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Nats position analysis: Outfield

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Nats position analysis: Outfield

As we transition into offseason mode, we'll start by breaking down the Nationals' roster by position (infield, outfield, catcher, rotation and bullpen) this week and examine where things stand at season's end and where things might stand moving forward. Today's position: Outfield...

OF JAYSON WERTH
Stats: 81 G, 344 PA, 5 HR, 31 RBI, .300 AVG, .387 OBP, .440 SLG
1 E, -12.6 UZR, 1.0 WAR
2012 salary: $13 million
Contract status: $16 million in 2013, $20 million in 2014, $21 million in 2015, $21 million in 2016, $21 million in 2017, free agent in 2018
Where he fits in: After a frustrating debut season and after missing three months this season with a broken wrist, Werth finally got to enjoy playing in D.C. (and D.C. finally got to enjoy watching Werth play). The biggest key to his success: Embracing the leadoff role and becoming a potent force atop the lineup. The question now is whether he'll be back in that role next year or whether the Nationals want to add a more traditional No. 1 hitter. Given his skill-set and the makeup of the rest of the projected lineup, it probably makes sense for Werth to stay right where he is in 2013.

OF BRYCE HARPER
Stats: 139 G, 597 PA, 22 HR, 59 RBI, .270 AVG, .340 OBP, .477 SLG
7 E, 9.9 UZR, 4.9 WAR
2012 salary: $1.75 million
Contract status: $2 million in 2013, $2.15 million in 2014, $2.25 million in 2015, arbitration-eligible in 2016, free agent in 2019
Where he fits in: Harper burst onto the scene only three weeks into the season with expectations sky-high. He might very well have exceeded them by season's end, finishing strong to produce the second-most homers, the second-most stolen bases, the third-highest OPS and the most total bases ever by a teenager in the big leagues. Now the scary part: Harper is likely to improve by leaps and bounds next season. History has almost universally shown major leaguers who debuted at 19 really take off at 20 (which, FYI, he turns today). There's no reason to believe Harper won't follow that longstanding trend.

OF MICHAEL MORSE
Stats: 102 G, 430 PA, 18 HR, 62 RBI, .291 AVG, .321 OBP, .470 SLG
1 E, -9.4 UZR, 0.3 WAR
2012 salary: $3.25 million
Contract status: $6.75 million in 2013, free agent in 2014
Where he fits in: Morse missed the season's first two months with a torn lat muscle that proved far more troublesome than anyone originally expected. It took awhile for him to rediscover his power stroke, and then once he did he was hampered again by nagging injuries to both hands. There's no denying Morse's offensive skills when he's healthy, but he'll have to prove he can stay on the field for all of 2013 in what will be a contract year at age 31. Because of his contract status, the Nationals may need to decide this winter whether to try to lock him up longer or perhaps even consider a trade. Morse's status may depend on what happens to Adam LaRoche. Either way, this one bears watching during the offseason.

OF ROGER BERNADINA
Stats: 129 G, 269 PA, 5 HR, 25 RBI, .291 AVG, .372 OBP, .405 SLG
0 E, 2.5 UZR, 1.9 WAR
2012 salary: $493,500
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible in 2013, free agent in 2016
Where he fits in: After teasing everyone with his on-and-off potential for several years, Bernadina finally came into his own this season. Davey Johnson did a nice job establishing his role as a fourth outfielder and putting him in situations in which he could succeed. He'll be a due a raise in arbitration, but even at $1.5 million or $2 million, he's a valuable player on a contending club.

OF TYLER MOORE
Stats: 75 G, 171 PA, 10 HR, 29 RBI, .263 AVG, .327 OBP, .513 SLG
0 E, -3.2 UZR, 0.6 WAR
2012 salary: $480,000
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible in 2016, free agent in 2019
Where he fits in: Moore made his big-league debut one day after Bryce Harper and over the course of the season proved his gargantuan minor-league numbers were no fluke. The kid from Mississippi can flat-out hit and even learned how to do it while coming off the bench cold as a pinch-hitter. Could Moore be ready for an everyday job? Possibly, though his defense in both left field and at first base leaves plenty to be desired. If he doesn't crack the lineup, he'll still provide a potent bat off the bench and is nice insurance to have in case one of the veterans goes down to injury.

