Nats Opening Day Eve: 2012 preview and prediction

The first pitch of the Washington Nationals season is 24 hours away in Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs. Here is my preview and season prediction…

FROM SLEEPER TO TRENDY PICK IN ONE SPRING TRAINING
Experts predicting the Nats make the World Series – DC Sports Bog, The Post
Maybe it was always happening and I never noticed it before, but of late it seems a sleeper team gets trendy awfully quickly. I first noticed this with the San Francisco 49ers. It seemed like for 3 seasons, they were a popular sleeper team to break through into the playoffs. Were they really a sleeper if everybody was picking them in that role? They finally broke through after being on the cusp of contention in season 3. Now, the Nats are getting popular to pick as a playoff team, but I believe pundits are picking them for the playoffs just to be able to say “I told you” rather than basing it on actual analysis. The expectations are being raised a bit too high and if fans really buy into them, they are going to be really disappointed by what should be a fun, breakthrough season. I’m not arguing that contending for a playoff spot is an important expectation for the team, but I do not think they have enough offense.

MY TAKE

Let’s see, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa are the 1-2 in the batting order. There is nothing that shows me Desmond is up to that task, but I wish him well. I give him until Father’s Day to get his prove himself. If he hasn’t, let’s see what Steve Lombardozzi can do. Espinosa needs to get over things like small batter’s eyes in spring training. He was great in the first half last year, but awful in the second. Somewhere in between would be okay, but he’s probably capable of what he did last spring.

Ryan Zimmerman
probably won’t get to drive in as many runs as he could because of the guys in front of him, but then again, he’s never had much in front of him. I wonder if he’ll win the gold glove at third this season. LF/1B Michael Morse has to get healthy (figure mid-April) so we can see if he’s really a .300/30 HR hitter who doesn’t ever walk. 1B Adam LaRoche did nothing last year, so any production out of him is helpful. Mark DeRosa will also see some time at first, but he’s old. I expect Jayson Werth to bounce back closer to his numbers from the Philadelphia years. Wilson Ramos is probably going to be a star with Jesus Flores as a really solid backup behind the plate.

Rick Ankiel (on the DL), Roger Bernadina and Xavier Nady aren’t exactly something to get excited about in the outfield or on the bench.

Pitching should improve upon last year when it was a team strength. 160 innings of Stephen Strasburg off of Tommy John surgery, plus Jordan Zimmermann with new additions Gio Gonzalez (acquired for 4 prospects from Oakland) and Edwin Jackson on a 1-year rental should be solid. Ross Detwiler beat out John Lannan for the 5 spot despite the latter being solid for most of 4 years and making $5 million. Tough break for Lannan, who may be done in D.C. Chein Ming Wang is on the DL with a hamstring injury.

The bullpen should be strong still, provided Tyler Clippard‘s arm doesn’t finally fall off. The All-Star set-up man has been lights out. Henry Rodriguez had a great spring (at least until yesterday against the Red Sox) while Brad Lidge brings the experience of a World Series champion closer. Those two will take care of closing until Drew Storen hopefully returns from elbow inflammation. Craig Stammen earned a job again too. Sean Burnett is still around as well, but for how long?

Looking at all of this, I see a team that with the right breaks could win at least 90, but I don’t see that happening. With excellent health and career averages from the heart of the order, I could see it, but I can’t get around the top of the order. I just don’t see Desmond and Espinosa getting on base enough to get the Nats over the playoff hunt. Also, Strasburg’s innings limit will hurt late in the season. I think the Nats will be close and have a shot in September to make the playoffs, but just fall short. Manager Davey Johnson has himself a pretty good ballclub, but they are a year away.

86-76

3rd place in the NL East. I think the Phillies will overcome a lack of an infield early on to win the division late. The Marlins will either be winners or a trainwreck, so they’ll be 2nd of 4th, can’t make up my mind. I figure the Braves will be opposite the Marlins. The Mets will be last.

MSM PREVIEWS

A PDF? Come on Wash. Times, it isn’t 2001 anymore. Fine, I’ll buy the dead-tree version. If I can find it.

I’ll also bought the Post, which isn’t that organized online either. Am I rewarding bad behavior or just unimaginative ad reps who couldn’t see the online side? They probably had print guys pitching it.

CSN Washington has a video preview:

PLAY BALL!

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