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Washington Nationals 2015 Season Preview: Not saying #WSOB, but...

SB Nation 2015 MLB Preview So is anything less than a trip to the NLCS a disappointment for a team that went to the NLDS and lost for the second time in the last three years last season? Is it #WSOB again even though no one will say that? Our Washington Nationals 2015 Season Preview...

Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Welcome Back: Get to know your 2015 Nationals

The team the Washington Nationals field in 2016 could be significantly different than the one baseball fans in the nation's capital have come to love over the last few seasons.

With two of the five projected starters in the Nats' rotation, right-handers Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister, set to hit free agency if not signed to extensions, shortstop Ian Desmond due to become a free agent after this season and Denard Span in his walk year as well, the 2015 campaign could be the last run for this version of the Nationals' roster.

"The window isn't closed, but it is closing. It's important for us to move past this and go to Spring Training ready to go." -Ian Desmond, October 2014

Desmond said as much in the immediate aftermath of the Nats' NLDS loss to the San Francisco Giants this past October.

"The window isn't closed," Desmond told reporters in AT&T Park's visitors' clubhouse, "but it is closing. It's important for us to move past this and go to Spring Training ready to go."

Zimmermann expressed similar sentiments in a conversation with reporters in Viera, Florida this Spring.

"'If it’s going to be any year, it’s going to be this year and we all know that,'" Zimmermann told reporters, including's Jamal Collier. "'We’re all getting ready for a big year.'"

The Nats' biggest move of the offseason certainly appeared to be a win-now move by the defending NL East champs.

Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo and the Lerner family spent big on free agent right-hander Max Scherzer, signing the 30-year-old starter to a 7-year/$210M deal that gives Washington one of the best rotations in baseball heading into the 2015 campaign.

"We feel that we've got a young, 30-year-old arm with a lot of mileage left on the tires and a guy that is going to take us into competitive games for a very, very long time." - Mike Rizzo on new Nats' starter Max Scherzer

Asked about the signing during Scherzer's introductory press conference in January, Rizzo explained why they went and added Scherzer to the already-impressive collection of arms in the Nats' rotation.

"We saw a player that we were extremely interested in," Rizzo said. "He fits all the criteria that we're looking for in a Washington Nationals-type of player."

"He's the type of guy we're looking for," he continued, "and he's the guy that we went after very aggressively and we strengthened a strength and, who wouldn't want Max Scherzer on their club?"

Rizzo, Scherzer

Good question, Rizzo. Here are some of the other key additions the Nationals made this winter...


Key Roster Additions: Max Scherzer; Casey Janssen; Yunel Escobar

Key Roster Departures: Adam LaRoche; Tyler Clippard; Steven Souza; Asdrubal Cabrera; Ross Detwiler; Rafael SorianoMichael Morse (still a key departure years later acc. to some fans)

Nationals' 2015 Rotation Outlook (in no particular order):

  1. Max Scherzer - RHP - 2014 Stats - (18-5), 33 G, 33 GS, 220 ⅓ IP, 3.15 ERA, 2.85 FIP, 18 HR (0.74 HR/9), 63 BB (2.57 BB/9), 252 Ks (10.29 K/9), +5.6 fWAR
  2. Stephen Strasburg - RHP - 2014 Stats - (14-11), 34 G, 34 GS, 215 IP, 3.14 ERA, 2.94 FIP, 23 HR (0.96 HR/9), 43 BB (1.80 BB/9), 242 Ks (10.13 K/9), +4.3 fWAR
  3. Jordan Zimmermann - RHP - 2014 Stats - (14-5), 32 G, 32 GS, 199 ⅔ IP, 2.66 ERA, 2.68 FIP, 13 HR (0.59 HR/9), 29 BB (1.31 BB/9), 182 Ks (8.20 K9), +5.2 fWAR
  4. Doug Fister - RHP - 2014 Stats - (16-6), 25 G, 25 GS, 164 IP, 2.41 ERA, 3.93 FIP, 18 HR (0.99 HR/9), 24 BB (1.32 BB/9), 98 Ks (5.38 K/9), +1.3 fWAR
  5. Gio Gonzalez - LHP - 2014 Stats - (10-10), 27 G, 27 GS, 158 ⅔ IP, 3.57 ERA, 3.03 FIP, 10 HR (0.57 HR/9), 56 BB (3.18 BB/9), 162 Ks (9.19 K/9), +3.1 fWAR

