Happy Opening Day 2011!

Good morning, baseball is back! We’re about 4 hours away from the first pitch and despite the weather, I’m pretty excited to be celebrating the holiday. This is the exactly 7 more Opening Days than I expected we’d have in Washington — yes, I’m still of the “derp, we have a team!” philosophy.

Here is my 2011 Washington Nationals season preview and prediction from yesterday.

Here is what is going on at the ballpark today (nationals.com)

And to add to that:

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My 2011 Washington Nationals preview and prediction

I have gone back and forth on the Washington Nationals this offseason. They improved 10 games in 2010, despite a disappointing starting rotation. This season, the best part of 2010′s rotation, Stephen Strasburg, is recovering from Tommy John surgery. However, I expect the rotation to improve even without Strasburg. I expect a bounce-back season from Jason Marquis, who struggled due to bone chips in his elbow last season, as well as John Lannan, who came on strong late after a mid-season demotion. Jordan Zimmermann appears healed from his Tommy John surgery and has the potential to be a top 2 starter. I expect some regression from ¡LIVAN! but he should eat a lot of innings/cheeseburgers, especially earlier in the season. I have no idea what to expect from Tom Gorzelanny. I anticipate Yunesky Maya and Ross Detwiler will get some starts as well. Overall, I think the rotation is better.

The bullpen, a strength of last year’s team, probably regresses this year. Matt Capps was strong as the closer, but got traded. Sean Burnett and rookie Drew Storen was solid, though Storen has been rocked this spring. Tyler Clippard pitched an awful lot last year, so I have my concerns about him. Hopefully, the starters can go into the games longer and give the overused bullpen a rest.

For the 7th consecutive season, the Nats are going to open without a proven leadoff hitter. Nyjer Morgan looked like the answer after 2 good months in 2009, but couldn’t keep up production/sanity and was dealt. Ian Desmond is the ad hoc leadoff hitter and newly acquired Jayson Werth is out of place batting 2nd, while Ryan Zimmerman is third up. Adam LaRoche, currently playing with a shoulder problem, is hitting clean-up, but I don’t think he can hold up. Michael Morse enters his first full season and will bat 6th after a strong spring. Danny Espinosa showed power in his September call up, but finished with a .214 average. Small sample size and all, he should be better, but how much better? Ivan Rodriguez/Wilson Ramos will bat 8th with the latter hopefully getting the bulk of the catching duties sooner than later.

Defensively, I expect the infield to be improved. Zimmerman is the best third baseman in baseball. Desmond has to cut down on errors and I think he will, but still be a liability. Espinosa, a converted shortstop, should establish himself as the best second baseman the Nats have had and LaRoche is expected to help all of them out with better defense than departed Adam Dunn at first. If/when LaRoche’s shoulder keeps him out of the lineup, the Nats are probably in trouble. Jayson Werth should provide strog defense in right and occasionally center while retread Rick Ankiel will get the bulk of playing time in center. Morse will see most of the time in left and will have plenty of room to improve.

As much as I want to rationalize a big jump for the Nats, I just can’t do it. I think they win more games than last season, but not many more. The Phillies should dominate the Nats with the best rotation since the 1990s Braves. The Braves will challenge them though and then there is a dropoff. The Nats can’t beat the Marlins. The Mets are in turmoil and probably finish last, meaning 4th or better for D.C. I want to believe, but ultimately, I think we’re looking at a 73-89 record.

PREVIOUS PREDICTIONS

2006 prediction: 75-87 Result: 71-91

2007 prediction: 62-99 Result: 73–89 that season

2008 prediction: 76-86. Result: 59-102.

2009 prediction: 74-88 Result: 59-103.

2010 prediction: 70-92 Result: 69-93

I did not post one in 2005 for some reason.

My AL team, the New York Yankees, will go 162-0.

OTHER PREDICTIONS

Walk-off home runs by Ryan Zimmerman: 1
Jim Riggleman’s extension is picked up: yes
Stephen Strasburg pitches in majors: no
Ian Desmond errors: 22
Jason Marquis traded: yes
Wins leader: TIE John Lannan/Jordan Zimmerman (11)
All-Star(s): Zimmerman, Werth
Cheesesteak/Half-Smoke Challenge: Phillies 12 Nats 6
MASN being anti-DC: duh
Terrible Nationals Park concession staff: Expect It

PREVIEWS

2011 Baseball PreviewThe Post
The Nationals 2011The Wash. Times

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Silver Line: What will the new Metro stations be called and how will people get to them?

