Nationals season in review: Biggest contributor

October 26, 2012

(Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

This Nationals‘ season was memorable and historic, filled with seminal moments and transcendent performances. This week, we look back at many of them and ask you to rank them. In the final installment, we look at the biggest contributor of the season. (“Contributor” is loosely defined — in essence, the team’s MVP but not necessarily a player.)

  • Davey Johnson: The swashbuckling leader injected confidence into the first-time-contending Nationals. He trusted his slumping players and was patient, and they rewarded him with hard play. Ian Desmond credits Johnson’s trust in him as a factor in his breakout season.
  • Mike Rizzo: The feisty architect of the Nationals’ roster who signed, drafted or traded for 20 of the 25 players on the Nationals playoff roster since arriving as assistant general manager in 2006. He defended his players (see: Bryce Harper vs. Cole Hamels), made successful unheralded moves (see: Kurt Suzuki) and stood steadfast in his decisions (see: Stephen Strasburg shutdown).
  • Gio Gonzalez: In his first season with the Nationals, he produced the finest year of his career, an all-star, top Cy Young candidate performance. Led the majors with 21 wins and was near the top in many major pitching categories, and finished fourth in majors among pitchers with a 5.4 WAR (Fangraphs version).
  • Stephen Strasburg: Even in a shortened season, the right-hander provided an electric presence atop the Nationals’ rotation with 15 wins, a 3.16 ERA, 197 strikeouts and some of the most dominating stuff in the majors.
  • Steve Lombardozzi/Tyler Moore/Roger Bernadina: The two rookies learned left field to help the Nationals when injuries claimed Jayson Werth and Michael Morse. The trio helped keep the team afloat when the roster looked bleak because of injuries. Lombardozzi filled in well at second base, too, hitting .273 with a .317 on-base percentage. Moore smashed 10 home runs and posted a .840 OPS in limited playing time. Bernadina had his best season to date, filling in all over the outfield and hitting .291.
  • Jordan Zimmermann: Aside from Gio Gonzalez, the right-hander was perhaps the most consistent starter. His stretch of 21 straight starts of at least six innings was an impressive stretch of durability and reliability. Even with a slump late in the season, he finished with a 2.94 ERA over 195 2/3 innings, the most in his career.
  • Adam LaRoche: Bounced back from one of the most trying seasons of his career and smashed 33 home runs and drove in 100 runs. He was steadying force in the clubhouse and a vacuum cleaner at first base, saving infielders from errant throws. Seen by his teammates and manager as the team’s MVP because he was the consistent offense force in the lineup who didn’t missed extended time with injury.
  • Ian Desmond: During a breakout season, he emerged as one of the best shortstops in baseball. He hit .292/.335/.511, smashed 25 home runs, drove in 73, played stellar defense and was a leader in the clubhouse. He finished 19th in the majors among position players with a 5.4 WAR.
  • Bryce Harper: After his late April call-up, he injected spark into a banged-up Nationals roster with his bat, base running and fire. Despite a big slump in the second half, he finished with 22 home runs and was 26th among position players in the majors with a 4.9 WAR. Read that again: He was a 19-year-old rookie and, based on that metric, was just as valuable as Prince Fielder and Josh Reddick.
  • Ryan Zimmerman: The third baseman played like an MVP from late June on after receiving a magical cortisone shot, finishing with a .282/.346/.478 triple slash line with 25 home runs and 95 RBI along with slick defense and tremendous range at third base that saved runs.
  • Tyler Clippard: Statistically, he has had better seasons, but his versatility was a godsend for a Nationals bullpen that lost three closers to injury. Clippard finished with 32 saves, 13 holds and his third straight 70-plus inning season.
  • Cortisone: A commonly-used anti-inflammatory steroid that helped turn Ryan Zimmerman’s season around, but also helped Danny Espinosa (shoulder) and Michael Morse (hand/wrist) play through injuries late in the season. (Davey Johnson also received some for his balky back.) Imagine where the Nationals would be without this wonder drug.

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Best pitching performance (Winner so far: Ross Detwiler’s NLDS Game 4 start.)

Best comeback (Winner so far: Nationals 7-6 win over the Marlins in 10 innings on Sept. 8 thanks to a rain-delayed game-tying home run by Jayson Werth.)

Best defensive play (Winner so far: Roger Bernadina’s tumbling, crashing, game-winning catch.)

Best moment (Winner so far: Jayson Werth’s season-saving walk-off homer in NLDS Game 4.)

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.
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