Nationals are no sure thing in 2013

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Cheers and Jeers,Sports,Brian McNally

The Capitals are floundering, the Wizards created an impossible hole for themselves by the end of November and a promising Redskins season turned into a disaster when Robert Griffin III tore his ACL in a playoff loss to Seattle. As always, the Washington sports scene is struggling. At least until next week when the Nationals report to spring training in Viera, Fla., amidst a wave of hype about being a World Series favorite in 2013. But Washingtonians are cynics at heart. Here are a few issues that could cause heartburn for Nats fans this summer:

Rotation depth » Other than Stephen Strasburg's shutdown in September, the Nats kept their rotation healthy and intact virtually all year. Ross Detwiler took over for an injured Chein-Ming Wang and they didn't miss a beat. John Lannan was a capable reserve in Triple-A Syracuse and took over for Strasburg in September. But

Gio Gonzalez being linked to a Florida anti-aging facility, suspected of dealing performance-enhancing drugs is a concern -- if not a serious one yet. Both Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann have had Tommy John surgery in the last few years. Detwiler has to prove last year was a true breakthrough. Veteran Dan Haren, so durable for so long, seeks to regain that form on a one-year contract. Behind them? Not much right now other than converted reliever Christian Garcia.

Middle infielders » Speaking of building on breakthrough years, the Nats really can't afford any regression from Ian Desmond. He had a fine 2013. But we've seen players have better years and then fall off again. And second baseman Danny Espinosa elected not to have surgery for a rotator cuff tear even though his shoulder limited his effectiveness down the stretch. That rehabilitation strategy failed miserably for Adam LaRoche two years ago.

Bullpen » Keep pretending like you know what you're going to get here. It almost never works out as expected. Tyler Clippard appeared to be running on fumes late last summer, middle relievers are always a crapshoot, and Drew Storen has to deal with being replaced as closer by Rafael Soriano, who is 33 and struggled with injuries as recently as 2011. This strength can turn into a weakness for any team quickly.

- Brian McNally

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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Brian McNally

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner