Winning baseball has not been seen in our nation’s capitol in a very long time. Since the National’s moved to DC there has been very little to get excited about other than top draft picks joining the organization. But even with all the losing the National’s have done, losing as many as 103 games in the 2009 season, there is plenty of optimism surrounding the team going into 2010. Here are five reasons the National’s will contend in 2010.
The National’s have one of the best rotations in baseball. Fans love to see homeruns, but great pitching wins championships. With Stephen Strasberg back from Tommy John surgery, the acquisition of Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmerman pitching without restrictions this year, the National’s have the starting pitching to win a lot of games. With Edwin Jackson filling the fourth spot in the rotation, Davey Johnson has to be thrilled with his top four, and can place any number of guys in the 5 th spot with most people thinking it will be Chien-Ming Wang. No team ever won a game on paper, but the National’s are looking great heading into the season, and any struggles that may arise in DC should not be because of subpar pitching.
The middle infield will improve. Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond are a good pair in the middle. They are both very capable defenders with Espinosa and Desmond fielding at 98% and 96% respectively in 2011. Defensively these two will combine to form one of the better middle infields in the National League, if the all of Major League Baseball. Offensively both Desmond and Espinosa need to improve. Desmond finished the season strong and ended with a .253 average. This number came after a great second half in which he hit .288 mostly in the leadoff spot. Espinosa finished the season with an abysmal .236 average. Hitting at that rate will not keep Espinosa in the lineup long even if he manages to hit 21 homeruns like he did in 2011. Both hitters have been supported by Manager Davey Johnson and are expected to perform much better at the plate in 2012. If they do what everyone expects, we may just see them in Kansas City come the All Star Game.
The Nationals bullpen will be fantastic. If the Nationals can get to the eighth inning with the lead, they should win those games. Tyler Clippard, an All Star last year, will return to the role of setup man, and should be close to unhittable in the eighth inning. Drew Storen will continue to close games for the Nationals, and he should be just as good as last year when he successfully saved 43 of 48 chances, while carrying a 2.75 earned run average. With the addition of former Philadelphia Phillies closer Brad Lidge, and the return of relievers Sean Burnett and Tom Gorzelanny, the Nationals should have no problems finishing out games once their starters exit.
Jayson Werth will be better. Werth hit .232 last year, a full .30 points below his career average. He played well defensively, and served as a clubhouse leader, but that is not what the Nationals gave him that huge contract for. A year later and things should be different. With Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse expected to do the heavy lifting, Werth can return to more of a creator role. He has never been the big hitter on any team, and that is why he struggled hitting in the 3 and 4 spot of the lineup. With the Nationals current players, Werth should be able to return to the 2 spot, a position he will likely thrive in. Werth should also feel less pressure to live up to big contract expectations now that he is more comfortable in DC, and has some help. With Werth performing better in a creator role, other guys should be able to drive in runs, and the Nationals should benefit greatly.
The Nationals have depth. The Nationals lineup is pretty good. But the bench is not bad either. Veterans Rick Ankiel and Mark De Rosa will be the guys seeing the most time on the field. Ankiel will platoon in centerfield, and De Rosa could do anything other than pitch. Throw in Steve Lombardozzi, Roger Bernadina, and Jesus Flores, and you have a solid group coming off the bench. Using these guys to give a little rest to the regulars will go a long way, and with fresh legs during the dog days of summer, expect the Nationals to be near the top of the standings.