During the baseball off-season, I have been paying attention to the Washington Capitals. If you don’t follow hockey, the Caps are the team to beat in the NHL. They are currently a whopping 15 points ahead of the second-place New York Rangers in the Metropolitan Division. Every sports fan dreams of their team having a season like the one the Caps are having right now, especially in Washington, where it’s been one Bryce Harper-lifetime since the city has won a major sports championship (Washington Redskins 1992 Super Bowl). Just like in baseball, there is a DC-New York rivalry in hockey the past couple of seasons. As the Capitals contend for this year’s Stanley Cup, I have been wondering how can our beloved Nationals be more like the Capitals in the 2016 MLB season.
Well, one thing the Caps are doing well this year is scoring, obviously. The Caps have the highest goals scored per game rate (3.32) in the NHL. Similarly, the Nats did fine scoring last year. They were third in the National League in total runs scored (703), and averaged 4.41 runs per game (compared to the Mets’ 4.23). Where they need to play more like the Capitals is in defense. The Capitals have given up the fewest goals in the NHL, and are about 30% below the league average in goals against. Compare the 2015 Nationals, who gave up many late innings runs. Over the season, they gave up more runs than they scored. The bullpen blew 23 saves, which resulted in a below-league-average 64% save percentage. That’s why the Nats totally remade their bullpen this off-season, taking four guys off the roster and bringing in four new players. On the field, the team committed a huge number of errors (90), and to the eye didn’t really command the field like they did in prior years. You need to score runs to win games, but your defense has to be good enough to not let your opponent score more than you.
I am a fan of the additions the Nationals made to the team: Shawn Kelley, Trevor Gott, Oliver Perez, and Yusmeiro Petit to replace Drew Storen and Craig Stammen (both of whom I hated to see go), Casey Janssen, and Matt Thornton in the bullpen. I’m especially optimistic about Petit. In 2013, as a Giant, Petit came one out away from a no-hitter. He also got the win in the crazy Giants-Nats 18 inning postseason game in 2014, with a 6 inning performance, shutting down the Nats.
In terms of other off-season moves, I expect that when Danny Espinosa moves over to shortstop we’ll see errors decrease. I like the addition of Daniel Murphy (not my first choice due to his defensive weakness) and Stephen Drew as left handed bats in the lineup. Ben Revere gives the Nats a solid outfielder who can play everywhere. In the starting rotation, the Nats lost Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister, but they added Bronson Arroyo and his crazy leg-kick, who I think has a good chance of making the team. Tanner Roark will probably get a nod in the starting rotation.
So how’s this for a lineup:
I think that the Nationals are a playoff contender again this year.
Last year, the baseball team from New York took the NL East and eventually made it to the World Series. And in the hockey world last year, the New York Rangers won the Metropolitan Division and made it to the third round Eastern Conference Finals. Look how 2016 is already shaping up: the Caps are ahead of New York Rangers in the Metropolitan, and I expect the same from the Nationals over the Mets this season. Pitchers and catchers is only 16 days away!