Keeler: Can Nats put talent to good use?

It was just a year ago that I was writing about how good the Nationals were going to be. Of course, things didn’t go quite the way Nationals’ fans were hoping. However, I think this year Nats fans may get their wish.

Everyone is optimistic at the start of the season (well, except for Houston fans). A slow start and some injuries hurt the Nationals last season, but they still showed plenty of promise.

One big change is Davey Johnson is gone, and Matt Williams is in as manager. I think Williams will do a good job for the Nationals. He spent the last few seasons as a first and third base coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks and was a solid player during his professional career. He played in three World Series with three different teams (San Francisco, Cleveland and Arizona).

Williams should certainly have enough talent to get the Nationals into the playoffs and maybe even to the World Series.

The Nationals have plenty of pieces on offense led, of course, by Bryce Harper. The young slugger had another strong season, but just needs to stay healthy.

Harper just keeps getting better, and there’s no reason to think he won’t have a special season for the Nats this year. Denard Span and Jayson Werth will join Harper in the outfield, and the Nationals need Werth to have another big season at the plate.

Last year, Harper missed 44 games, and Werth missed 33. They still managed to have a combined 45 home runs and 140 RBIs.

Veteran Nate McLouth gives the Nationals some depth in the outfield.

Adam LaRoche, Anthony Rendon, Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman are back in the Nationals’ infield. The quartet combined for 73 homers and 266 RBIs. Danny Espinosa gives Washington some flexibility and can play second and shortstop.

Wilson Ramos is a solid catcher, and as long he stays healthy should be a real boost for the Nationals. Ramos only played in 78 games last year, hitting .272 with 16 homers and 59 RBIs.

The offense is strong, but the Nationals are just as good with their pitching.

Stephen Strasburg didn’t have the kind of year that everyone was hoping for, but the 25-year-old still has one of the best arms in the game. He still had a team-best, among starters, ERA of 3.00, but had an 8-9 record. I think this year could be a huge year for him, and if it is the Nationals will be tough to beat.

Gio Gonzalez is a very good No. 2 and would be a No. 1 starter for most teams. Gonzalez struck out 192, and had an 11-8 record. The addition of Doug Fister to go along with Jordan Zimmermann and a fifth starter to be determined give the Nationals a very strong rotation. Right-handers Tanner Roark, Taylor Jordan and Chris Young are battling for the fifth spot in the rotation.

Tyler Clippard, who had a 2.41 ERA in 68 appearances, and Drew Storen spearhead a solid bullpen with Rafael Soriano (43 saves) ready to pick up the saves.

The Nationals will once again have to contend with the Atlanta Braves in the NL East, and the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL playoffs. I think the Nationals have what it takes to make it to the World Series and maybe even win it. It’s certainly been a long time since any Washington pro sports team has had this strong of a chance to win it all.

However, we all saw what happened last year. Nothing is a given in pro sports, injuries can change everything.

No matter what happens Mike Rizzo has the Nationals in position for a banner season, and that is something for all Washington fans to smile about.

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd