Season Preview: Washington Nationals
Projected MLB Rank: 29th — NL Rank: 16th — NL East Rank: 5th — Record: (64-98)
Don’t worry Nats fans. One year you will get to see your team finish over .500, that year just isn’t this one. Not since the the Montreal Expos moved to Washington to become the Nationals have the they broke the .500 mark. Their first season in the nation’s capital was their best when they finished at 81-81 but they still occupied the bottom spot in the NL East that year. Tough luck. The Nats are the weakest team in this very tough division. Once again, tough luck.
The lineup is talented as they’ve added some pop with Josh Willingham and Adam Dunn. Most of the positions are set in stone but the only questionable one where there is some competition is second base. Anderson Hernandez is the expected starter followed by Ronnie Belliard and Willie Harris. Hernandez can hit for .300 and will steal you a base every so often. Belliard has more pop and is a nice veteran option if Hernandez doesn’t pan out as planned.
The big question about the projected everyday starters is health. Ryan Zimmerman spent some time on the DL last season with shoulder and throwing hand problems (106 games in 2009). Willingham has been known to get injured year after year (102 games). Those two bats will most likely protect lefty Adam Dunn in the batting order, so it’s essential for them to stay healthy.
The biggest weakness for the Nats is pitching. Their rotation is borderline atrocious and the bullpen isn’t much better. Southpaws John Lannan and Scott Olsen are the par brightspots in the Nats rotation. With righthander Daniel Cabrera, it depends on the day. He is very erratic (career 5.05 ERA) due to the fact that he can get rocked in four innings if he doesn’t have his stuff but he can also take you the distance (2 CG last season). Jordan Zimmerman (the other Zimmerman) is the Nationals top pitching prospect and will look to break the rotation in ’09. The 22 year old has been impressing coaches thus far in spring training.
The bullpen looks shaky as of now. Former starter Jason Bergmann has been moved to the ‘pen and will be considered a mid-reliever after a bad 2008 performance. Steven Shell had a very nice year last season with a 2.16 ERA in 39 appearences. Righty, Saul Rivera, lead the team in relief appearences last year with 76 while harnessing a 3.96 ERA.
The closer appears to be 27 year old Joel Hanrahan. He notched nine saves after he picked up the role last season when Chad Cordero went down with an injury and big righty Jon Rauch was dealt. In the ninth inning, Hanrahan held hitters to a .219 average last season. He has the typical closer arsenal of fastball/slider and he also is working on a changeup.
The Nats always seem to be on the up, but the established veterans that they have aren’t going to stay at the same talent level they’re at now. It seems like it may be hard for this team to compete, not just this year, but for a few years to come.