Elevated track over Capital Beltway EXIT 46 interchange
Fairfax Co. to recommend Metro station namesWTOP
Fairfax County is set to make recommendations for the Silver Line Metro stations within its borders. Going from West to East, the suggestions are Herndon-Dulles East (near Route 28), Herndon-Reston West (near Monroe Street), Reston Town Center (near Reston Parkway), Reston-Wiehle Avenue, Tysons-Spring Hill Road (Route 7 and Spring Hill Rd.), Tysons Central (near Routes 7 & 123), Tysons I&II (Route 123 near Tysons Blvd and the shopping malls) and Tysons-McLean (Route 123 near the Capital One headquarters). They are good enough I suppose since the days of un-hyphenated station names are in the past.

[flickr : Photos of Silver Line Metro construction in Tysons Corner/slideshow]

Future Tysons I & II station

Access to new Metro stations still a big questionThe Post
Another issue, how are people to access the Tysons stations? This should have been part of the plan from the beginning of course, but it was not for some reason. New sidewalks, bicycle routes and bus service are being examined. The stations will not have any permanent commuter parking becaue the idea is to turn Tysons into a more urban area with higher pedestrian traffic. It won’t happen right away because development around the stations will lag behind. The Silver Line may be a bit of a white elephant initially, but not for long.

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Nats vs. Braves Q&A with John Taylor

Remember the guest prognosticator series that occasionally ran last fall during the Redskins season? I have brought it back from baseball season. I am going to run a Q&A and prediction with a fan of the Washington Nationals opposition whenever I know a fan of them. To start off, I have John Taylor of DC-based SB Nation which hosts the Braves blog Talking Chop. We go over the current Braves, how John came to follow them and not the Nats (or does he?).

In retrospect, I should have given him a hard time about the last time the Nats and Braves met on Opening Day.

WFY: How weird will it be seeing someone other than Bobby Cox getting ejected this year?

JT: Very. I haven’t watched a Spring Training game so I haven’t had an opportunity to get used to it. Bobby Cox is the only Atlanta Braves manager I’ve ever known (we’ll get to how and when I started following the team later), and he’s been around long enough to have developed something of a cult following. Watching Bobby get tossed was as much a part of baseball over the last decade or so as Bonds slowly trotting to first (after a home run or walk) or Mariano Rivera shattering a bat in the ninth inning. Sadly it probably overshadowed his ability to actually manage the Braves, at least late in his career as he approached and ultimately broke the ejections record. I honestly don’t know enough about Fredi Gonzalez to say anything intelligent about how I think he’ll do with Atlanta. But I like that he spent four years on Bobby’s staff and has a familiarity with the division.

WFY: The Braves returned to the playoffs via Wild Card last year. Do you think they can get past the Phillies for the division title in 2011?

JT: Not this season. The Phillies have the best rotation and fewer question marks, even with the three key injuries. The Braves have question marks all over the field: Chipper Jones and his health, rookie Freddie Freeman at first base, Nate McLouth and Martin Prado in the outfield and the fluid closer situation. And shouldn’t there be some instability due to Cox’s departure? I just don’t see them making that move back to the top of the division in 2011. But maybe next year.

WFY: How did you become a Braves fan? Was it the TBS ads for them during Tom & Jerry’s Funhouse every afternoon? What will it take for a guy who has worked in DC for years to make the Nats his number one team?

JT: I came to baseball late. I never played it as a kid, not even T-Ball; my dad didn’t like baseball and only one of my friends played, so I never played. I played soccer year-round and followed football and basketball. For whatever reason, as a teenager I started playing baseball video games and following the stats and standings more closely. And then my family moved back to the Richmond area in 1990 … that was essentially Atlanta Braves country because of the Class AAA Richmond Braves, and I think the region identified more closely with the Braves than it did with the Orioles. So when I got there, the Atlanta Braves had their miraculous worst-to-first season that kicked off the run of division titles, and the future stars kept rolling through Richmond: Chipper Jones, Javy Lopez, Ryan Klesko and more. I had my team. My college roommate and I spent a lot of time watching baseball (thanks to TBS and HTS), I started playing fantasy baseball and we made two trips to spring training. And hey, the Braves actually won a World Series, which was pretty cool.

