[Editor's Note: Please welcome Mike Mulvenna to Beyond the Box Score!]
The Washington Nationals were a very good baseball team in 2012. With Stephen Strasburg expected to be on an innings limit, Bryce Harper tucked away in the minors and questions about 1B and CF, Washington wasn't expected to be a 98 win team. The performance that Washington was equipped to have in 2013 ended up happening a year earlier. Strasburg returned from Tommy John surgery to hurl 159.1 innings with a 125 ERA+, Bryce Harper was called up in late April and produced 5.0 bWAR in 139 games, the most ever by a teenager in the MLB. Roger Bernadina was moved to a bench/reserve role and Adam LaRoche excelled in his return from an injury-ravaged 2011 season with Gold Glove defense and the greatest offensive season of his career.
David Schoenfield writes that he thinks the Nationals can be even better in 2013, historically great actually. Only five teams in the past 30 years have won more than 105 games in a season. The 2004 Cardinals, 2001 Mariners, 1998 Yankees, 1998 Braves and 1986 Mets were dominant on both sides of the ball, collectively averaging 871 runs scored and 620 runs allowed. Notably, they benefited from healthy starters, a terrific season from an already great player and a reliable bench.
Overall, Schoenfield concludes that the Nationals have a chance to win 105 games as long as they deliver on five keys:
1. All five starting pitchers remaining healthy.
2. Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman putting up bigger numbers.
3. Maybe one surprise/career year. Best candidate: Danny Espinosa.
4. Bullpen depth + quality. (Check.)
5. Don't screw it up. (Check. Davey Johnson has been here before.)
Needless to say, history is within Washington’s reach in 2013. Stephen Strasburg will now be two years removed from Tommy John surgery and will likely be unleashed without an innings limit. Bryce Harper finished 2012 on a blazing streak, smacking 10 home runs in his last 34 games and leading the league during that span with a 1.098 OPS. Ryan Zimmerman amazingly produced a 121 wRC+ with a bad shoulder that required bi-weekly cortisone shots at one point and underwent successful arthroscopic surgery in October. Could Danny Espinosa take a definitive step forward like Ian Desmond did in 2012? Washington signed Rafael Soriano for 2 years/$14M this offseason to already boast an excellent bullpen, even without Sean Burnett. Not to mention, a full, healthy season from Drew Storen should help as well. On top of that, Davey Johnson was the manager of that legendary 1986 Mets team.
Even the five teams that won 105 games or more had some flaws. The Cardinals didn't receive much offense from their catchers. The Mariners gave Al Martin most of the starts in left field. The Yankees didn't have a great bullpen outside of Mariano Rivera and Ramiro Mendoza and the Mets couldn't play defense. The Nationals lost Edwin Jackson and Sean Burnett to free agency but replaced them with Dan Haren and Rafael Soriano.
In 2012, Washington scored 731 runs and allowed only 594. Their pitching was great and could be even better in 2013. But for them to achieve 105 wins, they are going to need more output from their offense.
Ian Desmond had a breakthrough year in 2012, nearly tripling his best output with a 3.2 bWAR. Can he continue his 2012 production? Will Jayson Werth regain his power stroke after his broken wrist? Will Bryce Harper build upon his tremendous rookie season? Will the new, slimmed-down Bill Taft become a worthy adversary to Teddy, Abe, George and Tom?
What do you think? Can the Washington Nationals conceivably win 105 games in 2013?