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2011 Washington Nationals:
Not done with the past, but not ready for the future 2011 Spring Preview
by Asher B. Chancey,
March 30, 2011

Ivan Rodriguez
There can be no doubt that if everything goes as planned, this is going to be an exciting team in 2013, and will in all likelihood be the team to beat in the NL East, if not in the entire National League. Nevertheless, while there is a chance that the Nats will look good in 2012, when Stephen Strasburg returns from injury and Bryce Harper starts making the case for his spot on the big club, there is absolutely no chance of excitement for this squad in 2011. While they may not finish in last place—this is the division with the New York Mets after all—a shot at the playoffs is just going to be too much to ask from this squad.

2010 Standings - NL East
East W L PCT GB Home Road RS RA Exp W% RHP LHP
Philadelphia Phillies 97 65 .599 0 54-30 43-55 772 640 .585 69-45 28-20
Atlanta Braves* 91 71 .562 6 56-25 35-46 738 629 .573 63-44 28-27
Florida Marlins 80 82 .494 17 41-40 39-42 719 717 .501 46-67 34-15
New York Mets 79 83 .488 18 47-34 32-49 656 652 .503 52-57 20-33
Washington Nationals 69 93 .426 32.5 41-40 28-53 655 742 .443 52-70 17-23

Eight Things to Watch for from the Nationals in 2011

Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
Rick Ankiel OF
Jayson Werth OF
Adam LaRoche 1B
Jerry Hairston Jr. Util
Tom Gorzelanny SP
Todd Coffey RP
Departed Pos.
Adam Dunn 1B
Josh Willingham OF
Nyjer Morgan OF
Miguel Batista RP
Scott Olsen SP
Adam Kennedy 2B
Joel Peralta RP
Willie Harris OF

8. Raise your hand if you though Livan Hernandez would be an opening day starter at this late date in his career.

Strangely, that Livan Hernandez is the ace of this squad and the opening day starter is not a commentary on the status of the Nationals franchise. Hernandez actually enjoyed the best season he has had since 2005, ironically his last full season with the Nats before going to Arizona, Minnesota, Colorado, the Mets, and then back to Washington.

In 2011, Hernandez could make a run at 3,000 innings, 180 wins, 2,000 strikeouts, and his 50th complete game. These are not Cooperstown numbers, but they are notable numbers, historically speaking.

And do not laugh at poor Livan; he would probably be the number three man on the Yankees right now.

7. In case of emergency, use Stairs.

Lest we forget the man, Matt Stairs joins the Nationals in 2011, his sixth team in six years and his 13th team overall, though he did make his major league debut with the Montreal Expos in 1992, so this is technically not a new team for him.

6. Rick Ankiel gets the opening day nod in centerfield.

Livan Hernandez is no commentary upon the state of the Nationals. Nor is Ivan Rodriguez. Nor is Matt Stairs.

However, the Nationals just traded away Nyjer Morgan and are now reduced to playing Rick Ankiel in centerfield. This is a commentary upon the state of the franchise. Ankiel, a feel good story through and through, nevertheless has a miserable year with Kansas City and Atlanta last season, and does not look to contribute much to the squad this year.

Unfortunately, he is a starter, so this puts the Nats in a jam.

5. Now that is how you build a bullpen.

Jim Riggleman is planning on starting the season with a platoon at the closer the position, with lefty Sean Burnett and righty Drew Storen sharing the closer duties.

Frankly, this looks like a fantastic idea. Burnett, 28, is entering his prime and was great last season, putting up 62 strikeouts and a 2.14 ERA in 63 innings. Storen, meanwhile, is only 23 years old and entering his second year, and has shown flashes of greatness. Managing their innings, matchups and opportunities could make these two guys lethal. add Tyler Clippard, who fanned 112 batters as a reliever last year, and you see how this is one of the better bullpens in the National League.

4. Could Mike Morse be the surprise of the season in the NL East?

Mike Morse enjoyed a ten-year minor league career, and finally gets his chance to start for the Nationals. The thing is, Morse is a Billy Beane dream come true: he does not hit for great average, but he has moderate power and has demonstrated an ability to get on base fairly consistently the last few seasons. Morse came into camp and claimed the left field spot outright, bashing seven home runs and hitting over .350. While that batting average will not last, he could have a very productive season in the mold of, fittingly, Josh Willingham.

3. Will Jayson Werth Earn His Money?

The shame of the Jayson Werth deal is that it is not a move directed towards winning games. This move was directed towards showing the fans in the D.C. Area that the Nationals are for real, and are ready to compete with the big market giants in the Northeast.

How do we arrive at this conclusion? Because rather than re-signing Adam Dunn for millions upon millions less than it would have taken to sign Werth, the Nationals made the splashy move, signing the big-named free agent. But at the end of the day, Dunn is a more productive hitter, a more prodigious producer of power and, lest we forget, a year younger than Werth.

The problem with this, of course, is that now is not the time to make a splash, and Werth is not the player to make a splash with. Werth has only ever had success in Philadelphia; what happens once he leaves a hitter's park and joins a weaker lineup on a team that cannot win 75 games?

2. Ivan Rodriguez, What Are You Still Doing Here?

One of my favorite phenomena in baseball is the overlapping of two great careers from different eras. For example, Warren Spahn and Phil Niekro played together on the 1964 Milwaukee Braves. A more notorious example is Dave Kingman and Jose Canseco playing together for a year with the 1986 Oakland A's.

Ivan Rodriguez is looking to bookend his career by overlapping with potentially two of the greatest power pitchers of all time, Nolan Ryan and Stephen Strasburg. But Pudge has already caught Strasburg, so he must be hanging around for a different reason.

The answer, to me, is clear: I-Rod enters this season with 2,817 career hits, and if you think that he is not aware that no catcher has ever gotten to 3,000 hits, you're crazy. We watched Wade Boggs, Rickey Henderson, Tony Gwynn, and Craig Biggio all hold on well past their days as legitimate contributors in order to get to 3,000 hits, and now we are going to do the same with Rodriguez.

One must wonder whether he thinks that hit career totals once he hangs up his spikes will be enough to have people consider him the greatest catcher of all time. And frankly, one must wonder if he might be right.

1. Ladies and Gentlemen, the best third baseman in baseball.

Ryan Zimmerman
A couple of years from now, all people will be able to think about when they think of the Nationals will be Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. And a couple of years from now, as Jayson Werth enters the well-paid end-stage of his career, Livan Hernandez and Ivan Rodriguez will be long-gone memories.

The Nationals are truly at a cross-roads right now, will all evidence pointing to their positioning themselves to take the stage, but not quite ready to do so yet.

Nevertheless, there is one bona-fide, honest-to-goodness superstar on this team, and he is Ryan Zimmerman, the previously anointed “Face of the Franchise.”

Zim has quietly put together a fine career over the last four-plus seasons, and last year was his finest season yet. Though limited to 142 games by injury, for the first time he finished a full season with a batting average over .300 with a career high OPS and strikeout-to-walk ratio. He hit 25 home runs in 142 games, and both drove in and scored 85 runs.

But Zimmerman is more than just offense. Zimmerman has very quietly established himself as the elite defensive third baseman in the game.

At this point in his career, no one really knows who Ryan Zimmerman is because he plays in Washington, and in the next couple of years he may get overshadowed by the young superstars in the making. But this guy is keeping it real day in and day out, and we should recognize that.

2011 Washington Nationals Prediction: 70-92, fourth place in the NL East.

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