The Baseball Notebook

February 22, 2010 11:00 AM

Washington Nationals Preview

The Washington Nationals were the worst team in baseball last year in losing 103 games. Perhaps the biggest sign of the ineptitude came in the fact that the ray of hope came not from anyone on the field, but from a college kid—the number one overall choice in the June draft was San Diego State pitcher Stephen Strasburg and he is likely to join the major league team this year. Strasburg is a sign of the times, because these Nationals have a chance to be significantly better in 2010.

There is a considerable amount of offensive firepower in the nation’s capital. The Nats have four players who can hit for power and get on base consistently, and they are led up by first baseman Adam Dunn. Previously a left fielder, both here and in Cincinnati, Dunn remains one of the league’s elite power hitters, with 38 home runs last year. His on-base percentage is up near .400 too, making him good for more than the occasional long ball. Dunn is joined by left fielder Josh Willingham, formerly of the Marlins, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and catcher Jesus Flores. Some benefit of the doubt has to be given here—Zimmerman is coming off the best season of his young career, slugging .525 and it remains to be seen if he can duplicate that. Flores was the best catcher in the National League before a shoulder injury ended his season. A return to health is a must, but the Nats did take out some insurance in signing Ivan Rodriguez.

Washington’s top quartet is supplemented with some consistent on-base threats. Nyjer Morgan has come over from Pittsburgh to play center field and give some speed to the lineup. He produced a .369 on-base percentage in his first shot at regular playing time, and if that holds, the Nats have an igniter. Adam Kennedy, a veteran of the 2002 Angels’ World Series winner and more recently with the Cardinals will play second base. Kennedy is a long way from his prime, but still decent at getting on base and offers some winning experience, something Dunn lacks.

Scoring runs isn’t going to be the problem, so long as everyone stays healthy. Preventing them is going to be the issue, but even here the rotation looks improved. John Lannan is steady, if not spectacular. And Jason Marquis is another new acquisition. The next two spots are very weak, but if Strasburg develops quickly, Washington will have a chance to win more often than not. Bullpen depth is going to be a problem. Closer Matt Capps is another Pittsburgh import and has to find his 2008 form, after a ’09 that saw him post a 5.80 ERA. For the setup crew, Washington reached for Yankee castoffs, Brian Bruney and Tyler Clippard. Neither is bad, but on balance, teams that reach the seventh inning tied with the Nats are going to feel good about their chances.

The pitching problems mean Washington is a long way from contention. But they aren’t going to be the joke of the league this time around. Those I-95 battles with Philadelphia even have the potential to be a real offensive show. The nation’s capital will finally get firepower from someone other than Alex Ovechkin this year.

Up Tomorrow: Kansas City Royals
Final NL East Picks & Preview: March 31

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