Remaining Nationals' Rotation Questions:

Poor Tanner Roark, right? The right-hander has said all the right things though, but it isn't right, right? If all goes well, the Nationals are all-in this season, but already this Spring there has been a rash of injuries. If it doesn't work out as planned, do they still hold on to Zimmermann and Fister at the deadline? It will likely be a question of whether or not Rizzo and co. think they can get more than they would by making a qualifying offer to each to guarantee draft pick compensation. If the Nats are somehow, inexplicably, out of it, do they deal a starter this July? If they develop other needs, do they deal from a strength with the likes of Roark waiting in the wings (or the bullpen, I guess) and prospects like A.J. Cole close to major league ready?

Enjoy this rotation while you can, it might not (probably won't) be the same next season...

The big question, after maybe, "Will everyone stay healthy?" How about, "How does Matt Williams line his starters up?"

It's not really a big question, or a big deal, especially with this collection of arms, but the Nats' second-year skipper has already been asked this Spring and he had an answer for reporters.

"I would liken it to the leadoff hitter," Williams said. "Once you get past the first inning, you have multiple leadoff hitters during the game. So it's important for those guys to get on base too."

"You get past the first week and you've got an off day and it's out the window too," he said of the order when it comes to the Nationals' starters.

In other words, he's not worried about labeling any one pitcher the Nationals' no.1 starter. And speaking of leadoff hitters...

Projected Everyday Lineup (once everyone is past their respective injury issues):

  1. Denard Span - CF - 2014 Stats - 147 G, 668 PAs, .302/.355/.416, .330 BABIP, 39 doubles, 8 triples, 5 HRs, 31 SB, 117 wRC+, +3.8 fWAR
  2. Anthony Rendon - 3B - 2014 Stats - 153 G, 683 PAs, .287/.351/.473, .314 BABIP, 39 doubles, 6 triples, 21 HRs, 17 SB, 141 wRC+, +6.6 fWAR
  3. Bryce Harper - RF - 2014 Stats - 100 G, 395 PAs, .273/.344/.423, .352 BABIP, 10 doubles, 2 triples, 13 HRs, 2 SB, 115 wRC+, +1.3 fWAR
  4. Ryan Zimmerman - 1B - 2014 Stats - 61 G, 240 PAs, .280/.342/.449, .313 BABIP, 19 doubles, 1 triple, 5 HRs, 120 wRC+, +1.2 fWAR
  5. Jayson Werth - LF - 2014 Stats - 147 G, 229 PAs, .292/.394/.455, .343 BABIP, 37 doubles, 1 triple, 16 HRs, 141 wRC+, +4.8 fWAR
  6. Ian Desmond - SS - 2014 Stats - 154 G, 648 PAs, .255/.313/.430, .326 BABIP, 26 doubles, 3 triples, 24 HRs, 24 SB, 108 wRC+, +4.1 fWAR
  7. Wilson Ramos - C - 2014 Stats - 88 G, 361 PAs, .267/.299/.399, .290 BABIP, 12 doubles, 11 HRs, 93 wRC+, +2.0 fWAR
  8. Yunel Escobar - 2B - 2014 Stats - 137 G, 529 PAs, .258/.324/.340, .282 BABIP, 18 doubles, 7 HRs, 95 wRC+, +0.2 fWAR

Nationals' 2015 Bench (Projected): Tyler Moore; Nate McLouth, Danny Espinosa, Kevin Frandsen, Jose Lobaton

Nationals' Opening Day Roster/Bench Remaining Questions:

The Washington Nationals' Opening Day lineup may feature some mix of Tyler Moore and Nate McLouth (in left) and Michael Taylor in center field as Jayson Werth (shoulder) and Denard Span (core muscle surgery) recover from their respective surgeries. McLouth is still working his way back from shoulder surgery too.

Anthony Rendon is currently dealing with a knee issue, but is expected to be back for Opening Day. Yunel Escobar is dealing with an oblique injury, but should be ready for the start of the season.

How about the bench?

Can Mike Carp make enough of an impression this Spring to earn himself a bench spot?

Can Moore, who is out of options, hit his way to a bench spot?

Will the experiment with Danny Espinosa giving up switch hitting get the infielder back on track?

