Nats bats awaken, yet defensive miscues continue to haunt early season

Baseball is a marathon, so being overly critical after one or two weeks really isn’t fair.  Yet, for a team with postseason aspirations, if the defense does not improve, this team will have a hard time even making the playoffs.

Last Sunday vs Philly

After losing the first two games of this series, Washington pulled out a 4-3 win in 10 innings to deny the Phillies a sweep in the series.  Bryce Harper homered, Clint Robinson had 3 hits and Wilson Ramos had the go-ahead RBI in the 10th.  Max Scherzer wasn’t as sharp as he was in his 1st start of the season but he still left the game with the lead giving up one run in 6 innings with 6 strikeouts.  Drew Storen got into a little trouble but was able to get his second save in as many chances in the young season.

Monday – Wednesday at Boston

Opening Day at Fenway Park is always one of the most picturesque scenes in baseball and Monday was no different with an almost perfect scene for the crimes of Red Sox rookie Mookie Betts.  Betts robbed Bryce Harper of a homer, stole 2 bases on the same play as the Nats continued their shotty early season defense, and hit a 3 run homer as the Sox dominated in a 9-4 victory. The only solace of  the game was the return of Jayson Werth to the lineup.

Tuesday’s game looked as if it was a breakthrough fans have been clamoring for, but yet again, defensive miscues in the 7th inning, two errors by pitcher Blake Treinen on one play and another by Ian Desmond, virtually guaranteed their fifth loss in 6 games.  Stephen Strasburg gave up 5 runs in 5 2/3 innings but was off the hook for the loss because of a 6 run rally in the 5th inning which was by far the best inning of offense this season.  Michael Taylor had a bases clearing triple to lead the team with 3 RBIs in a losing effort.

In the last game of the series, the offense continued the momentum from the night before with a dominating performance the likes of what a title contender should produce plating 10 runs across and again avoiding a sweep by a 10-5 score.  Ian Desmond had a solo shot over the Green Monster and Wilson Ramos had a bases clearing double to support Gio Gonzalez (1-1), who gave up five runs — four earned– in 6 innings.

Thursday – Saturday vs Philadelphia

Back home after the week long road trip, the Nats welcomed the Phillies for their 1st visit to Nationals Park for the 2015 campaign.  In Friday’s tilt, Doug Fister pitched solidly into the 7th inning allowing 2 runs on just 4 hits as Home Runs by Michael Taylor and Yunel Escobar and a 2 run double by Ryan Zimmerman as the Nats won the match up 5-2.  Drew Storen pitched the 9th inning for his third save in as many chances.

Friday’s game was probably the most complete game of the season as Bryce Harper hit his 3rd home run to pace the offense and Max Scherzer was able to secure his 1st victory as a Nat in a 7-2 decisive win.  Scherzer has been as advertised through his first three starts since signing the seven year, 210 million dollar contract allowing only 2 earned runs and striking out 25 in 21 2/3 innings so far.  This win marked the first 3 game winning streak of the young season.

Ian Desmond’s physical issues in the field now seem to be a mental hurdle as he committed another error and dropping a ball while trying to complete a routine double play in the 3rd inning enabled the Phillies to score two unearned runs on starter Jordan Zimmermann (1-2) who was unable to overcome the gaffes as the Nationals fell 5-3 to end the winning streak.  This was Desmond’s 8th error in 12 games which, of course, leads the majors.  Bryce Harper absolutely crushed his 4th HR to dead center field estimated at 461 ft and the longest HR to dead center in Nats Park history.

A winning streak then a headscratching loss highlights the Nats week

 

“Untuck Em!”

 

If you were to go into this week under .500,   in 3rd place in the division and not really clicking on any cylinders on the field THEN you go out and win 5 in a row, 7 of 8 but lose Saturday’s game, to only place 1 game behind the 1st place Atlanta Braves, most fans would take that right?  But when that one loss brings up all of the losing characteristics that have plagued the team this season such as ANOTHER throwing error by Ryan Zimmermann (which of course lead to the losing runs), Stephen Strasburg  collapsing after that said error (again), and just not enough offense to compete, you have a fan base thats slightly concerned.

