Asked to sum up what went wrong for the Washington Nationals in 2015, GM MIke Rizzo, in an MLB Network Radio interview this winter, pointed to the injuries which plagued the Nationals last season as the biggest issue that led to their disappointing results.
"A lot of things have to come into play for you to play as poorly as we did," Rizzo explained.
"First of all we started the season off in a bad spot," he continued. "Four guys in Spring Training that couldn't perform in Spring Training, that didn't get any at bats, so now they're catching up, and you know how hard it is catching up throughout the season, you never really catch up -- so you're taking your six weeks of Spring Training, but it's in playoff atmosphere baseball, against guys who have had full Spring Training, so we started off slow."
In spite of the injuries, the pitchers and position players who were called upon to play more than expected kept the Nats in contention until late in the season, but the anticipated returns of Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth didn't work out as the Nationals hoped, with each player struggling to get things going at the plate as losses piled up and the Nats fell behind the New York Mets for good.
"They kept us afloat, and then we just couldn't get a synergy, we couldn't get a rhythm, not only with our rotation, but with our lineup and guys were in and out of the disabled list multiple times during the season," Rizzo explained.
"Just couldn't get a rhythm and then things just started deteriorating and performances went down and we just couldn't recover."
So what will it take for the Nationals to bounce back this season?
"We need to keep our players healthy," Rizzo said in an MLB Network Radio interview from Spring Training.
"We tried to address that in the offseason. We had a really busy offseason. A new manager, new coaching staff, a new medical staff, which we think is going to be extremely beneficial to us. There's some cutting edge stuff going on in the game right now. We think that we're at the forefront of it, and we think it's going to help keep our players on the field.
"And that said, a lot of teams can say that, but if our players are on the field I think we have a chance to play with anybody in the league. We feel good about ourselves."
"Maybe the next Moneyball," Rizzo said in introducing the medical staff, "keeping players on the field."
"If I can keep my front line guys on the field more than yours, there's a good chance of our team winning," Dusty Baker told reporters after he was hired as the Nationals' new manager this winter.
"I know how to run this race. I know what it takes as a player and a coach and a manager, and it's a long race. It starts before you even get to Spring Training."
Will Baker be the difference? Can he get the Nationals' "older players" like Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth rest and get them through the season so they're available and productive down the stretch?
Rizzo said he thinks he found the right man for the job after Matt Williams' two-year tenure on the bench in the nation's capital.
"We really opened it up to a lot of different opinions, and a different backgrounds and I think we interviewed fourteen manager candidates," Rizzo said of the search for the Williams' replacement.
"Dusty really stuck out as the guy that was the right manager at this particular time for the Nationals with the team that we had in place and the atmosphere in Washington, D.C."
Will Baker get the Nationals over the top, to their third National League East title in the last five years and hopefully past the division series for the first time?
[ed. note - "Yes, we know the Washington Senators went to the World Series twice, but there was only a league championship and World Series at that point -- 1924-25; 1933.]"
What needs to go right for that to happen? What's the best case scenario?
Zimmerman, Werth and Rendon stay in the lineup.
Werth proves to be a young 36-going-on-37-year-old like he was a young 32-year-old when he signed on in D.C.
Michael A. Taylor gets the at bats he needs to continue developing and the Nats' newest outfielder, Ben Revere, does what he's been doing the last few seasons and excels the way Denard Span did during his time in the nation's capital.
Mike Maddux proves to be every bit the pitching guru he's been in his second career and Davey Lopes has the team running all over National League pitchers and catchers.
Stephen Strasburg, in his walk year if the Nationals don't sign him to an extension, pitches like the dominant starter he was after his second DL stint of 2015 all season long.
Max Scherzer solves his second-half home run issues, stomps around the mound and piles up the strikeouts like he did in the first year of his seven-year deal with the Nationals.
Tanner Roark bounces back from his lost season in the Nationals' bullpen and becomes a contributing member of the rotation again.
Joe Ross develops a third/fourth pitch and continues to impress the way he did once the league has a more complete book on him.
Gio Gonzalez limits the walks, challenges hitters, keeps the pitch counts down and hangs around deeper into his starts than he did last season.
Bryce Harper stays on the field and reproduces or approximates what he did in his NL MVP-worthy 2015 campaign.
Daniel Murphy continues to make contact and line doubles into the gaps and his glove doesn't cause too much trouble.
Rizzo's reconstructed bullpen fares better than last year's reconstructed bullpen, they find their roles (unless Baker shocks everyone by just going with the best matchups every night) and Shawn Kelley, Blake Treinen, Felipe Rivero, Yusmeiro Petit, Oliver Perez and whoever else breaks camp with the Nationals can get leads to Jonathan Papelbon.
Papelbon keeps his cool and closes out games like he has throughout his career.
The bench players that kept the Nationals afloat last season, produce in part-time roles and the new additions to the Nationals' bench produce as well.
Danny Espinosa takes advantage of the opportunity to play every day (for a few months at least) and excels in a super utility role once Trea Turner is up in the majors.
It will, of course, also help if things don't work out as well as they did for the Mets in the second half of 2015, but with the pitching they have it's going to be a fight till the end. If all the above goes right for the Nationals, however...