It hasn't all sunk in yet, but the Washington Nationals 2011 season is officially over. It's brutal to think about, so we won't… at least for another day. Let's take a couple things from the end of the Nats' 2011 season. We will have several post dedicated to bests and worsts of the season as the next couple of weeks go on, but I wanted to hit a few other things.
The team won 80 games, which essentially no one thought was actually possible on March 31st. It was made possible by two sensational months of baseball: June and September. The Nats went 17-10 in both months. The thing that made the 2011 Nats so fun to watch is the good was better than usual and the bad wasn't as bad as it has been in the past. There was a whole lot of progress.
In the NL East, one of the hardest divisions in all of baseball, the Nats only had a losing record against the Florida Marlins this season. They were at or above .500 against the rest of the division. If the 2012 version of this team can keep that going and improve their weak 36-45 road record, this team will be extremely competitive. Nationals Park is extremely pitcher friendly, which helps a weaker pitching staff. The Nats certainly won't have a weak pitching staff next season in comparison to this season, and that will help when playing in more hitter-friendly NL parks like Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee.
Stephen Strasburg looked incredible in his final start of the season. That's exactly what you want from your Opening Day starter. And I know there are people out there than think that Strasburg may not start Opening Day. My response? You're crazy. If he's healthy, there's no way he doesn't start Opening Day 2012. It doesn't matter that it's an away game at windy and cold Wrigley Field in early April. He's the guy, even if the Nats sign a big pitcher this offseason, which I'm not convinced needs to happen. More on that in a future post.
Ryan Zimmerman needs the offseason to get healthy. Between his abdominal surgery early in the season and what seems to be a recurring hamstring issue from season-to-season, it will be the perfect time to get his health in order. Zimm is the most critical piece of the Washington Nationals offense next season, which was proven by the Nats numbers with and without him. Re-signing the franshise third baseman should be the Nats top priority in the offseason.
Now, as we get the opportunity to watch post-season baseball starting tonight, let's not just remember the wonderful season that the 2011 Nationals showed us, but lets also watch the teams as if they're the Nationals competition for 2012. It's not nearly as outrageous as it once was.