The week started off with 2nd year power bat, Tyler Moore shaking off a poor start to his season with a 3 Run HR in the 8th inning as the Nats defeated the Pirates in Pittsburgh by the score of 6-2.  Danny Espinosa homered and drove in three runs and Gio Gonzalez (3-2) won for just the third time in seven starts after winning 21 games last season.  The team had a day off on Monday in preparation for a 2 game Interleague set vs Miguel Cabrera and the Detroit Tigers. Luckily for the Nats, they would not face the two best pitchers on their rotation in former Cy Young winner Justin Verlander and the undefeated Max Scherzer.  Tuesday’s game would be cancelled by rain which pushed the matchup of Jordan Zimmermann and Nats killer Anibal Sanchez ,  who was 8-0 with a 1.97 ERA in 19 starts against the Nationals while with the Marlins, to Wednesday.  Zimmermann continued his Cy Young pace after pitching 17 shutout innings in his prior two starts, the right-hander allowed one run in seven innings in a 3-1 win .  Bryce Harper connected with his team leading 10th HR of the season. In the finale on Thursday, Dan Haren nearly squandered a four-run lead as Washington’s three relievers had identical lines, each giving up a hit and striking out a batter in an inning in a 5-4 triumph, the teams 4th in a row.  Adam LaRoche seems to have worked his way out of his April slump with 2 hits for his 1st back to back multi-hit games of the year. LaRoche has eight hits in his last 14 at-bats, raising his average from .129 through May 1 to .196.  Rapael Soriano sewed up his 12th save in 13 chances.

A three game set vs the Chicago Cubs would bring back former Nats star Alfonso Soriano, who in his 1 season here in DC holds almost all single season batting records including HRs, Slugging Percentage and Extra Base Hits.  The one player on the roster that will probably be the guy to eventually bring down all of those records, Bryce Harper, did not play in Friday’s or Saturday’s game because of an ingrown toe nail (ouch!!!).  Also sitting out would be Jayson Werth, who has been hampered with a hamstring and would eventually be placed on the Disabled List on Saturday.  Neither of those players would be missed a bunch on Friday as Ian Desmond continued his torrid ways with 3 hits including a 2-run HR and a RBI double. Danny Espinosa and Kurt Suzuki each drove in a pair of runs with a double, helping Washington beat the Chicago Cubs 7-3 for its seventh victory in the past eight games.  Ross Detweiler wasnt his sharpest, but did enough to earn his second win of the season.
Saturday’s aformentioned game continued a bad streak (Strasburg’s losing streak, now at 5), ended the team’s 5 game streak (longest of the season) with a disheartening 8-2 loss.  Ian Desmond had 3 hits again as he has developed into one of the games best shortstops and a keeper for this franchise for years to come.  We are seeing a true leader blossoming on and off the field before our very eyes.

 

Player of the Week:

Ian Desmond – 8 hits in 5 games which included 2 doubles, 2 HRs and 6 RBI’s. He also added a Stolen Base as well.

 

Next Week’s Schedule:

The Nats embark on their 1st extended West Coast road trip as they land in Los Angeles on Monday for a 3 game set, then on to San Diego for 4 gamer which concludes on Sunday

 

Swept by Cards, Nats turn it around in rematch vs Reds

Denard Span with the huge catch in Saturday’s victory

 

As the new week started, The Nats, coming off a 2-0 Loss to lose the series vs the Mets, welcomed the team who defeated them in the National League Divisional Series last season, the St. Louis Cardinals.  A three game series where you would have wanted this team to show some growth, seemed to press at every at-bat and wasted some solid pitching efforts by the starters because the bats just cant seem to get going.  In Game 1, Dan Haren pitched 6 innings giving up 3 runs, not great but obviously enough to win, but not this game as the Cards won 3-2.  It was the teams’ 4 consecutive home defeat.

In Game 2, Adam Wainright was just outstanding, showing everybody why he one of the truly great pitchers in the sport, out-dueling Ross Detweiler (who was outstanding himself, only giving up 2 runs in the 4th) with 8.1 innings of shut out baseball striking out 9 Nationals batters in a 2-0 victory for the Cards.  This was also the Nats 6 consecutive home loss.  The Twitterverse is now losing its mind because this just doesnt look like the team the fans all expected but we all have to remember its not a marathon, not a sprint.  In the series finale, Stephen Strasburg toed the rubber looking to stop a couple of streaks, his personal 3 game losing streak, the team’s 3 gamer, and the 6 game home streak.  He was unable to deliver as after a shaky 1st inning, because the bats decided not to show up again, he was on the unfortunately on the losing end of his 4th straight start by the score of 4-2. A 2nd 3 game sweep at home in a row was not what was expected, but again this is a long season and there is always a new series right around the corner, and that means a 4 game series rematch against the Cincinnati Reds, who defeated the Nats 2 out of 3 just 2 weeks ago at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati .

 

With no day off to wallow in self pity, Gio Gonzalez went out and pitched a masterpiece. In possibly the best pitched game in his career, Gonzales pitched 8 innings giving up only an opposite field Home Run to former MVP Joey Votto as the Nats started off the series in fine fashion defeating the Reds 8-1.   The bats woke up as Denard Span and Danny Espinoza both had 3 RBI games and Bryce Harper hit his 8th Home Run of the season.  With that Home Run, Harper set a new club record with 8 HRs in the Month of April.  He continues to show that he may not just be the best player on the Nationals roster, but right now, playing better baseball than virtually anyone in the sport.

In Game 2, in a pitching duel for the ages, Jordan Zimmermann equaled Gio’s previous start with the number of hits given up (1) yet didnt give up a run and finished off his 2nd complete game of the season besting the Reds, Homer Bailey 1-0.  Jayson Werth drove in the only run of the game in the 4th inning driving in, you guessed it, Bryce Harper who had smoked his 1st triple of the season in the previous at bat.  Zimmermann’s ERA lowered to a solid 2.00 for the season as he improved to 4-1 on the season.  In Saturday’s matchup, Dan Haren finally pitched a performance worthy of a victory, Denard Span made 2 of the best defensive plays of the season to save atleast 3 runs in the process, and Bryce Harper extended his record month with his 9th HR and his 18th RBI in the process (another team record) as the Nats won their 3rd straight 6-3.  Span also had 2 hits on the day and Rafael Soriano pitched the 9th inning for his 7th save in 8 opportunties this season.

 

Player of the Week: Jordan Zimmermann

In 2 starts (1-1), he pitched a total of 14 innings giving up only 2 runs on 3 hits and only 1 walk.  He has been the most consistent pitcher this season.

 

Next Week:

A trip to Atlanta on Monday to hopefully avenge the 3 game sweep of a week ago and our 1st trip to beautiful PNC Park to face budding star Andrew McClutchen and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

 

 

 

2013 Washington Nationals Season Preview

“The truth is you don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. Life is a crazy ride, and nothing is guaranteed.”  – Eminem

Werth’s 9th inning Walk-off in Game 4

This could be the mantra for this years Washington Nationals.  What a difference a year makes.  Going into last season, we all knew they were going to shut down Strasburg in September, a possible Bryce Harper call up in September and genuine hopes of competing for a Wild Card birth towards the end of the season.  What we did get was the best season anyone could have asked for….97 Wins and the best record in the sport, Gio Gonzales winning over 20 games and finishing 2nd in the Cy Young voting, Davey Johnson winning Manager of the Year, Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond with career seasons while winning Silver Slugger awards and the 1st NL East Division title in Team History.  The season ended in heartbreak with a Game 5 9th inning debacle of a loss that hopefully fuels this year’s team for the extended playoff run that most prognosticators envision.

General Manager Mike Rizzo has put together what renowed baseball writer Peter Gammons has called a “SuperPower for years to come” on the MLB Network, Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine has the Nats as the World Series Champion in their respective Preseason predictions, and there is a fervor never seen in DC for this team and rightly so, the Nats are loaded in almost every aspect of the game.  One position of need Rizzo fixed in the offseason was acquiring a slick fielding leadoff guy to play CF, that man is Denard Span formerly of the Minnesota Twins.  His acquisition now moves Game 4 walkoff hero Jayson Werth down to the #2 spot in the batting order and moves 2012 Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper to RF which will alleviate some pressure off the 20 year old to learn a premium defensive position (although he did very well there last year obviously).  Ryan Zimmerman hopes to improve on his masterful 2nd half last year (aka After The Shot), along with All-Star SS Ian Desmond, with the improvement of defensive dynamo Danny Espinoza along with newly resigned Adam LaRoche, the infield may be the most balanced in all of the game.  The Catcher platoon of Kurt Suzuki and the return of Jesus Flores shores up the position.  The lineup 1-8 could have 5 or 6 guys that hit for 20+ HRs.   Harper is the crown jewel of the lineup and after having possibly the greatest individual season a teenager has ever had in the the game, HUGE numbers are being mentioned (like 30+ 100+ RBIs).  Im not thinking THAT big yet because this team is just so stacked, but if he was to have one of those type of season, do not be surprised.  Its a reason he was drafted #1 Overall and given the nickname “The Baseball Lebron”.  Just like Lebron has done in the NBA, he plays the game the right way and you may want to hate him, but once you watch him play the game with the wreckless abondon he shows every game, you cant help but cheer for the kid.

2013 = 1st Full Season of The Phenoms….World Series or Bust?

We know, we know….Strasburg was shut down and who knows what could have happened if he pitched in the playoffs…I know one thing, the guy who took his place in the rotation in the series vs the Cardinals, was BY FAR the best pitcher in the series.  That guy is Ross Detweiler, the player I expect to improve the most this season, which means the Nats again will have the best rotation in the sport.  The only reason Detweiler isnt the 4th starter after Edwin Jackson moved on in the offseason, is the acquisition of veteran Dan Haren to man that spot.  Haren along with Jordan Zimmerman, Gio and a FULL SEASON OF STRASBURG makes opposing managers quiver in their boots, as it should.  One portion of the roster that has perennially been the most solid has been the bullpen and this year shouldn’t be any different.  When you can toss out names such as Craig Stammen, Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and new closer Rafael Soriano to close out games, more times than not, this team is gonna win….and win big.

