Season Preview: Washington Nationals

Opening Day! Opening Day! Let's get the Nationals out the way!

But first, a sidenote: if Obama is throwing out the first pitch at the Nationals game tomorrow, then does that mean that today's Red Sox-Yankees affair isn't actually 'Opening Day?' Because can you really start the season the day before the Prez gets to toss out the first ball? Wait...don't answer that.

As we were.

Lineup: Ryan Zimmerman is the star here, and deservedly so; he is not only an elite hitter but can pick it with the best of 'em. Adam Dunn, on the other hand, has the second-best bat on the team, but negates much of that advantage with an abysmal glove. Josh Willingham - when healthy - has had his moments, and Nyjer Morgan took a huge step forward last season; his bat almost caught up to his glove. We doubt that he repeats that season, though, which leaves the Nationals with a pretty impotent outfield; Willie Harris is, for some reason, the starting right fielder. Back in the infield, the Nats aren't bad up the middle, with promising rookie Ian Desmond manning shortstop and aging vet Adam Kennedy holding down the keystone. We'd be more comfortable with this group if we could perfect time travel and get a more developed Desmond and a younger Kenned; without looking, we'd say Adam Kennedy hasn't posted a wRC+ over 100 since 2003. (Upon review: he did it last season. Whoops. But that was his first time since 2005. Moral victory. It's our blog, after all.) The corpse of Ivan Rodriguez will rely on the starting catcher's gear to hold his bones together, which is a bad strategy on several levels (particularly if literally true). Jesus Flores will be around in a year to wrest the job from Pudge II's cold, dead hands, but for now, the Nationals are paying a premium for a guy who is a lock to hit like a replacement player. So in retrospect...we guess they're not actually all that much better than you'd expect.

Rotation: The loss of Jordan Zimmermann and the refusal to start Strasburg in the minors (a move we support, mind you) make this group a  lot less promising than it would otherwise be. Jason Marquis continues to ride the gravy train of last season's 15 wins; he managed to parlay that into an All-Star appearance and a multiyear deal, which we guess is pretty impressive. And also soul-crushing, but still impressive. John Lannan, the team's Opening Day starter, managed a 3.89 ERA despite striking out, like, 3 batters per 9 (who needs fact checking?); if he can keep tossing 200 innings of ~4 ERA ball, then that has to be considered pretty good for this squad. Scott Olsen and Garrett Mock - particularly Mock - have great stuff, but haven't shown an ability to harness it effectively (or, in Olsen's case, to keep his head on straight and throw strikes at the same time). Neither has the upside they once did, but there's some promise yet to be found there. J.D. Martin is also listed on the official team depth chart, despite the fact that he was reassigned. Washington Nationals: on the ball!

Bullpen: Matt Capps was a great upside play; the Pirates released him after he struggled last season, and the Nats snapped him on a minor-league deal. Capps had been good prior to last season's breakdown, and with the variability of relief pitching, it's easily within reason that he'll rebound to have one of his better sesons as the closer here. Tyler Clippard, whom we confused with Chase Wright, is not actually the guy best known for serving up four consecutive tater tots to Red Sox batters, but is a former Yankee - and so is Brian Bruney. Which has to mean something, right? Well, no, but they are both pretty good pitchers. Jason Bergmann is in the 'pen, which meanst the team will have at least one of its '...nn' pitchers. Sean Burnett was pretty good last season, and we think that he, Bruney and Bergmann should start their own 'Killer B's.' Miguel Batista, auteur extraordinaire, was not very good last season. Nor is it likely he will be this season. But he could lobby to join the Killer B's, if they're nice. It'll be like when Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell were declining badly, but people kept calling them that.

Overall: Put simply, the Nationals aren't going to be very good this year. But there are signs of improvement, and talented prospects on the horizon. We're not saying they're going to compete any time soon in what is a pretty loaded NL East, but they will cease to be laughingstocks. Probably. Anyway, a core of Zimmerman, Strasburg, Zimmermann and Flores is not too shabby, and if the youngn's grow up quick and the vets get old slow, they could coast above .500 sometime.

Predicted Record: 69-93, 5th place NL East

Beer: Schlitz. Schlitz disappeared for a time, but came back to store shelves in 2008 to much fanfare despite being a pretty mediocre beer. The Nationals disappeared for a time, but came back to D.C. in 2005 to much fanfare despite being a pretty mediocre team. We just never learn.

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