In regards to how the Nationals played this season, what do you want first, the good news or the bad news? Mark Zuckerman has them both in his analysis of the Nationals season both on an individual and team level. We'll start with the good.
This year, most of the players on the roster, be they hitters or pitchers, had relatively productive seasons.
Looking up and down the Nationals' roster, I can objectively count 18 players who either had legitimately good seasons or at least exceeded what was expected of them back on Opening Day: Zimmerman, Dunn, Desmond, Morse, Willingham, Strasburg, Hernandez, Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos, Roger Bernadina, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, Joel Peralta, Doug Slaten, Collin Balester, Miguel Batista and Matt Capps (before he was traded in late-July).
Most of the players on the Nationals played better on an individual level than what would have been expected of them before the season began. Hooray! But the team still finished at 69-93, how could that be? Well that, we can chalk up to the bad news.
Their individual successes are unfortunately just that, individual successes. Few players on the team did the things that don't necessarily show up in the box score, but are a essential for a winning team.
Despite what you heard over the last few weeks from the GM and the manager and others, privately those men weren't happy with a lot of aspects of this team. They didn't like how many batters weren't good at working the count and working on improving their on-base percentage instead of swinging from their heels at every opportunity. They didn't like the unwillingness of some players to sacrifice themselves to move runners up or bring them home. They weren't happy with some guys on the bases. They definitely weren't satisfied with several players in the field.
With that information in hand how do we judge this season, and more importantly the state of the club moving forward? I'd vote promising.
The things the Nationals did well are the things that relied on their talent. Putting up numbers may not necessarily help you win, but it shows you have the tools to play at a major league level. It seems the things the Nationals failed to do are things that a team can teach, and that a player can improve on with more time in the Majors.
If the Nats can add the defense and the winning mentality the organization is suggesting they lacked last season to the offensive performances that exceeded expectations this year, they will be in position to be more competitive in the future.
So Mark, how do we get there?
If the Nationals don't re-sign Dunn, look for them to attempt to acquire a better defensive first baseman. Also look for them to make a real attempt to improve defensively in the outfield. And when Rizzo says his No. 1 priority this winter is to acquire a No. 1 starter for the rotation, take him at his word. He may not land Cliff Lee, but he's going to wind up acquiring someone who fits the mold of a staff ace more than anyone in the current group.
That would certainly be a good start.