IN THE MINORS
Corey Brown put up some big-time numbers at Class AAA Syracuse (.285-21-75 in 126 games) and earned some limited playing time in the big leagues, but the soon-to-be 27-year-old appears caught in a numbers game and stuck down the depth chart. The speedy Eury Perez put himself on the map, hitting .314 while stealing 51 bases at three levels of the system. He'll probably return to Syracuse to open 2013 but could force his way back onto the big-league roster if he keeps it up. After a strong 2011 at Class A Potomac, Destin Hood struggled at Class AA Harrisburg with a paltry .644 OPS. Highly touted center field prospect Brian Goodwin was fantastic at low-Class A Hagerstown and earned the right to bypass Potomac altogether. He's currently in the Arizona Fall League and could crack the Nationals' roster by Sept. 2013 or Opening Day 2014. Several club executives were touting Michael Taylor one year ago, but he cooled off at Potomac and still appears to be a long-term project.

OFFSEASON NEED?
If they want to keep things as-is, the Nationals could very well return in 2013 with the exact same outfield alignment they had this year: Morse in left, Harper in center, Werth in right, with Bernadina and Moore on the bench. It's not necessarily the best defensive alignment, though, and it's possible the club would prefer to acquire a true center fielder and move Harper to one of the corner positions (which would force Morse either to first base or off the roster altogether). In the end, the Nationals seem to believe one of their center field prospects -- headlined by Goodwin -- will be ready to take over in 2014, and thus there's no urgency to spend money and devote multiple years to a premier free agent like Michael Bourn or B.J. Upton.

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Gio Gonzalez has plenty to work on before Nats playoffs begin

Gio Gonzalez has plenty to work on before Nats playoffs begin

Gio Gonzalez' seesaw 2016 regular season is officially in the books. Next stop: the NL Division Series where he will face the L.A. Dodgers, likely in Game 3 and possibly with one of the two teams' season on the line. Either way, it will be important.

Over the years, teams have trotted out far less accomplished pitchers in playoff games, ones with nothing close to the track record of Gonzalez. And for long stretches this season, he has been effective, like in July and August when he held a 3.16 ERA across 11 starts.

But a lot has happened since August for Gonzalez, both on the field and off of it. In his five starts since, he's given up 19 runs in 23 innings. That stretch includes his 3 2/3 innings on Wednesday night against the Diamondbacks, when he gave up three runs on eight hits and three walks and threw a whopping 100 pitches.

Just in time for the playoffs.

The Nationals have an unenviable situation without Stephen Strasburg, who is rehabbing a right flexor strain, and with Joe Ross still building his workload. They better hope the version of Gio Gonzalez they see in the NLDS is better than the one they have witnessed over the last several weeks.

“It wasn’t that good, but we didn’t score any runs either. He had a lot of pitches in a short period of time," manager Dusty Baker said after the Nats' 3-0, rain-shortened loss.

"They ran his pitch count up. They didn’t swing at very many balls and it looked like they were trying to wait on his fastball."

Gonzalez will now have to make adjustments in bullpen sessions over the course of the next 12 days. He will have to do that with a lot on his mind. Gonzalez heads to the funeral of close friend Jose Fernandez on Thursday and was pitching with extra emotion against Arizona. 

“He’s an emotional-type guy," Baker said. "I talked to him a little bit about Fernandez and he was pitching for him and for us. Just wasn’t a very good night."

Now Gonzalez will have plenty of time to grieve and recalibrate before he sees the Dodgers. Whether that hurts or helps has yet to be determined.

“It can [help]. Just depends on, not only can it reset him, but after things have subsided some… they say time heals all wounds, but some wounds take longer to heal," Baker said.

"It probably won’t really set in until after the season when he’s back in Miami and around and Jose’s not around. Hopefully, he can have a couple good ‘pens and get it back together because we’re certainly going to need him come playoff time."

Gonzalez does have some success against the Dodgers to build off of. He holds a 1.69 ERA across 32 innings vs. L.A. since 2012 and held them to one run through six earlier this season.

Gonzalez is also just ready for a fresh start.

"You start the postseason with a zero ERA. It's a new series. New way to look at it," he said.

