In the entire history of the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals, they’ve made just one playoff appearance, which happened so long ago that Mark McGwire probably doesn’t even remember being drafted by the organization that year. (1981 for those scoring at home.)
Since then, the Expos/Nationals have been a study in failure. Sure, there were those few years in the early 90s when the team was competitive under Felipe Alou, but for the most part the organization has been riddled with bad luck and underperformance.
Until now, that is.
Am I ready to crown the Nationals as my pre-season pick to win the NL East? No, but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if they earned a Wild Card bid – especially with a playoff team being added in each league this year. Their starting rotation is excellent, their bullpen is solid, and their offense should be improved from what it was a year ago. Assuming their core players stay healthy, there’s no reason to think the Nats can’t challenge an aging Philadelphia squad and a club in Atlanta that has managed to choke in pressure situations the past two seasons.
It’s hard not to love Washington’s starting rotation. Stephen Strasburg is coming off Tommy John surgery but he and Jordan Zimmermann flat out throw gas. Gio Gonzalez was one of the more underrated pickups from this offseason and Edwin Jackson helped the Cardinals win a World Series title last season. Assuming he isn’t traded at some point, John Lannan is a pretty damn good fifth starter. In fact, all five of Washington’s starting pitchers could finish with ERAs south of 4.0.
That said, the offense will make or break this club in 2012. Outside of Ryan Zimmerman, not one hitter in the Nats’ projected 2012 lineup will hit for average. There also isn’t a 100-RBI man on the roster, unless Zimmerman and Jayson Werth (who had a brutal debut last year with the Nationals) overachieve.
But the 2010 Giants showed that offense isn’t everything, especially if you can make it into the postseason. Plus, it’s a pitcher’s game now and the Nationals aren’t short on arms this season. We’ll just have to see if they have enough offense to give themselves a shot to play past October 3.
Either way, this isn’t the same Nationals’ club that finished fifth, fifth, fourth, fifth, fifth, fifth and third since moving to Washington in 2005. This team appears ready to compete.