As for the Nationals vs. Braves … I catch a lot of crap from friends and co-workers when it comes to my loyalties. I have strong feelings for the Nationals and I’ve watched more Nats baseball over the last six years than I have Braves baseball. It comes with the territory — I was the sports content editor at The Washington Times when the team returned to town, so I was rather caught up in the day-to-day news and coverage of the team. I also went in on a season ticket package with friends (at RFK and Nats Park) and purchased Nationals merchandise. It also helped that the Nats were a team both my wife and I had an attachment to, as opposed to the Braves, a team that meant nothing to her.

So yeah, even though they play in the same division, I consider myself a fan of both the Braves and Nationals. I wore a Chipper Jones jersey T-Shirt three days ago and have been wearing a Nationals cap the last two days. I like rooting for the baseball team that actually plays where I live. And I’m not sure I have to worry about being too conflicted about rooting for two teams in the same division until they’re both competitive. The Nationals remain years away from fielding a legitimate NL East contender.

WFY: The Braves dropped their red-brimmed road caps in favor of all navy caps while the Nats did the opposite. Good move, bad move?

JT: I like the one-color hats. I usually wear a non-traditional fitted, slouched cap — and the Braves and Nats hats I have now are identical except for the letter on the front and the small logo in the back.

WFY: Have you been to either Turner Field or Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium for a Braves game? How is/was the experience there?

JT: I never made it to the old stadium, but I went to Turner Field for opening day back in the early 2000s. It was cold and few people showed up; Braves baseball! The stadium is pretty cool, though, if (a) you remember the 1996 Olympics, because it’s the converted Olympic stadium and the torch is still there, and (b) if you remember Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, because the outfield wall is in the parking lot.


WFY: Who takes this opening series, Washington or Atlanta? The season series? How do you see the NL East shaking out in 2011?

JT: I have no faith in the new Nationals lineup. Washington has a leadoff hitter who doesn’t get on base, an already injured first baseman, and a utility player and a castoff next to Jayson Werth in the outfield. And the rotation doesn’t stack up with Atlanta’s (though I wouldn’t be surprised to see Livan earn a win in Game 1). Braves take the opening series and the season series; by the time they’re playing in August and September, Atlanta should be fighting for a wild card spot and the Nationals will be mired in last place … again.

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The penultimate day of the Nats offseason

The 2011 Washington Nationals Opening Day roster is set and it is not one that inspires much confidence in me. When guys like Jerry Hairston, Jr. make the team and Roger Bernadina don’t, my enthusiasm for the season is tempered. Not that Bernadina is necessarily part of the future (he almost certainly isn’t) but because it is season 7 and the Nats still don’t have a centerfielder or lead off hitter. I know that the roster can change quickly, so I’m not trying to be too down about it.

Remember NatsFest was moved to the day before the season so that they could take advantage of better weather than mid-January? The folks behind that decision look like they are getting the weather they deserve tomorrow.

On Opening Day the ever-changing Ring of Stars/Hall of Stars/Hall of Fame inducts: “James Brown, Emmy-Award Winning Host of CBS’ “The NFL Today” and Showtime’s “Inside the NFL”; Dominique Dawes, Olympic Gold Medal Winning Gymnast; Brian Mitchell, Former Washington Redskins Running Back; Willie Stewart, Former Anacostia High School Head Football Coach; Michael Wilbon, Co-Host of ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” and Former Washington Post Columnist; and Morgan Wootten, Former DeMatha High School Head Basketball Coach” at noon. I will have more to say about that at another time, but I’m going to try and be in the park for that ceremony.

Oh and the Opening Day forecast isn’t good — 49° with rain possible or as Penn Staters call it, Blue White Game weather.

By the way, we have an extra ticket in section 228. You’d get to sit with our friend MC Hamme. $19. The game is SOLD OUT.

The president will not throw out the first ball this season; he’s busy avenging the attempted murder of Dr. Emmett Brown of Hill Valley, Calif.

Members of the Navy, Army, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard will each throw out ceremonial first pitches. Sounds like a fighter jet flyover is going to happen too.

There is a free cap giveaway to the first 20,000 fans. It has a white front and a red curly W. I won’t be heartbroken if I don’t get it. The whole white front phenomenon was a weird one.

Mayor Vincent Gray will tell everybody to play ball.

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At 35, Metro is showing its age

Metro’s new board members take on a troubled, aging rail systemThe Post
The second longest subway system in the United States turned 35 yesterday and it is safe to say that it is an old 35. The Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority has its work cut out for it to get the system into good repair. The midnight to 3 a.m. service is being targeted for cutback by some as a way to allow more maintenance hours and that has proved controversial. I’m curious if another 6 hours a week will make that big a difference, but given the situation with the system, I’m open to the idea.

