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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