[RELATED: Podcast: Can Nationals win without Wilson Ramos?]

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Gio Gonzalez bounced early as Nats fall to Diamondbacks

Gio Gonzalez bounced early as Nats fall to Diamondbacks

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 3-0 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday night at Nationals Park.

How it happened: The Nationals will be starting Gio Gonzalez in the NL Division Series against the Dodgers whether it's their preference or not. That's not to say they aren't at all comfortable with having him on the mound in the playoffs. He's been there before and happens to have plenty of recent success against the very team he'll face.

It's just that with Stephen Strasburg injured and Joe Ross not yet stretched out since returning from the disabled list, Gonzalez is essentially their third starter by default. And with how inconsistent he's been lately, that produce an interesting dynamic in the postseason. It's Gio Gonzalez roulette: who will take the ball and stare down Corey Seager and Adrian Gonzalez, Good Gio or Bad Gio?

The latter was on display Wednesday night in the Nats' 3-0 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, a game shortened to 6 1/3 innings by unrelenting rain. He managed just 3 2/3 innings on 100 pitches. That's not an MLB record for pitches in such a short start, but it's not far off. Cardinals lefty Jaime Garcia, for instance, threw 107 pitches in 3 2/3 just five years ago.

Gonzalez' latest outing may not go down in the annals of history, but it was a troubling sight for the Nationals. The next time he will pitch is against the Dodgers, either in L.A. or Washington. And given the nature of a five-game series, their season could be on the line.

Gonzalez needed 24 pitches to get out of the first inning and was fortunate to give up just one run in the frame, that on a groundout by Paul Goldschmidt. Gonzalez needed 24 more in the second after giving up a single and a walk, but no runs. 

He threw 29 more in the third, including an RBI double to Brandon Drury. In the fourth, he tossed 23 more pitches and was pulled after Goldschmidt landed an RBI single, Gonzalez' third run of the evening. He allowed eight hits and three walks in total.

Gonzalez has been bounced after 4 1/3 innings or less in four of his last nine starts. In his last five outings, he's surrendered 19 earned runs in 23 innings. He's trending in the wrong direction after a strong July and August, and it's not good for the Nats.

Gonzalez didn't go deep in his start, but he wasn't necessarily terrible either. The Nats' offense fell closer to that description. They managed zero runs on five hits and one walk against Arizona starter Shelby Miller. His 6.15 ERA through 20 starts this season makes his 2015 All-Star nod seem like a distant memory.

The Nationals lost their second game of this series against the Diamondbacks and will now hope for a four-game split on Thursday. Washington has dropped seven of their last 11 games.

What it means: The Nationals fell to 92-65 not the year with four games remaining. Their magic number to clinch home field advantage in the NLDS stands at three thanks to the Dodgers' loss to the Padres.

Rendon lands two: Anthony Rendon was once again a standout for the Nats on offense with a pair of singles in two plate appearances. That came one night after he led the Nats to victory with a three-run homer. Rendon now has six hits in his last five games and appears to be heating up as the Nats enter the final four games of the regular season. With Wilson Ramos out, Rendon is even more important as one of the Nationals' most potent right-handed bats.

Belisle keeps it up: He may not pitch in high-leverage spots, and he may not bring electric stuff out of the bullpen, but veteran Matt Belisle just continues to produce in whatever role the Nats ask of him. He replaced Gonzalez in the fourth inning on Wednesday and tossed 1 1/3 perfect frames. He got four outs on seven pitches, a nice change of pace from the 100 pitches Gonzalez needed to record 11 outs. Belisle was even checked on by trainer Paul Lessard before he began the fifth inning, but he didn't show any problems afterwards.

Gio playing with a heavy heart: Gonzalez was pitching with a lot on his mind Wednesday night following the death of his friend Jose Fernandez over the weekend. Gonzalez was in tears while warming up in right field before the game and plans to fly to Florida in the morning to attend the funeral services of the late Marlins star. 

Up next: The Nats and Diamondbacks finish of their series with a 1:05 p.m. start on Thursday afternoon. Joe Ross (7-5, 3.48) will pitch opposite former Nats prospect Robbie Ray (8-14, 4.77).

[RELATED: Podcast: Can Nationals win without Wilson Ramos?]

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