2012 Washington Nationals Playoff Preview Q&A
The Nationals have power hitters, speed in the lineup, power arms on the mound and of course 19-year-old phenom Bryce Harper. The Nationals overcame the loss of ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg down the stretch by continuing to win games in convincing fashion.
This club is ready to make team history and is prime to take on the defending World Series Champs. We got the chance to speak to Patrick Reddington of FederalBaseball.com and Rich Dubroff from CSNBaltimore.com about the Nationals outlook for the 2012 Postseason.
1. What influence will Davey Johnson have on this relatively young ball club?
Patrick Reddington - Davey Johnson inspires confidence and I'm sure some would say "arrogance" in his players. Outside of his work helping hitters with advice, it's the most important change he's brought to the nation's capital. Both openly in the press and behind the scenes, he's shown faith in players like Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and even Bryce Harper and continued to put them out there when they've struggled. Plus he has let them know he believes that they're capable of doing what he and they likely think they can at their best.
He's now leading a team into the first postseason experience of most of their careers. Having someone who's been there and done it all before has seemed to have the team believing in him all season, and I assume that will continue when they're pressed and tested in the postseason.
Rich Dubroff - Davey Johnson has managed brilliantly. He has had a calming effect on the team and allowed them to play unencumbered.
2. How will the Nationals' rotation shape up outside the Big Three?
Patrick - I believe Ross Detwiler will be the fourth starter behind Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson. Chien-Ming Wang has struggled with injuries all season and been ineffective when he has taken the mound. Davey Johnson has guided Detwiler's emergence over the last year-plus, going back to last season when he moved him out of the bullpen and back into the rotation.
While Detwiler has struggled in a few recent starts, he's also at a higher inning total than he's ever thrown before. His last start was against St. Louis and they knocked him around, but the Cards have hit left-handers well all season. But when Detwiler's on, locating his fastball and mixing in his secondary pitches, he's handled both left (.170/.255/.259) and right-handers (.263/.320/.414) pretty well this year.
Patrick - They were the top two teams in the NL in run differential. The Cards were second overall in runs scored, the Nationals were fifth. St. Louis had the 2nd best team batting average in the NL, the top team OBP, and fourth-best SLG, while the Nats had the fourth-highest average, sixth-highest OBP and third-highest SLG.
In terms of wRC+, the Cards and Nats were 1st and 3rd overall in the NL, respectively. In terms of pitching, the Nats' starters had the NL's lowest team ERA (3.40) with the Cards' starters third overall (3.62).
The teams were first and second in FIP, with the Nats (3.46) just ahead of the Cardinals (3.62). They were also second and third in xFIP with Washington at (3.68) and St. Louis at (3.69). The Nationals had the NL's third-lowest bullpen ERA, the Cards were eighth overall.
They seem pretty evenly matched. The Nats won the season series 4-3. It's going to be a difficult matchup and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.
Rich - The Cardinals are a tough, seasoned postseason team. The Nationals beat them in four of seven regular season games. Last weekend, the Cardinals won two of three against them. I look for a very tough series.
4. From your perspective, how has the city of Washington responded to making the postseason for the first time since in Nationals history?
Patrick - Since day one as a former Expos fan who followed the team to D.C., I've been told that the nation's capital was an "event town" and the people who said that were right. You saw it in the first start of Stephen Strasburg's career and you've seen it as the Nationals kept winning this season and started drawing more and more people to Nationals Park.
They've given people a reason to pay attention. Their TV ratings and attendance have gone up, while the enthusiasm inside the park has grown noticeably as the season has gone on. The response has been great, and it's exciting that the Nationals are bringing postseason baseball back to Washington for the first time in 79 years.
It's going to be real interesting to see what the national media makes of the D.C. Faithful. (Be sure to listen for their rendition of the chorus of a-ha's "Take on Me" when Michael Morse comes to the plate.)
Rich - The fans seem into baseball for the first time. The Nationals have an entertaining, appealing team, and people have responded. But the Nationals have a long way to go before they catch up to the Redskins in popularity.
5. The Nationals are a strong road team, but how will this skill adapt to the new postseason format starting on the road?
Patrick - Starting a five-game series on the road is not much reward for finishing the regular season at the top of the National League, and the fact that it's a one-year thing (this year only) has to be particularly frustrating. The worst-case scenario has the team losing two in St. Louis and then going back to D.C. for a do-or-die Game 3 in the first postseason game in the nation's capital since 1933. Win one or two on the road, however, and you go home for three straight.
The Nationals (48-33) finished the year with the best road record in the NL, but they also had the best home record, tied at 50-31 with the Reds and Cardinals. I think -- and most people I've heard from agree -- that the two home games to start is a definite advantage for the Cards. If the Nats can win one of the two or if they somehow take two, three shots to win the series in D.C. will be a real nice situation.
Rich - The Nationals haven't played in the postseason. If they can come back to Washington with at least a split in the first two games, they should be just fine.
6. Do you think Stephen Strasburg will pitch, even out of the bullpen, this postseason?
Patrick - Put simply, no. Davey Johnson told a radio show in D.C. this week that Stephen Strasburg would not be on the postseason roster. The plan all year was to shut him down at his innings/pitch limit and have him work out and continue the rehab process throughout the winter so that he's 100 percent for Spring Training and pitching without limits next year.
I'm not entertaining any notion that he's going to take the mound in the postseason. If he does, it will contradict what the Nationals have said all season. Don't see it happening.
Rich - The Nationals were serious about shutting Strasburg down. He will not pitch in the postseason and he will not begin pitching until 2013.
Patrick - Having Drew Storen 100 percent going into the postseason is huge, especially because he's gotten back to being himself on the mound following surgery on his elbow. I think the performance of Clippard and Sean Burnett on the mound will go a long way in determining how much success the Nationals have in their first run in the postseason.
Both Clippard and Burnett have been lights-out for most of the last two seasons, but Burnett has dealt with health issues recently. Clippard been hit hard in the last month-plus after he took over the closer's role in Storen's absence and pretty much dominated opposing hitters for most of the season.
If Clippard can figure it out and set Storen up with Burnett handling the seventh; the Nationals will just need strong outings from their starters. Davey Johnson, of course, has his B-Bullpen options, but in my opinion those three (Burnett, Clippard and Storen) have to be at their best for the Nationals to go far.
The Nationals begin their best-of-five NL Division Series against the Cardinals on Sunday at 12:07 p.m. PT. Game 1 starters will be Washington's Cy Young candidate Gio Gonzalez versus St. Louis' veteran ace Adam Wainwright.
Check out the rest of our MLB playoff Q&As.