The Washington Nationals wrapped up the 2011 baseball season with a 3-1 win over the Florida Marlins on Wednesday afternoon. It was a well-scripted game, with a young ace pitching, a wise veteran catching, and a respectable Floridian crowd of fans (for once!) in the stands. And while the Marlins said good-bye to their god-awful stadium, the Nationals went home with a feeling of satisfaction and anxious anticipation for next season.
Stephen Strasburg struck out 10 in six innings, Iván Rodriguez hit his 2,844th hit, and Drew Storen notched his 43rd save of the year. And even though Michael Morse and Ryan Zimmerman did not play, the Nationals still had some offense (a triple by Alex Cora and 2 RBIs for Ian Desmond) and some good plays on defense.
The Nationals finish the season with a record of 80 wins and 81 losses (one game shy of 162 due to a rainout against the Dodgers that was never rescheduled), which gives them 10 more wins than last year. I had predicted that they would finish at .500, which raised a lot of eyebrows back in March but ended up being pretty accurate. Now let’s hope my prediction of a Tigers-Brewers World Series ends up being accurate too!
So what kind of a season did the 2011 Nationals have? A darn good one, thanks for asking! These Nationals played hard and never gave up, doing their best until the final game. All of this while finishing third in their division despite some obstacles they encountered along the way.
The Nationals’ 2009 Gold Glove/Silver Slugger winner, Ryan Zimmerman, missed 58 games due to an oblique injury. Their veteran catcher, Iván Rodriguez, also suffered a couple of injuries and spent a long time on the Disabled List. The first baseman the Nationals had acquired during the off season, Adam LaRoche, suffered a season-ending labral tear in his shoulder early on. Their 2009 #1 draft pick, Stephen Strasburg, was recovering from Tommy John surgery. Their manager, Jim Riggleman, abruptly resigned before the All-Star break. All these distractions could have contributed to a team’s demise, but the stubborn Nationals took all of these events in stride and did their best to compensate for their shortcomings.
Offensively, it was the year for Michael Morse. While all eyes were on former Phillie Jayson Werth, Morse was batting consistently for power and building his on-base percentage. Morse ended the year ninth in the NL in hitting with an average of .303. He had 31 home runs, 95 RBIs, and a slugging percentage of .550. He was happy whether he played first base or left field, and his carefree yet competitive attitude were contagious.
Defensively, Danny Espinosa was the star of the infield. With Ryan Zimmerman missing so many games at third base and then having to learn a new way of throwing the ball, Espinosa stole the show with acrobatic catches and agile feats at second base. There is definitely a Gold Glove in this rookie’s future; now let’s hope he earns one while still with the Nationals!
On the mound, it was a so-so year for starters but an excellent year for the bullpen. The “clip and save” combination of all-star Tyler Clippard and closer Drew Storen was pivotal when the Nats took close games into the seventh and eighth innings. Clippard struck out 104 batters in 88.1 innings and accumulated an ERA of 1.83. Meanwhile, Storen earned 43 saves in the 73 games in which he pitched.
Now, the Nationals have some work to do next year if they want to be contenders – Ian Desmond needs to stop committing so many errors at shortstop, Jayson Werth needs to stop striking out so much, and the young starting pitchers need to prove themselves – but seeing how hard this team played in the last few weeks of the season when other teams were just going through the motions proves that they have the potential to be even better. I can’t wait until the 2012 season opener against the Chicago Cubs – only 182 days left!
About the Author
Written by Marien Hornyak
I was born and raised in Puerto Rico but have lived in the continental US for 22 years. I have a BS in Athletic Training and a MEd in Sport Management, where I did my thesis on "The History of Baseball Litigation." I am a wife, mother of 2, and self-proclaimed "Baseball Nerd." My favorite baseball players include Roberto Clemente, Kirby Puckett, and Iván Rodriguez.