The Nats season should be pretty predictable. They should win about 95 games and probably win the division, depending on if the Braves or Phillies have a remarkable season themselves. They should definitely make the playoffs. The months of next season are basically a long injury watch.
But we must allow for anything to happen in any season, so I'm going to present two drastic scenarios and what it will take to get there. Today we'll look at the dream scenario, a Nats team that wins 110+ games. It challenges for the best record of all-time and runs basically wire to wire in first place*. This is going to be similar to Dave Schoenfield's work at ESPN that shows if EVERYTHING goes right for the Nats they are actually better than that Seattle team that won 116 games. Of course EVERYTHING isn't going to go right so we're going to try to pick out the path of least resistance to this kind of remarkable season.
*If you win 110 games, this kind of has to happen. If you start slow (13-13 say) then you can only lose about 8 games a month the rest of the year. So you have to catch up to any leader very early in the season.
Last year the Nats won 98 games, but the pythag has them as a 96 win team so let's start there. We'll also make the BIG assumption that no one will get injured. I know it's not likely but to make a run at 110 you kind of need that kind of season.We're also assuming that no one decreases production in any noticeable way, so career years from LaRoche, Span and Desmond will have to be repeated. A stretch for sure, but better than saying they need to do something they never did before.
OK based on the no-injury assumption we are going to get a big bump from Werth. Let's assume he bounces all the way back to his banner times in Philly and puts up a 3.5-4.0 WAR. That's about 3 more wins for the Nats. (a little more but you have to consider they'd lose some of that fine bench replacement time they got this year from the likes of Bernie and Moore. Trust me I'm being more than fair here). 99 wins.
Strasburg too would have an opportunity for a full season, and his potential is up there with the best in the league. Let's say he meets it. That would be about a ~5.0 WAR or so or two more wins. 101 wins.
What about Storen? The pen was very very good last year. So time gained for Storen is likely time lost from a pitcher who did ok, same with Soriano. Plus, it's the pen, it doesn't generate a lot of wins because in total it pitches maybe 40% of all innings. No one guy can make that big a difference. Just can't happen. I'll be generous though and say the Nats gain half a game in the pen. so 101.5 wins.
Haren? He bounces back but he can't quite make it back to his old levels just because he's going to lose 15% of his innings to the Nats being safe. (A lot of his value is that he pitched SO many innings, look! You see the Nats doing that?) Remember too that it's not from Haren's last year, it's Edwin's production he's replacing and Edwin was ok. Let's be generous again 1.5 more wins and the Nats are up to 103 wins.
Ok, we've kind of run out of non-developmental improvement. Where can the Nats get that? Bryce Harper of course. Let's say he has that Mike Trout like 2nd year. That's a big jump from Morse (we're taking Span to match 2012 Bryce based on last years production) but all that extra production from Bernie, Moore, has to go somewhere. I cut out a little from Werth but most falls here. STILL Bryce nets the team an extra 3.5 wins with a season for the ages. 106.5 wins.
Now let's start stretching. Catcher was a bit of a problem, but not as much as you'd think. Suzuki was good at the end. Ramos was good at the start. Over all maybe a half a win more if they both can keep it up over the whole season? 107 wins.
We're still not there and there's not much room for more improvement. What we need now is a break out year and the one place that we can get that is from Danny Espinosa. I can't make him into a superstar, we are trying to be vaguely reasonable here, but he can improve a lot. Let's say 1.5 more wins than last year (he really was still good last year. Fielding! Power!) that puts the Nats at 108.5 wins.
At this point I'll stop because there's one way to 110 wins from here that I think is more likely than 200 IP of Detwiler getting even better or Zimm returning to his best form. What is that way? Same way the 96 win-talented Nats won 98 wins last year. Luck. 1-2 wins is easily in the realm of error for this type of estimation.
There you have it. If the Nats don't get injured, don't see any drops from the career years their roster had last year, and have these 8 things happen in their favor they could get to 110 wins... if they get a little lucky. Take home lesson : getting to 110 wins is hard. That's why only 6 teams have ever done it.
But you see a couple of these 8 things should happen, so even if/when they do get injuries or regression on some of those best years, they should still be about a 95 win team. It all should even out.
Tomorrow : The nightmare scenario - missing the playoffs.