Everything was on tap for the Nationals to cruise into the NLCS after leading 6-0 after three innings last night…and then, the Cardinals postseason magic kicked in. Washington got outscored 9-1 over the final six innings of the game, and their season was suddenly over. The decision to shut Stephen Strasburg will (erroneously) potentially be discussed for quite awhile, but that has absolutely no reason with why the Nationals season ended before Bryce Harper's 20th birthday.
If you're new here (which about 90% of our reader base is in comparison to last year), here's a brief explanation: after a team is eliminated from the playoffs, we're going to put their season under a microscope and look at just what the hell went wrong, what went right, and so on and so forth. The goal is to post these the day after a team is eliminated.
What Went Right: Um, everything but the way it ended? Washington's starting pitching was amazing, with even Ross Detwiler turning in a 1.8 fWAR year. The bullpen was also really good, led by Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, Craig Stammen, and Drew Storen. Offensively, the Nats were a force as well. Ian Desmond had a 20/20 season, Bryce Harper had the best season by a teenager in baseball history, Ryan Zimmerman bounced back after a bad, injury-plagued 2011, Adam LaRoche set himself for a huge payday on the free agent market…there's not much that didn't go Washington's way.
What Went Wrong: Blowing a six run lead in game five of the NLDS was a big black mark on their season. Michael Morse missed the first two months of the season, and gave the team awful defense in left field along with a 3.7% walk rate. Jayson Werth missed half the season with a broken wrist, only homered eight times and stole five bases, but was actually a solid on base machine in the leadoff position. Catcher Wilson Ramos tore his ACL, and the team ended up using six catchers on the season, finally settling on former A's backstop Kurt Suzuki in August. Veterans Rick Ankiel, Xavier Nady, and Mark DeRosa all flopped as bench players. Henry Rodriguez and Brad Lidge were disasters in the bullpen, and Chien-Ming Wang somehow got five starts before the Nationals sprinted back to John Lannan once Strasburg got shut down.
Most Surprising Player: Ian Desmond turned himself into a pretty solid hitter this year, belting 25 homers to more than double his career mark coming into the year and stealing 21 bases. He still strikes out a lot and doesn't walk to much, but a 20/20 shortstop is in the upper tier of players at the position in baseball.
Most Disappointing Player: I think Morse has to win this one by default. After missing the first two months of the year, Morse returned and wasn't the same player as he was in 2011 for the Nationals. His 3.7% walk rate was much lower than his (already low) 7.5% and 6.3% marks from 2010 and 2011, and his ISO fell precipitously from .229 in 2010 and .247 in 2010 to just .180 this year…good, but not in the top tier for a supposed power hitter. Morse also continued to be a butcher in the outfield, and he's not going to suddenly improve across the board at age 30.
Prospects Up: Well, Bryce Harper spent five months in the majors and is the odds-on favorite to win the NL Rookie of the Year award. Mike Rizzo gashed the farm system to acquire Gio Gonzalez, but there are still some highlights there. Their second 2011 first round pick, Alex Meyer, struck out a batter per inning and kept his walks under control.
Prospects Down: 2011 first round pick Anthony Rendon played in only 45 games this year due to a wrist injury, and 2012 first round pick Lucas Giolito got Tommy John surgery shortly after being drafted. Good starts to their careers. 2011 supplemental first rounder Brian Goodwin performed very well in A-ball, but struggled terribly across the board after a promotion to AA. 2011 third round pick had shoulder problems all year and threw just 15 1/3 innings.
Overall: This team is built to contend for years to come. They're not going away. 2012 wasn't a fluke for the Nationals, and they're not going to fade into the ether and led the NL East's old guard continue to dominate.