After a brief hiatus, we're back with more inside info on opposing teams. This week, we asked Federal Baseball'sJared Book about the Washington Nationals' slow start, Jordan Zimmermann's potential, and how good Bryce Harper actually is.
1. The Nationals seem to be going through the same early season lull that the Tigers went through in 2012. Do you sense that the team is starting to get frustrated under the weight of expectations -- not to mention the Atlanta Braves' hot start -- or are the fanbase and media making a bigger deal out of the slow start than they should?
I think the team is getting frustrated because they know that they are better than they are showing. This isn't a team hoping to surprise like they were last year. This is a team that knows they should be better from Stephen Strasburg to Adam LaRoche and pretty much everyone not named Bryce Harper. I think the last two games against the Braves after losing the first two in a four game series were huge. The gap is only two games right now and the Nationals know they will be getting better. Much like the Tigers last year, there aren't any other teams in between them and first place. It's a long season and I think the slow start -- although not ideal -- will not be the reason they make or miss the playoffs. There's too much baseball for that and the gap is just one sweep away from being completely closed. The fanbase tends to over exaggerate starts to the season because there is nothing else to compare it to. If you do well in April but struggle in June, you have positives. When you struggle in April, it's hard to have a positive outlook.
2. Tigers fans are happy to miss Stephen Strasburg in this short series, but their consolation prize is Jordan Zimmermann, who has been the Nats' best starter this season. Zimmermann was excellent last season and showed some surprising velocity out of the bullpen in the playoffs, but has been getting by mostly on ground ball outs this year. Can he keep this up all season?
I think he can. Remember, last year was his second year back from Tommy John surgery. He improved over the season last year and his solid start is a continuation of that. Zimmermann's sinker is heavy and a lot like Derek Lowe in his prime, if he is getting groundballs, that's a sign that he is on.
3. At the time, it seemed like the signing of Rafael Soriano -- a player that many were hoping would end up in Detroit this year -- was just piling on to what was already a stacked bullpen. However, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard have struggled in 2013. How important has Soriano been so far for this team?
He has been important but at the same time, Soriano went through some struggles as well. This team wants to be like the Atlanta Braves, but it's never easy when the three of them have gone out there this season. Even in Soriano's saves, there are usually some base runners [Ed.: SEE?! Everyone does it!]. Soriano is on the record saying he doesn't exactly like Spring Training and that is part of his struggles. He is still getting in midseason form when the season starts. By the end of the year, the expectation is that the bullpen, along with the Nationals rotation can really limit offensive struggles. So far, that part has been missing but Soriano was brought in to make sure what happened in Game 5 of the NLDS against the Cardinals doesn't happen again. Not so much for saves in April.
4. It seems like the Nats' biggest issue this year is the lack of offense. Prior to Sunday's games, they were 13th in the National League in runs scored, 14th in batting average, and 14th in OPS. Ryan Zimmerman has been on the DL, but there are several other players who not performed up to expectations. Who has been the biggest disappointment so far in 2013?
It's hard to answer that question with anything other than "everyone except Bryce Harper" but I'll try. I think most people thought that Adam LaRoche would have a hard time repeating his great 2012 season but he has been really bad and I think everyone expects him to snap out of it and at least get back to respectability. Danny Espinosa came in to the season with a bad shoulder, so he's disappointing but expectations were that he might struggle anyways. Denard Span and Jayson Werth have battled injuries but have had some hot and cold spots as well [Ed.: Here comes another hot spell for Span...]. Ian Desmond has been hitting well as well and the catching position has gone cold after a really good start but not much was really expected from them. I would say that LaRoche is the most disappointing but there are signs that he will be coming around. He went a whole week without a hit or a walk at one point, so he can't possibly get much worse.
5. I can't go through an entire preview without asking about Bryce Harper, who is putting up video game numbers right now. Are there any holes in his game? Or should the Tigers just walk him every time he steps to the plate?
Harper really is special. He's having his Mike Trout Coming Out Party this year. Are there holes in his game? Not big ones. He has been battling a side injury lately which has caused him to struggle for the first time this year but before that, walking him was the best option. With every one else struggling, I joked that he was getting the Giancarlo Stanton treatment in that everyone else is struggling so don't let Harper hurt you. You can get him out, but if you make a mistake he will hurt you and he is patient enough to wait for that mistake so it's hard to make him hit your pitch.
Before the season, I said that Harper could improve over last year to hide some regression by LaRoche and Desmond, and for the first month of the season, he really was the Nationals offense. He's a player that even if you're casually watching a game, you will drop everything you are doing to watch his at bat.
Once again, a big thank you to Jared and the staff of Federal Baseball for fielding our questions. Be sure to check out Federal Baseball all season long as the Nationals battle for their second consecutive NL East title.