Season Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks
Projected MLB Rank: 8th — NL Rank: 5th — NL West Rank: 2nd — Record: (89-73)
The Diamondbacks are loaded with potential. Whether that potential is due to pan out this year is remained to be seen. The young players that made positive strides in 2008 will continue to blossom in 2009. That blossoming will lead to a playoff push.
Stephen Drew leads the way after he raised his average and on base percentage in the second half last season. The Diamondbacks shortstop is now 26 and should build upon his .291 average, 21 homeruns, .333 OBP, 44 doubles, 11 triples, and .502 slugging percentage. Even if he doesn’t have a better season, his 2008 was solid. Maybe Mark Reynolds would have a definate starter job if he didn’t hit .239 last year and strikeout… and commit error after error. Chad Tracy will certainly take some time from him at third, even if Reynolds hit 28 homeruns and drove in 97 runs.
Leftfielder Conor Jackson will hopefully build upon his 2008, in which he hit .300 with 12 homers and 75 RBIs. He’s 26 now and will hopefully develop some more power. Centerfielder Chris Young will also hopefully raise his average. He hit for .248 and if he could raise his batting average, maybe he could even build upon his 22 homeruns and 85 RBIs that he posted last season. Moving to rightfield, we all know about his brother “Bossman Junior,” but what about Justin Upton? He’s only 21 and has so much power potential and should definately improve on his 2008 statistics.
Chad Tracy should start at first, but initially we’ll have to see how he is after offseason knee surgery. If he doesn’t start at first, Jackson will move in there which would open up an outfield spot for Eric Byrnes. Byrnes, who is also coming back from injuries, will have to play his way to earn a starting spot. Chris Snyder will start at catcher and should improve upon his 2008 season and hopefully hit over .250 with possibly 20 homeruns. Felipe Lopez was brought in during the offseason and the Diamondbacks hope he continues what he was doing at the end of last season.
Brandon Webb, a perennial Cy Young candidate, has become one of the most reliable starters in the league. Coupled with Dan Haren as the number two, they are one of the most unnoticed one-two punches in the league. Haren posted 16 wins with a 3.33 ERA and 206 strikeouts. Doug Davis and Jon Garland are reliable as the three and four starters. Garland doesn’t strikeout too many hitters but will give the Dbacks a chance to get a W everytime he goes out to toe the rubber. Young stud Max Scherzer started seven games last season and looks to have a bid for the last rotation spot. In 16 total games last season, Scherzer struck out 66 hitters in 56 innings and posted a 3.05 ERA.
Chad Qualls is the prounounced closer after he took advantage of the late season chance to close ballgames he got last year. He saved nine games and in 77 total games he posted a 2.81 ERA with a 1.07 WHIP. Big righthander Jon Rauch assumes the setup role after he spent time with the Nationals and Diamondbacks last season and posted a 4.14 ERA in 74 total appearences. Arizona also brings in two relievers from the NL East. Tom Gordon who was a mainstay on the DL in Philly looks to rebound in the desert. Scott Schoeneweis also joins a bullpen after posting a 3.34 ERA in 73 total games. Gordon and Schoeneweis join a bullpen of young arms that will get every chance to succeed.
Overall, the Diamondbacks are still young but will continue to improve every game. If they don’t make the playoffs this season, expect Arizona to be in the playoffs next year and years to come.
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.