Welcome back to the big leagues, Davey Johnson! You're the new manager of the Washington Nationals! A few months ago, someone as accomplished as Johnson probably would have scoffed at leading this type of franchise. But after 13 wins in 15 games, the Nationals are like the Ricky Vaughn-led Cleveland Indians team from the movie "Major League": They're contenders!
OK, so perhaps the Nationals won't end up in the postseason, but there are plenty of reasons to like this organization, even before we start talking about Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and the enticing future, including from a fantasy perspective. Consider that in 2010 there weren't many valuable Nationals. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman was solid (and healthy!) and Adam Dunn hit his home runs, but a mere two players in the top 175 on the Player Rater does not a strong fantasy franchise make.
Things are quite a bit better now, and let's just say Johnson has plenty to work with. Let's analyze from a fantasy perspective, and look ahead with the Nationals.
First at second base: No second baseman in baseball has more home runs than Danny Espinosa. His two-run whack in the seventh inning Sunday scored all the runs the Nationals needed, and he's picking the right times to homer as well; Since June 12, he has four home runs and 10 RBIs, with a .455 batting average -- from the seventh inning on. By the way, he's a rookie. This looks statistically a bit like the old Dan Uggla, before 2010 (and 2011), of course. Espinosa seems incapable of hitting for a high batting average -- he strikes out quite a bit (on pace for 145) -- but a 30-100 season is possible. Also, he steals bases. Incredibly, he's not 100 percent owned, so check your free-agent list. I see him finishing with roughly 25-27 home runs, 16 stolen bases and a .240 batting average, the latter of which you can overcome.
Safe for saves: Remember early April when left-hander Sean Burnett upset the closer apple cart by saving a few games? Drew Storen, also known as that other first-rounder in the Strasburg draft, was supposed to close, but former manager Jim Riggleman wanted to temper the expectations, and see more velocity. Storen's numbers have always been strong, as he's fantasy's No. 3 relief pitcher on the Player Rater, just a tad behind Joel Hanrahan and Brian Wilson. The Nationals don't score a ton of runs, and that tends to lead to more save opportunities for closers on those teams. We like that. By the way, it's not just Storen rockin' the bullpen; the unhittable Tyler Clippard is having another terrific season, but sans the victories. He's one strikeout off the big league lead for relievers, and nobody has more holds.
More, more, Morse!: Yes, I was all over the Mike Morse bandwagon this past winter; I drafted the fellow on multiple teams. And when Morse hit .211 with one home run in April, I stuck with the guy despite evidence he didn't look like much. Would I have stuck with Morse in a standard (10-team) league? Probably not. Luckily, I play in numerous deep leagues! Morse is hitting .300 with 14 home runs and 45 RBIs. A right-handed hitter, he's doing his best work against right-handed pitching, and he's eligible at outfield and first base, the positional beneficiary of the Adam LaRoche injury. Look, Morse shouldn't hit .300 much longer; he's on pace for 29 walks and his BABIP is awfully high (.344). However, I never expected even a .275 batting average. The power, though, is legit, and I see him flirting with 32-35 home runs.
Ace No. 2: Like the San Francisco Giants with Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, I don't expect Jordan Zimmermann to get a whole lot of attention once Strasburg returns. Heck, Zimmermann isn't the most talked about fellow now, despite a 2.85 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. Now in his second year post-Tommy John surgery, Zimmermann is the pitcher I'd name first if you're concerned about innings limits (Michael Pineda would be next). The Nationals don't want Zimmermann topping 160 innings this season, which means he probably won't be helping fantasy owners in September, but there's no reason to avoid him for the next two months. Zimmermann tossed seven shutout innings over the weekend, though that earned him a no-decision; his last bad outing came in April. Don't avoid the pitchers with pending reduced workloads -- enjoy them while you can, even if for only 10-12 more starts.
Other thoughts: There's little question outfielder Roger Bernadina can steal bases, and he possesses some pop, but can he continue hitting .282? I'd say he's a borderline own for standard leagues right now. ... Laynce Nix might hit 20 home runs, but there's definite batting average regression on the way. He was hitting .300 a few weeks ago; by mid-July he might be down to .250. Be wary, choose Bernadina first. ... I'm using John Lannan in an NL-only format, but the truth is he's viable only in home games. Lannan sports a 1.81 ERA and 1.14 WHIP at Nationals Park. You don't want him active on the road (5.23 ERA). Same with right-hander Livan Hernandez (2.48 ERA at home, 5.13 ERA on the road) ... I'm not owning Wilson Ramos yet, unless it's a multi-catcher format. He's hit .195 since May 1. Trading Ivan Rodriguez to open up at-bats won't help. ... Finally, Jayson Werth owners are whining, but the guy is on pace for a 20/20 season. I could see him hitting .275 in any month, too. Hey, he could be Adam Dunn.