One of the main narratives to come from the Nats disappointing 2013 campaign was the idea that their failure sprang from hubris. The Nats of last season were an overconfident, perhaps arrogant bunch, despite not even managing a playoff series win. With their sitting of Strasburg and their declaration of "World Series or Bust", they lost sight of how hard they needed to work to achieve their goals. They thought they could simply show up and they'd end up in the playoffs. They weren't prepared for what it was going to be like as the team every one wanted to knock down a peg and they paid the price.
The 2013 Nats didn't lose because of arrogance (well with one possible exception*), they lost because of injury. They lost because there were 170 players who got between 325 and 125 plate appearances last year (which would define them as part time players), and among those players the Nats bench ranked 123rd (Lombo), 130th (Moore), 133rd (Suzuki's time with Nats), 143rd (Tracy), 162nd (Bernadina's time with the Nats), and 169th (Espinosa) in OPS+. In short the bench bats started at awful and got worse from there. EVERY SINGLE ONE. That's not including Hairston's time with the Nats (matches Lombo), 36 PAs by Kobernus (a little worse than that), or 50 PAs for Solano (would be dead last if he had enough PAs).
It was a complete and total failure by the anyone who didn't start for the Nats. It's as if you gave 25% of all the plate appearances the non-pitchers had last year for the Nats to Chris Getz. If you did that no one would say "Sure there was no reason for the Nats to bribe major league baseball so Chris Getz could get up more times then anyone in the history of the game, but the real reason they didn't win last year was because of their HEART". Yet sneak in the same performance here and there over the course of the year and that's exactly what people say. The Nats weren't sufficiently humble in front of the sports gods so people demanded they be punished and they were. People actually believe this crap. Makes one want to create a musical called "The Book of Plaschke"
2014 is basically a reset of 2013 and might answer the question what could have that team done without the injuries and bench failures? They team is mostly the same in the main spots, the exceptions being Doug Fister and who ever eventually wins the Roark/Jordan showdown. The bench looks mildly improved with the acquisition of McLouth being the main move, and the bullpen seems better formed adding Blevins and Drew Storen looking like his head is back on straight.
The biggest concern right now is the Fister injury. That could definitely hurt the Nats, but I don't see it derailing the team. I don't have to remind you how bad Haren was to start the year. The 5.61 ERA pre-All Star break could be matched by any AAA arm, effectively making the rotation until August at worst exactly like last year. It will most likely be better Fister or no Fister. The other worries are minimal. The LaRoche and Span declines are actually products of unusually good 2012s. They hit last year kind of like they should hit - which is not very good but not team-killing. We should expect about the same this year. The Soriano issues are more real but with Clippard and Storen in line the back of the pen looks ready if a replacement is needed. No, the only black cloud hanging over this team is the potential for injuries. Ian Desmond is the only player I feel the Nats can rely on being healthy, the others ranging from mild injury risks (Zimm) to hope to get 100 games out of him (Ramos). If the wrong players are hit again all the planning and predictions become moot.
On the flip side there are big reasons to be optimistic. Bryce, Ramos, and Rendon all have potential they haven't reached yet. The same could be said of Strasburg. If healthy, there is no reason this team should miss the playoffs. If healthy and the young players progress, there is no reason they shouldn't be a favorite for the pennant. With the Braves fighting early season injuries, the Mets and Marlins trying to rebuild and the Phillies on their way to the worst record in baseball in 2015 (could they get there this year?) the Nationals have as clear a path as they are going to get.
So let's get down to it. What do I predict for the Nats. As this is a 2nd chance at 2013, I'm going to throw up the same prediction.
94-68, NL East Champions
(No playoff results predictions - those are silly).
Everyone wasn't wrong then and they aren't wrong now.
*You could make a case that Rizzo was arrogant in believing that the miracle bench of 2012 would continue to perform at high levels, but I kind of give him a break because you don't expect these guys to get a ton of at bats and you can easily defend keeping Bernadina, Moore, Suzuki, and Lombo given the various backgrounds coming into 2014. Improving on Tracy would have been nice but probably wouldn't have altered the above scenario.