Metro is the greatest success of the Washington D.C. region since World War II. I always thought it was impressive that it got built, but after reading Zachary Schrag’s The Great Society Subway, it is all the more amazing. It is still hard to believe that the governments and public of three distinctly different jurisdictions, D.C., Virginia and Maryland were actually able to get the system built, particularly in an era where almost all long-range planning in this country was automobile-centric. That gives me hope that somehow, the system can return to its previous levels of service.

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Is Ted Leonsis about to enter Act 2?

Ted Leonsis is very fond of his late friend Brandon Tartikoff’s description of television/American drama:

Act 1 – Young kid comes out of nowhere, shocks the experts and wins. A happy story.

Act 2 – Young kid as winner has a very public and humiliating fall. Humility and lessons learned.

Act 3 – Redemption and comeback. America loves a comeback.

Leonsis has sited this many times in his book and his blog. It was not too hard to see parallels between that narrative and the Washington Capitals under Leonsis ownership —

Act 1 – Internet wiz kid buys local team, acquires best player on the planet (Jaomir Jagr)

Act 2 – Best player on planet goes all emo and falls just like Internet wiz kid’s company

Act 3 – Internet whiz kid reinvents himself and team becomes good again behind the best player on the planet (Alex Ovechkin)

That is the way we hope it is playing out, but in his constant tweaking of The Post and other “legacy media” I wonder if we’ve had it all wrong. Is Leonsis actually closing out Act 1 and heading into Act 2? Between the Caps playoff flameouts, rising ticket prices and concerns about Ovechkin, the Leonsis legacy is going through a period of uncertainty.

Now, I’m a Leonsis guy, I think his accessible stewardship of the franchise is a wonderful model for others to follow. He’s easily the best team owner in this town and would be in most others. Going after The Post for being right is needlessly petty and as both Mr. Irrelevant and DC Sports Bog pointed out, coverage of his teams from The Post has never been more extensive or better.

You are not living up the your own standards, Ted.

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Nats: Now there is the Tom Boswell we all know

THOMAS BOSWELL: Are better days ahead for the Nationals?The Post
After seeing Jordan Zimmermann pitch well against the Detroit Tigers (their Opening Day lineup), Bos is back on the Washington Nationals getting better bandwagon after panicking last week. Now, Bos of all people should know not to put too much faith in spring training results, but he comes and says he’d rather be an optimist. Oh and because Zimmermann hit 98 MPH the other day, we should really just relax about Stephen Strasburg’s return from Tommy John surgery.

At least Bos gets it right that the proposed Zack Greinke trade wasn’t a good one.

Boswell chats at 11 a.m., fire away.

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Nyjer Morgan to Brewers; Nats get Cutter Dykstra

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BREAKING: Per @washingnats Nyjer Morgan has been traded from the Washington Nationals for Cutter Dykstra. Yes, he’s Lenny Dykstra’s son. At the very least, the trade has to be addition by subtraction. It is too bad it didn’t work out, because Morgan’s play in 2009 made that season a lot more interesting for a couple of months.

UPDATE: Here is the conclusion I reached when Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan were traded for Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett:

I have a feeling that this will ultimately be a trade that does little to change the fortunes of two struggling franchises and the final conclusion will be something like “meh.”

Pretty much, though on the whole, I think that trade worked out better for the Nats than the Pittsburgh Pirates.

I am not crazy about Rick Ankiel being the centerfielder though. This team needs to develop a real centerfielder or go and get one.

PRESS RELEASE:

NATIONALS ACQUIRE INF CUTTER DYKSTRA FROM BREWERS

IN EXCHANGE FOR CF NYJER MORGAN

The Washington Nationals this morning acquired infielder Cutter Dykstra and cash considerations from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for center fielder Nyjer Morgan. Nationals Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo made the announcement.

Dykstra was selected by Milwaukee in the second round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft and has a .374 on-base percentage with 49 stolen bases in three minor-league seasons. Recently tabbed the eighth-best prospect in the Brewers organization by Hardballtimes, Dykstra was rated the second-best prospect in the Single-A Pioneer League and seventh-best Brewers prospect by industry-insider Baseball America following the 2008 season.

Morgan, 30, batted .253 with 24 RBI and 34 stolen bases in 136 contests last season with Washington.

Earlier today: The Ryan Zimmerman doomsday clock is a year away

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