We talked about this before but it was just 2 years ago that the Nats floundered and missed the playoffs. Espinosa regressed/got injured/was infected by the same disease the Nats front office was that destroyed the "shouldn't he get surgery" part of their brains. Ramos, Bryce, and Werth all missed significant time while the "no comeuppance" bench of 2012 recieved their comeuppance and became the worst bench in baseball. The Gio/ZNN/Stras triumvirate took a half-step back from sheer awesomeness, Detwiler got hurt, and Haren took forever to find his groove. Meanwhile in the pen, Storen battled his head, Mattheus battled lockers, Zach Duke was never the lefty answer, and the H-Rod experiment mercifully ended. The combination of all these things getting worse and little getting better had the Nats out of contention for a long time and when the gun sounded, on the outside looking in.
But the optimist looks at that team and sees a team where a TON went wrong and they still ended up with 86 wins. If the Braves weren't very good that year (96 wins and 13-6 versus the Nats) they still might have ended up on top. This year is different. The Nats are a more complete team. Fister and Roark are in the rotation, rising Rendon is in the lineup, and the bench... well it's still not great but it certainly shouldn't embarrass. Plus as we said the Braves can't win, the Mets can't win, the Marlins can't win. The Nats are set right?
Of course that's nonsense, these teams could win but it would take a lot.
- For the Braves, it's been overlooked but the pitching staff, which was very good last year, could be great. If Minor bounces back they might even challenge for the best rotation in the majors. But this has been overlooked because the offense has taken such a hit. No Heyward, Gattis, or good Upton in 2015. At the very least Freeman and Markakis have to have career years, Johnson needs to bounce back, and Simmons needs to break out for them to have a chance. Then someone else would have to surprise.
- The Mets likely have the pitching as well. If Harvey comes back at anywhere near the level he was at and they get the back of the bullpen set it's another impressive NL East pitching staff. Offensively though they need help. Wright needs to find his MVP stroke again. Cuddyer needs to come in and be an impact bat. Wilmer Flores needs to be that .300-type hitter they think he might be.
- Unlike the Mets and Braves, the Marlins had terrible pitching last year. But they traded for Cosart during the year, the underrated Latos in the offseason, and Jose Fernandez should be back. If he's like he was again - it's a very solid pitching staff, though the #5 spot could be a question (Dan Haren!). Offensively they need less help but their infield is still a big hole. Old friend Mike Morse has to keep it going at 1B while newly acquired Dee Gordon has to keep up his 2014 performance at 2B. If that happens and Prado is Prado then this could be a contender.
Man, you are wordy. Well you are right. I did only go with mildly dreamy scenarios. But you are also wrong. Sometimes it does go all right. Not only have you been forgetting the 2013 Nats for an all-wrong example, you've been forgetting the 2012 Nats for an all right one.
In 2011 the Nats were a just below .500 team similar to the Marlins, Mets and Braves. In order to become a dominant team they needed newly acquired LaRoche to come in and do well, Ian Desmond to become an All-Star caliber player, Zimmerman to be healthy, Werth to bounce back, Bryce to make an immediate impact, and a makeshift bench to magically all have their best years. They also needed the newly acquired Gio Gonzalez to show top of the rotation stuff, for Strasburg to be healthy, for maybe someone else to step up in the rotation (Detwiler would), and for the middle of their pen to take a step forward. All that happened.
The Nats are the favorite to take the NL East in 2015 and should be. They are the best team top to bottom. But it would be foolish to assume that the Nats can't break down or more likely, that one of the 3 teams below them won't step up. We're looking past 2015 now thinking about keeping windows open or starting new ones, but there's no guarantees, even for the year in front of us.