2009 WASHINGTON NATIONALS PREVIEW
The Nationals began a new era last season, opening their brand new ballpark in D.C. They also renewed the tradition of the President of the United States of America throwing out the first pitch on Opening Day. The final tradition that was renewed was a newer one: Losing far more games than they won. The Nationals were the worst team in baseball last year, finishing with a 59-102 record. In short, it was a season to forget.
2009 looks better in our nation’s capital. The Nationals acquired a lot of help in the offseason, picking up sluggers Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham and starters Scott Olsen and Daniel Cabrera. The Nationals should find themselves in much better position to win games this season, though there is still a lot of room for improvement.
The Nationals don’t really have a staff ace to boast of in their rotation. In fact, they don’t have a single pitcher who is expected to compete for a starting spot that had a winning record last season! John Lannon (9-15, 3.91 ERA, 31 starts, 182 IP) had a solid 2008 and will likely be counted on as their top starter. New acquisitions Olsen (8-11, 4.20 ERA, 33 starts, 201 IP) and Cabrera (8-10, 5.25 ERA, 30 starts, 180 IP) should help unburden the Nationals’ bullpen, which was dramatically overworked last season. Olsen especially is cause for excitement in D.C. after a very solid showing last year. The final two spots are up for grabs between five potential starters. Odalis Perez (7-12, 4.34 ERA, 30 starts) returns on a minor league tryout contract, though he is favored to earn one of the two spots. Shawn Hill (1-5, 5.83 ERA, 12 starts) and Jason Bergman (2-11, 5.09 ERA, 30 starts) are other veteran options who are considered long shots to make the rotation. Youngsters Colin Balester (3-7, 5.51 ERA, 15 starts) and Shairon Martis (1-3, 5.66 ERA, 4 starts) are also serious options and both are under 23 years of age. While the Nationals have a large pool of candidates to fill their rotation, they have a lot of youth and inexperience that is likely to pitch a lot of innings. That doesn’t bode well and this is the division’s weakest rotation.
The Nationals are a little bit better off in the bullpen. Closer Joel Hanrahan (3.95 ERA, 6-3, 69 Gm, 9 SV in 13 SVO) has some experience finishing games but will enter his first full year in the role. Setting him up will be Steven Shell (2.16 ERA), Saul Rivera (3.96 ERA) and Mike Hinckley (0.00 ERA in 14 Gm). If Hanrahan can’t get the job done in the ninth, odds are that one of those three will. Overall, the Nationals should have a fairly solid bullpen this season.
The Nationals upgraded their infield in a major manner this offseason by adding Adam Dunn (.236, 40 HR, 100 RBI, .386 OBP) to play first base. Dunn is a huge power bat and draws a ton of walks. Dunn also could play in the outfield if Nick Johnson, whose last full season in 2006 boasted a .290 average and a .428 OBP, can finally get healthy after only playing in 38 games the past two seasons. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (.283, 14 HR, 51 RBI, .333 OBP, 106 Gm) had a tough season last year but is extremely talented. Expect him to bounce back in a big way. Shortstop Christian Guzman (.316, 9 HR, 55 RBI, .345 OBP) is a good hitter who also plays very good defense and should be counted on to have another good year. Second base will likely be manned by Anderson Hernandez (.333, 0 HR, 17 RBI, .407 OBP in 28 Gm), who swung a hot bat during the final month and a half of 2008. At catcher, Jesus Flores (.256, 8 HR, 59 RBI, .296 OBP in 90 Gm) saw a big jump in his numbers last year and could continue to improve. He will split time with Will Nieves (.261, 1 HR, 20 RBI, .309 OBP in 68 Gm) and the Nationals should receive decent production from both. The Nationals have a pretty good infield and if Johnson can finally get healthy then the Nationals’ lineup could be very good.
The expansive outfield in D.C. will be patrolled by centerfielder Lastings Milledge (.268, 14 HR, 61 RBI, .330 OBP, 24 SB), who is a solid defender and is improving at the plate. In left field, newly acquired Josh Willingham (.254, 15 HR, 51 RBI, .364 OBP in 102 Gm) should also add plenty of pop to the lineup if he stays healthy. Right field should belong to Elijah Dukes (.264, 13 HR, 44 RBI, .386 OBP), who was only able to play in 81 games last year. Dukes’ numbers project out well over a full year and he has a ton of potential. Austin Kearns (.217, 7 HR, 32 RBI, .311 OBP in 86 Gm) and Willy Mo Pena (.205, 2 HR, 10 RBI, .243 OBP in 64 Gm) area also options to provide decent depth. Also, Dunn will likely be an option should Nick Johnson return to health. Overall, the Nationals have the potential to have a very productive outfield.
The Nationals are certainly a much better team than last season. Their offense appears to be much better (especially if Johnson returns) and their bullpen looks solid. They’ve also upgraded their starting pitching, though it still remains behind their division competitors. After a very bad 2008, the Nationals will definitely be significantly improved this season. However, when you only win 59 games, there is a lot of room for improvement. Expect Washington to win around 70 games this year, a 10 win improvement from 2008. Unfortunately, that won’t be enough for Washington to move out of the basement in the tough National League East.
By Matt Baxendell
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