Nationals' 2015 Bullpen:

  1. Drew Storen - CL - 2014 Stats - (2-1), 65 G, 56 ⅓ IP, 1.12 ERA, 2.71 FIP, 11 SV, 3 BS, 11 BB (1.76 BB/9), 46 Ks (7.35 K/9), +0.9 fWAR
  2. Casey Janssen - SU - 2014 Stats - (3-3), 50 G, 45 ⅔ IP, 3.94 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 25 S, 5 BS, 7 BB (1.38 BB/9), 28 Ks (5.52 K/9), +0.1 fWAR
  3. Matt Thornton - LHP - 2014 Stats - (1-3), 64 G, 36 IP, 1.75 ERA, 2.66 FIP, 8 BB (2.00 BB/9), 28 Ks (7.00 K/9), +0.7 fWAR
  4. Tanner Roark - RHP - 2014 Stats - (15-10), 31 G, 31 GS, 198 ⅔ IP, 2.85 ERA, 3.47 FIP, 39 BB (1.77 BB/9), 138 Ks (6.25 K/9), +3.0 fWAR
  5. Jerry Blevins - LHP - 2014 Stats - (2-3), 64 G, 57 ⅓ IP, 4.87 ERA, 2.77 FIP, 23 BB (3.61 BB/9), 66 Ks (10.36 K/9), +0.7 fWAR
  6. Aaron Barrett - RHP - 2014 Stats - (3-0), 50 G, 40 ⅔ IP, 2.66 ERA, 2.59 FIP, 20 BB, (4.43 BB/9), 49 Ks (10.84 K/9), +0.6 fWAR
  7. Craig Stammen - RHP - 2014 Stats - (4-5), 49 G, 72 ⅔ IP, 3.84 ERA, 3.19 FIP, 14 BB, (4.43 BB/9), 56 Ks, (6.94 K/9), +0.6 fWAR

Remaining Nationals' Bullpen Questions:

How long before Blake Treinen's part of the major league bullpen? Any chance Treinen beats Aaron Barrett out for a spot? What role will Tanner Roark play in the 2015 bullpen? Long man seems like a waste really, doesn't it? How do you work Roark into high-leverage innings? Are you one of those people who still doesn't trust Drew Storen to close out important games? Will lefties hit Jerry Blevins again or will it be back to normal for the lefty vs lefties? Can Casey Janssen make Nationals fans forget Tyler Clippard? Will trading Clippard create a hole that can't be filled? Is that where Treinen ends up?

2015 Nationals Prospect Watch:

[ed. note - "A sligthly different version of this was previously posted in a Nationals Season Preview Q&A w/"]

Following Lucas Giolito's progress will be our main minor league obsession this season. A.J. Cole might be the prospect who is closest to major league-ready.

I’m also really interested in seeing what shortstop Trea Turner (the PTBNL in the three-team Steven Souza deal with the Padres and Rays) does when he is actually included in the trade this June.

Is Turner the future SS in the nation's capital if Ian Desmond does depart via free agency next winter or if Desmond is traded before then?

"Showed me good command of the strike zone and he's got some pop and I like his approach, I like everything about him, make-up all the way down the line." - Davey Johnson on MLB Network Radio this Spring on Matt Skole, 2013

I think 1B/3B Matt Skole is an interesting sleeper name to keep an eye on. He’s heading into his second season back after Tommy John surgery (freak defensive injury), so hopefully some of the power comes back for him this year.

Davey Johnson loved what he saw from Skole in Spring Training a few years back, and Matt Williams went as far as to compare him to a young Jim Thome last Spring. He’s the top 1B prospect in an organization that’s lacking in them and picked up a number of veteran first basemen this winter.

I think one prospect to definitely keep an eye on this season is 21-year-old right-hander Reynaldo Lopez.

What caught my attention, more than his numbers at A-ball (NY/Penn, SAL) this season (1.08 ERA in 83 ⅓ IP), was the fact that he ended up at no.20 on MLB’s Nationals’ prospect list, and no.3 on Baseball America’s Top 10.

That seems like a fairly big difference of opinion. He also landed on Keith Law’s Top 100, with Law writing that Lopez’s "ceiling" was second only to Giolito’s amongst Nats’ pitching prospects. Lopez hasn’t thrown a lot of innings yet, but I’ll be interested to see what he does this season.

