In which we look at how wrong we were about the Washington Nationals before the season started
Before the season started, I previewed all 30 teams in baseball. I predicted the Orioles to make the playoffs, the Phillies to finish under .500, and a second-half charge from the best team in the A.L. West, the Oakland A's. At least, that's how I remember it. Which is the reason we're here. These are the reviews of the previews. The best way to look stupid about baseball is to write about it, and, well, there was a lot of stupidity involved with the previews. My only solace is that everyone else was wrong about everything, too. Baseball!
Overall tone of the preview:
Optimistic about their chances to contend, but stopping well short of calling them favorites
What actually happened?
The Nats had the best record in baseball, and they were a groundball away from the NLCS.
What changed between the preview and the end of the season?
There are teams that take a while to get used to. The Orioles, the A's, the first-half Pirates … those are teams that spawned a lot of "Are they real? Are they real? How about now? How about now?" columns.
The Nationals were not one of those teams. When they started winning, it was pretty obvious how they were doing it, and how they could keep doing it. With a trade for Gio Gonzalez and a late signing of Edwin Jackson, the Nationals built one of the better rotations in the league on the fly after starting the offseason by signing Chien-Ming Wang for $5 million.
The lineup started slowly, but Ryan Zimmerman found his swing, Bryce Harper started getting regular at-bats, and Jayson Werth showed up in the second half to do good things. It was a really balanced lineup, rotation, and bullpen -- the kind of balanced team that could end up with the best record in baseball and make you wonder how you didn't see it coming.
Probably should have seen it coming, really.
Player(s) I ignored for whatever reason
Ross Detwiler gave the Nationals a lot of quality innings, while the ostensible fifth starters Wang and John Lannan didn't do much at all. Detwiler was a former #1 pick -- picked over Madison Bumgarner, Jarrod Parker, and Rick Porcello in a pitcher-heavy draft -- but he was never especially impressive in the minors, at least statistically. But he's been a valuable pitcher in a starting role in the majors, even if he might not reach the ceiling of the typical #6 pick.
Adam LaRoche had what looked like a career year, and by home runs and RBI, it was. But his adjusted OPS was in line with his peak with the Braves and Pirates. Why he got back to that peak after a miserable, injury-riddled season, I have no idea. But in retrospect, he was a big part of the Nationals' success.
Player I paid too much attention to:
Wilson Ramos was a big part of why I figured the Nationals were going to be good, but he didn't even get to 100 at-bats before being lost to injury for the year.
Matt Capps … I mean, come on …
The team was just fine without Ramos, though they did need to add Kurt Suzuki to take over the catching duties.
Ian Desmond was a player you tolerated because he had a decent glove in a position that wasn't supposed to supply the offense. Instead, he was the best shortstop in the N.L., with 25 homers, 21 stolen bases, and a Gold Glove nomination.
Obscenely stupid quote
Mostly safe in this preview, though, trust me, there will be stupider quotes in future editions. My biggest mistake was underestimating Roger Bernadina:
If Harper starts in the minors, though, it looks like a heapin' help of Bernadina, and that could have been an easy problem to fix.
Bernadina for the year: .291/.372/.405. That's out of line with most of his professional career, and his BABIP was a little inflated (though not that much for a speedy fellow), but he was a very, very nice bench player for the Nationals.
The tone of the next preview?
Assuming the Nationals are one of the very best teams in the land, which they certainly are.