TNB: What was your overall impression of the 2011 Nationals, who impressed and who were the disappointments?
Federal Baseball: The Nats actually ended up doing a little better than I anticipated. The fact that they made another ten-game jump in the standings was impressive for sure. I'd predicted 75-79 wins, so I wasn't totally surprised. The fact that they did it with Ryan Zimmerman out for a long time, Adam LaRoche adding very little and Jayson Werth underperforming offensively is definitely impressive. I thought it was going to be a big learning year for the younger players, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos, and as Davey Johnson's said, they may have been asked to carry too much of the load at times with Zimmerman and LaRoche missing time early in the year while Werth adjusted to his new home and role. But the fact that Desmond, Espinosa and Ramos performed as well as they did under the circumstances definitely provided a great learning experience that should help in the future. As for the most impressive single Nat, it had to be Jordan Zimmermann. If you didn't think Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg could form the top of a dominant rotation before this season, how can you not after watching both of them this year. Next year, barring any unforeseen setbacks, they'll finally be together. Biggest disappointment? Has to be Jayson Werth's offensive production right? I was also disappointed Roger Bernadina didn't have the breakout season I'd hoped for. The CF job (or at least a big role in LF) was there for the taking and he just didn't claim it.
TNB: What are your expectations for Stephen Strasburg in 2012, his first full healthy season?
Federal Baseball: Seeing Jordan Zimmermann this year and seeing the shape Strasburg returned in late this season changed my expectations for next year honestly. Watching Strasburg adjust to his post-surgery stuff, the changes he's already started to make at his age and has proven capable of making in-game according to what he has each day only added to my optimism about what he might be able to do in 2012 and beyond. As has been discussed elsewhere, it will be interesting to see how Strasburg's handled. I don't think the Nats are going to change the plan on his innings limit and as we saw with Zimmermann, Stras might not be around late if the Nationals are somehow in the postseason picture. Until he reaches his limit I expect he'll be his dominant self.
TNB: If you were GM Mike Rizzo, how would you handle the Davey Johnson situation? Should we still be concerned with looking for his successor?
Federal Baseball: Even before recent reports said Davey Johnson's return was all-but-announced, I was fairly certain Johnson would be back on the bench next season. I didn't agree with Jim Riggleman often, but I agreed with his assessment of the situation and didn't expect him to be the long-term solution on the bench. Assuming Johnson's coming back I think his successor should be on the bench with him this year, if that person isn't already part of the Nats' coaching staff. Johnson's under contract for two more years, at which point he'll be 70-going-on-71-years-old. I can't imagine he'll manage much past that point, so since a good deal of the talent is locked in beyond that, it would be good to have the next Nats' manager familiar with the talent and comfortable with the team for the next phase when Johnson does eventually step down.
TNB: Who's a player the fans aren't familiar with now but will have a big impact on the Nationals next season?
Federal Baseball: Yu Darvish? I'm just joking (and hoping) with that response. Not that no one has heard of Brad Meyers, but he seemed to be on the same path as Tom Milone and Brad Peacock at one point this season. The 26-year-old '07 5th Round pick was promoted quickly after starting the year at Double-A Harrisburg and throwing 36.1 innings in which he struck out 38 (9.4 K/9) without allowing a walk, but an injury cost him a month in the middle of the season and slowed his ascent. Injuries have been an issue for Meyers throughout his time in the Nats' system but after a 2011 season which saw him go (9-7) with a 3.18 ERA, walking just 15 (0.97 BB/9) and striking out 116 (7.53 K/9) in 138.2 IP (95.2 of them at Triple-A), he seems poised to take the next step at some point in the near future.
TNB: What issues would you like to see the Nationals address this winter?
Federal Baseball: They have to, have to cut down on the strikeouts. I'm looking at you, Desmond, Espinosa and Werth. I know everyone's pointed it out repeatedly, but the Nats led all of baseball in strikeouts (Random totally unrelated fact: The two teams with the least total K's are in the World Series right now.) The Nats have to get more runners on base and then getting better at driving those same runners in, two areas of obvious weakness for a team that had improved pitching and defense this season but struggled to get runners on base and score runs to support their pitchers. The leadoff man/CFer the Nats have talked about getting would clearly address the issue, but the Nationals that are already here really need to stop striking out. Davey Johnson voiced his frustration at one point with all of the called third strikes the team took. If you're not getting runners on, and you're hitting poorly when you do get the runners you have in scoring position (.231 AVG w/RISP in 2011 with a league-leading 22.4% K% w/ RISP) it's a recipe for offensive disaster.