capital for the first time in 79 years last fall? "Offensive efficiency" has been the catchphrase of the offseason thus far, as the Nationals' GM has attempted to analyze the key reasons why the 2012 NL East champs who finished 98-64 last season ended the year at 86-76 this year, out of contention in the division and Wild Card races.

"We didn't hit well enough with runners in scoring position. We didn't do the little nuances offensively for run creation and to kind of manufacture runs." - Mike Rizzo on Nationals' issues in 2013

"Offensively, we just weren't very efficient," Rizzo told ESPN980's The Sports Fix's Kevin Sheehan and Thom Loverro in the latest season-in-review interview this past Friday. "We didn't hit well enough with runners in scoring position. We didn't do the little nuances offensively for run creation and to kind of manufacture runs. And I think if I had to put my finger on one aspect of it, that would probably be it. With that said, we did do a better job of it from the All-Star Break on and especially from August 1st on, but I think we put ourselves in such a deep hole at that time we had to play too perfect a baseball to pull it out in the end."

In a late-season interview with reporters, including NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman, the Nats' GM attempted to explain why the Nationals weren't "offensively efficient" early, and how, during team's last season run, they were able to perform as they were expected to when the roster was assembled.

"We’ve created more runs, we’ve stolen more bases, we’ve hit with runners in scoring position much better recently, and that’s really the roster that we constructed all along..." - Mike Rizzo to reporters in December

"'We were more reliant on the long ball, I think, than we should’ve been and I think it’s shown,'" Rizzo said. "'We’ve created more runs, we’ve stolen more bases, we’ve hit with runners in scoring position much better recently, and that’s really the roster that we constructed all along. We just waited too long to get it going.'"

The Nationals don't have big changes planned. Rizzo told reporters that the "core(s)" of the lineup, rotation and bullpen are pretty much set with some help in the pen and on the bench mentioned often as goals for the offseason. So, the Nats' GM is counting on the Nationals producing like they were expected to and finally did toward the end of the season when they went 18-9 in September and won 34 of their last 54 games with the lineup they planned on fielding finally together on a regular basis and producing. It's more about getting what's expected from the players they have and managing to their strengths, as the Nats' GM explained it.

"We do have some hitters in the lineup that do hit for contact, can move the ball, can manipulate the bat head and be hit-and-run type of guys." - Mike Rizzo on Nats' roster construction

"I don't think you change the entire demographic of your offensive lineup and try to change what people do best," Rizzo told ESPN980's Mr.'s Sheehan and Loverro. "I think you have to manage within the confines of the players that you have. There's certain players that we have [who] are free swingers. They're more power-oriented than moving-the-ball type of hitters, but we do have some hitters in the lineup that do hit for contact, can move the ball, can manipulate the bat head and be hit-and-run type of guys. And I think we have to rely on those guys to do the little things. Let the table setters set the table and let the thumpers knock in the runs."

When they did get it going late this season, Davey Johnson told reporters he thought the runs outfielders Denard Span and Jayson Werth were on played a key role in getting the offense going. "They've really been getting on base and motivating the club and maybe taking pressure off a lot of the guys in the lineup," Johnson said. Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier in September that he was happy to see Span getting comfortable as the table setter he was brought in to be for the Nationals.

"[He's] turned a corner and is getting back to himself at the plate," Rizzo said. " And [he's] a guy that is very dangerous and a table setter that is allowing us to put a run on like we're putting."

Can the same lineup produce like they did from August on this year from the start in 2014?

"We see ourselves as a pretty solid team going into it," Rizzo explained on ESPN980. "I think we'll do some tweaking of the bullpen, maybe tweaking of the bench. And that type of thing. But I don't see any major overhauls, but [we will] certainly be open to anything that comes along that can increase our chances of going deep into the playoffs and improving our lot over this year."

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