Brandon Contes. 2nd March, 2012 - 5:57 pm
After losing a combined 205 games from 2008-2009, the Washington Nationals now have a bright future with expectations. They increased their season win total by ten during the 2010 season, and by eleven last season when they won 80 games. The Nationals certainly have some holes to fill, but with their young talent they could be in the hunt for the newly added second Wild Card spot.
The strength of this Nationals is their pitching staff. Their starting rotation will be anchored by Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, two young pitchers with star talent. After each having Tommy John Surgery over the last two season's, Strasburg and Zimmermann will finally be healthy at the same time heading into 2012. With the additions of Gio Gonzalez in the trade with the Athletics, along with the signing of Edwin Jackson to a one year deal, the Nationals rotation has a chance to be very strong. They have a potential elite ace in Strasburg, a solid number two starter with Zimmermann, and a 3-4-5 of Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, and Chien-Ming Wang, each of whom of the ability to get double digit wins.
While it seems as if their five man rotation is set, they do have great starting pitching depth. Every team should go into the season with seven potential starting pitchers in case of injury and the Nationals have 10. John Lannan, Tom Gorzelanny, Ross Detwiler, Craig Stammen, and Yunesky Maya all have starting pitching experience. You could even make a case that Lannan, Gorzelanny, and Detwiler each deserve a shot at the fifth spot in the rotation. Lannan may have been the Nationals most productive pitcher over the last 4 seasons. Gorzelanny started 15 games last season, Detwiler started 10. It would be nice to have a more established veteran starter with playoff success in this rotation; however, it's still one of the more talented pitching rotations in the National League and contains depth that every manager would love to have.
The Nationals bullpen should also be very effective. Considering all of the potential starting pitchers this team has, you would expect at least two of them to go into the pen. Add in the signing of Brad Lidge to go along with Tyler Clippard (an all star last year) and Drew Storen as the closer, this bullpen could be one of the league's most effective.
The question for this season is can the Nationals score enough runs? They were last in the Division in runs, hits, and batting average last season and didn't do much to improve the lineup heading into 2012. You would hope Ryan Zimmerman is healthy and has a bounce back year, and maybe Jayson Werth can give you something closer to what he's being paid. Even still, this team is lacking a big bat. Was the surprise season they got from Michael Morse a fluke, or will he continue to be a .300 30 and 100 hitter? Danny Espinosa has a good bat for a shortstop, and Wilson Ramos has a good bat for a catcher, but this lineup is still lacking a bona fide middle of the order slugger.
The x-factor for the Nationals will be Bryce Harper. What does the young phenom give the Nationals this season in terms of production at the Major League level? There is a good chance he starts the season with the big club, but the pressure on him to produce will be immense. I think he will absolutely help the Nationals, but it might be just a year or two too soon for him to be the middle of the order presence they're lacking.
Unfortunately the Nationals are paying for two bona fide middle of the order sluggers in Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth, but neither of them are that type of player. There aren't too many baseball people that would look at this lineup and say they have any players deserving of a $100 million contract. Yet the Nationals have given out two of those contracts to good players, but by no means elite players. It's good to see the Nationals willing to spend money; I would just like to see them spend it more wisely. They have a lot of young talent that will demand a lot of money in the next few years and you don't want the Nationals in a position where they can't afford them thanks to bad contracts they already handed out.
The Nationals have done a great job of rebuilding through the draft. They have great young pitching talent, and tremendous pitching depth. They're going to be an exciting team this season with Strasburg and Harper in the majors. They could use a veteran pitcher to help out some of the young guys, but most of all they need to get a big bat in the middle of this lineup. Hopefully the contracts they handed out to Werth and Zimmerman don't prevent them from adding veteran talent at the trade deadline. Davey Johnson is the perfect manager for this young team and should be able to keep them in the playoff race thanks to the addition of the second Wild Card team.
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