I think infield prospect Wilmer Difo could be a candidate for either a big jump forward or a big step back. He's been impressive so far this Spring (in a small sample size, yes).

After a down-year in 2013, Difo put up a .315/.360/.470 line with 31 doubles, seven triples, 14 HRs and 49 stolen bases as a 22-year-old at Low-A Hagerstown last season, so I assume he’ll start at High-A Potomac and with the lack of middle infield prospects in the organization, I think he could move up quickly if he continues to produce at more age-appropriate levels.

As far as a (sort-of-random) list of Nationals’ prospects I’ll be keeping an eye on in 2015: RHP Joe Ross, 3B Drew Ward, C Jakson Reetz, RHP Jake Johansen… LHP Felipe Rivero.

National perception of the Nationals?:

The Nationals are the odds-on favorites to win the 2015 World Series. The addition of Max Scherzer to an already-strong rotation gave them one of the best collection of starters in baseball. But none of that matters until you actually start playing games as Matt Williams explained when asked this Spring about going into the season as the favorites.

"It makes for good copy and good conversation," Williams said of the chatter, "but we don't think in those terms. We think in terms of getting ready for the Spring season and getting ready for the regular season and moving from there. On paper, things can be thrown around back and forth, but you've got to play the games, and that's what we concentrate on."

How the Nationals make a run?:

The pitchers stay healthy. The position players stay healthy. Ryan Zimmerman and Wilson Ramos stay on the field, with Zim adjusting to first base and proving the Nats' brass right by playing Gold Glove-caliber first base while Ramos stays behind the plate for something close to a full season and realizes his potential. Bryce Harper stays healthy, shows more of what he's shown thus far in his career and especially in his second postseason run in the majors last October in the NLDS. Yunel Escobar proves Mike Rizzo right and turns back into the four-win player he was in 2013 in Tampa Bay. The bullpen additions makes up for the loss of Tyler Clippard and Matt Williams' talk about matching up in late innings rather than assigning standard roles wasn't just talk but part of a new approach.

How it all goes wrong for the Nationals?:

Wilson Ramos can't stay healthy. Ryan Zimmerman can't stay healthy and the backup options at first don't produce. Anthony Rendon's knee injury proves worse than originally thought and the Nats' backup options at third don't produce. The Nationals' outfielders (Jayson Werth and Denard Span) don't bounce back from their respective surgeries as expected and "We never should have traded Steven Souza!" becomes the new "We never should have traded Michael Morse!" One or more of the starters is injured and the fill-ins like Tanner Roark or maybe A.J. Cole don't provide what other starters would have. Bryce Harper can't stay healthy. The offseason bullpen moves backfire. Drew Storen struggles in the closer's role and the Nats really miss Tyler Clippard when no other closer option works out. Yunel Escobar is not the nearly four-win player he was in 2013 anymore.

What you have to see to call the season a success?:

Davey Johnson's declaration that it was "World Series or Bust" for the Nationals in 2013 after they won the NL East and lost in the NLDS in 2012 is blamed for putting a lot of undue pressure on the Nats, who underperformed in what ended up being the veteran skipper's last year on the bench in the nation's capital. What's rarely mentioned, however, is Johnson's explanation for why he said what he did. It was simple really, as he explained.

"There's no sense in me romancing anybody, and telling you that, 'Jeez, we'll be lucky if we win the division,' or be lucky if we go far in the playoffs." -Davey Johnson on infamous "World Series or Bust" comments

"We've already won [the division]," Johnson said early in 2013. "We've been in the postseason and with that experience and with the talent level that's here, our goal should be higher."

"There's no sense in me romancing anybody," he continued, "and telling you that, 'Jeez, we'll be lucky if we win the division,' or be lucky if we go far in the playoffs. Maybe I'm just covering my [butt]. But my [butt] is going to be gone anyway. But, I think, I'm not telling these players anything that they don't believe themselves."

Should he have stopped at the NLCS? "NLCS or BUST!!"  If you make the NLDS one year and the core of the team is returning, then of course taking the next step has to be the goal, right? The Nationals won the division again last season, so what do they have to do this season to have it be considered a success?

Anything less than an NLCS or World Series appearance would be a disappointment, right?

FBB's Official Prediction:

94 wins, a 3rd NL East title in the last four years, and at least the next step to the NLCS. From there...?