WASHINGTON — Pittsburgh Pirates fans must feel like Nationals fans did last year. Their baseball team is finally in the playoffs.
2012 ended a six-decade drought in the Nations’ Capital. The drought lasted two decades in steel city.
Good for the Bucos. Since I have no dog in this fight, I hope they go far.
However, here in the DMV, the post-season just doesn’t feel the same as last year, especially when the Orioles were in it as well.
If the Nationals didn’t win 98 games last season, their 86 victories this campaign would look like a step in the right direction.
While it’s not desirable, sometimes you just have to take a step back to jump two steps forward. That’s where I think the Nats are right now, poised to take off in 2014.
First, though, they have to find the right manager.
It will be a highly coveted job.
I don’t believe this is the time to go out of the organization. Almost the entire team will be back, so having a skipper familiar with the players is important. That’s why my choice would be current bench coach Randy Knorr. He’s known many of the players for years, managing in the Nats minor-league system for six seasons and working alongside Davey Johnson the last two.
Many players have already endorsed him.
As for those players, despite the final result, a number of them had good seasons, while some key players did not.
Let’s start with the positives.
Denard Span plays sensational centerfield and was the hottest hitter in baseball at the end of the season. He had the longest hitting streak in the majors and led the National League in triples. A great addition to the team.
Jayson Werth was certainly worth all the money this year. His play nearly carried the Nats into the playoffs. He was fifth in the league in hitting, third in slugging percentage.
Ian Desmond is simply the best all-around shortstop in baseball. He had his second straight 20/20 season with homers and stolen bases. He’s a very consistent fielder and a leader both on and off the field.
I will take Ryan Zimmerman’s play over any other third baseman. He has the best glove and his arm got stronger as the season progressed. He appears to have finally healed from shoulder surgery. Zim was second in the league in homers among third baseman.
This year, the Nats found their rock behind the plate. Wilson Ramos was the NL’s best-hitting catcher after the all-star break.
Jordan Zimmermann was the ace of the staff this season, a bulldog on the mound with 19 wins. He keeps getting better and better.
Tanner Roark was a very pleasant surprise the last two months of the season and will be given a chance to make the rotation next spring. A fast worker, the team loves playing behind him.
Steve Lombardozzi was invaluable off the bench. He can do it all — field, run, throw and hit while playing numerous positions. He could start on many teams.
Tyler Clippard has without doubt been the Nats best reliever the past two years.
Rafael Soriano may have made fans squirm, but he got the job done most of the time and finished with 43 saves, second best in the National League.
Drew Storen had his ups and downs. Following a trip to the minors, he finished strong and seems to have rediscovered his touch.
Meanwhile, Stephen Strasburg’s 8-9 record is misleading. He was eighth in the league with a 3.00 ERA and 12th in strikeouts.
Gio Gonzalez was 11th in strikeouts and 20th in ERA at 3.36. So, his 11-8 record should have been better as well.
However, for the Nats to contend in 2014, they’ll need a healthy Bryce Harper, Ross Detwiler and Adam LaRoche. All were clearly not 100 percent this year.
So, how do we explain what happened to the Nationals in 2012?
Expectations may have weighed them down. Remember, this is still a young team with many of the key players well under 30. It appears some did not handle the pressure well.
If they apply this year’s lessons towards next season, we will once again experience post-season baseball in Washington, D.C.