By SEAN KINSLOW
This baseball season, the Washington Nationals accomplished what was expected of them: they won the National League East by a whopping 17 games and finished the regular season with the best record in the National League (96-66).
The team overcame major injuries to key position players throughout the season, including Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Wilson Ramos and Nate McLouth, all who missed a significant amount of time. The Nationals’ star pitchers missed time too, with both Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez missing a month of the season.
“The consistency and stick-to-it-iveness to this lineup. It’s easily forgotten that we were without some key players for a long period of time, and three of them at the same time for a long time,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said during an interview after the team’s division win. “Other teams have folded at that time. We grinded it through. It’s a testament to Matt Williams. It’s a testament to those bench players who filled in as everyday guys when we were at our weakest.”
The regular season came to a close on Sunday, Sept. 28 with a 1-0 victory over the Miami Marlins. Starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann threw a no-hitter, the first ever in Nationals history. The 162 game marathon of a season then came to an end with the Nationals red-hot. The real task for the team, however, still lies ahead at the playoffs.
The Nationals know they have a team capable of winning the World Series. Winning the National League Eastern Division was just the first step.
“For us, this isn’t good enough. We’ve got bigger goals in mind. That’s probably the difference [from 2012]. We’re not satisfied,” relief pitcher Craig Stammen said after the game.
The Nationals have all the tools to win the World Series and should be viewed as one of the favorites going forward. The team has the most dominate starting pitcher rotation in all of baseball.
Starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg led the National League in strikeouts and holds a 1.13 earned run average in his last five starts. Jordan Zimmermann is coming off throwing a no-hitter, Doug Fister just wrapped up one of his best seasons as a pro and lefty Gio Gonzalez is another strong option for the Nats.
The Nationals’ offense is also carrying a lot of momentum into this post-season. They finished second in runs scored in the National League, and over the last two months no team in the NL has hit more home runs. Combine the dominant starting pitching with a hot offense, add in a good bullpen and good speed on the base paths, and the Nationals look poised to be a tough competitor for a World Series title.
Drew Storen, the team’s closing pitcher, struggled in the 2012 playoffs. The Nationals will hope for improved production from him in order to win post-season games. Another concern for the Nationals will be Ryan Zimmerman’s role moving forward as he returns from injury. Will he start back at his old position of third base, or come off the bench? This is just one of the things rookie manager Matt Williams will need to decide while moving toward in the playoffs.
“I think that the Nationals have a good chance at winning the World Series,” sophomore biology major and Nationals fan Paul Delaney said. “I think that the Nationals’ starting pitching is key and Fister, Zimmermann, Strasburg are going to have to come up big. The Nationals are a balanced team with strong pitching and a powerful offense from both sides of the plate. If they are to win they will have to pitch well and hit to their ability throughout the postseason.”
The Nationals will start their hunt for a World Series title on Friday, Oct. 3 hosting the winner of the wild card game between the San Francisco Giants and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
This game took place Wednesday night too late for this publication. The first round of the Nationals’ playoff games will be broadcast on Fox Sports1, Mary Washington channel 63.