What else can baseball fans do in January but dream of October? In You May Say I’m a Dreamer, the Outside Corner staff will imagine the route to a World Series in 2012 title for all 30 teams.
To think, the season started with people dreaming about how the Nationals could have been real contenders if only they hadn’t been outbid for Prince Fielder by the Tigers. That all seems so funny now that the Nationals are celebrating their 2012 World Series Championship.
Yes, losing out on the chance to spend a boatload of cash on Prince Fielder could wind up being the greatest thing to ever happen to the National franchise. If not for all that extra cash lying around, the Nats never would have been able to afford Edwin Jackson. That move unto itself panned out great since they were spot on about him having a flaw in his delivery that they could easily fix. And fix it they did, as his line of 17-8 record, 3.10 ERA and 185 strikeouts in 214 innings of work proved. But the cherry on top was that Jackson’s presence made John Lannan expendable, leading to him being packaged off to Minnesota so that they could finally get their hands on Denard Span. After that, everything just fell into place.
Span gave the Nats the center fielder and leadoff man they desperately needed. With him speeding around the outfield sparing the revamped Washington pitching staff from Jayson Werth in center and giving the powerful Nats lineup a real tablesetter for once, the Nationals offense jumped from one of the worst in the National League to one of the top five in the Senior Circuit. Of course, that sort of buries the lead doesn’t it?
Span’s presence opened up the roster flexibility for the Nats, but the real star leading the charge was none other than Bryce Harper, but you knew that already since he was the unanimous NL Rookie of the Year after unexpectedly winning the starting right field spot out of training camp, with Werth shifting to left and Mike Morse moving to first base. A lot of people thought it was a mistake to hand Harper a big league job at such a tender age, but his .311 average, 36 homers and 124 RBIs begged to differ. Those are the kind of numbers that should have given him a better shot at taking home the MVP too, but after that disastrous All-Star weekend press conference, the BBWAA couldn’t get over their own hurt feelings to make it happen. But that’s neither here nor there. The point is Mike Rizzo’s bold decision making set the Nationals up for this unprecedented success.
Everyone pointed to the Harper promotion as the textbook example of Rizzo’s genius, but his true master stroke was the way he handled Stephen Strasburg. Competing for a championship while also trying to keep your staff ace on a strict 160-inning limit is no small task. Instead of letting Strasburg burn through his innings by mid-August, Rizzo made the unprecedented decision to “demote” Strasburg to the minors for the month of July so he could rest up and preserve his arm for the stretch run. And preserve it they did as the Nats enjoyed Strasmas come early by way of his blistering 1.34 ERA and 12.60 K/9 rate after his recall. Just imagine what he would have done had he not been on that strick 100-pitch count though.
That may have been an overly cautious approach, but it paid off handsomely since Stephen finished the season with 158 innings pitched. Paying off more handsomely though was Rizzo finally throwing caution to the wind by allowing Strasburg to pitch in the post-season with no limitations. A World Series MVP later and I think we can all agree that Rizzo made the right call, even if it meant putting an extra 37 innings of work on his young stud’s arm.
The temptation all along was to call the Nats some kind of Cinderella, which they were, but with their success being so firmly placed on the backs of their young stars, everyone stopped wondering when the clock would strike midnight for these upstarts and started asking how many years they are going to remain the belle of the ball.