Last year, I expected the team to win 81-84 games, this season, I can easily see the team matching the 98 wins of last year, and even eclipsing that mark.  Health and expectations will be the key, last year, the Nats were the Hunters, this year, they are the Hunted….how will the veterans on the team lead this team full of kids….will Davey Johnson push the right buttons? Will Drew Storen forget about last season’s last game and remember the form he had in the month of September….I say YES to all of these questions and I predict a Divisional Crown and a trip to at least the National League Championship series…..and yes they will bring home the first Major Sports Championship in this city in over 22 years!

Natitude…….

2012 Year In Review

2012 aka The Greatest Year in My Adult Sporting Fandom! LOL (I know, I know I’m a couple of days late….sue me! LOL)

With Robert Griffin III and The Redskins making the playoffs this season, people have easily forgotten how great of a season its been for ALL DC Sports fans.  Two Divisional Titles with epic performances from the young, old and obscure made this a classic year.

 

Bryce Harper

The Nationals were the best team in baseball virtually the whole 2nd half of the season (Record-wise).  The early call-up of rookie phenom (and eventual Rookie of the Year) Bryce Harper energized a fan base who early on wondered would the early success last especially with the lack of offense, injuries to Ryan Zimmerman, “Beast Mode” Michael Morse, Jesus Flores, Drew Storen and Jayson Werth (and eventually Breakout Star Ian Desmond would be lost for a month later in the season).  Davey Johnson and staff did a helluva job with the pitching staff, who was outstanding throughout the long campaign.  Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzales both made the All Star team as did the aforementioned Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper.  Ryan Zimmerman took “The Corizone Shot from God” and came back with numbers that would have made him an MVP candidate.  Our REAL MVP candidate was Adam LaRoche, who after an injury filled 2011, came back with a vengeance.  He displayed Gold Glove winning defense and Silver Slugger winning power.  He stabilized what became the biggest improvement of the team during the resurgence to respectability, the team overall defense.   The 2nd half of the season was just a joy to watch for all Nats fans and the day we clinched the Division crown was an absolute joy, one of the greatest sporting moments of my life (NEVER deleting that from the DVR!).  We didn’t go into the playoffs with our best squad with the shutdown of Strasburg and losing a couple of series going into postseason, but for me, just getting there THIS year was more than enough for me….just dont get swept LOL.  We all know what eventually happened, after Jayson Werth provided us with a DC Sports moment of the ages with the walk-off HR in the bottom of the 9th in Game 4, we eventually lost Game 5 in the bottom of the 9th off our young closer Drew Storen.  Honestly, the Cardinals played better than us throughout the series, and we walked waaaaaaaaay too many batters throughout the series that it would eventually bite us in the ass, and it did.  Regardless, The Nationals are now a major threat to win the whole thing next year (especially if we can resign LaRoche) and for years to come.  Denard Span will now man CF so Bryce Harper can become settled in at a corner outfield position along with Werth at the other.  Also coming to the team this off-season is veteran Dan Haren to become the 5th starter. If he can show us anything from his earlier years, this will be the best rotation in the league as if it wasn’t already.  Ill take Strasburg, Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detweiler (who was the best pitcher in the postseason) against any rotation in the majors today. Natitude is alive and well!

Joel Ward and teammates celebrate!

Our Capitals didnt dominate the Regular Season like we normally do, and maybe that was a good thing going into the Stanley Cup playoffs this year, finishing 7th overall in the Eastern Conference matching up with the defending Cup Champs, the Boston Bruins.  Rookie Goalie Brandon Holtby was just outstanding and Joel Ward scored a series clinching overtime goal in the 7th and deciding game.  After winning a game like that, us Caps fans thought that quite possibly the demons of Postseason’s Past could finally be exercised.  Alas they werent as we were defeated by the hated New York Rangers again in 7 games.  Coach Dale Hunter who took over in midseason after the firing of fan favorite Bruce Boudreau, declined to return for the next season and we hired (another) former Caps great in recent Hall of Famer Adam Oates to take over the reigns.  Hopefully there will be a damn season to start soon enough! LETS GET IT TOGETHER OWNERS!!!!

Not much to say about the Wizards sadly smh.  We are the worst franchise in the sport as our only two players worth a damn (John Wall and Nene) both started the season injured.  Fun Times on Fun Street!  Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton haven’t developed much at all and we have the worst record in the sport with no light at the end of the tunnel.  Thanks Ernie Grundfeld for ALL of this!

 

The Rooks!

Lastly, Our Washington Redskins.  I’m not going to write much because that’s going to go into another posting. I do want to acknowledge the fact that this team, region, fan base is re-energized.  Even if we didn’t make the playoffs this season, you could finally see that the fruits of the labor of Bruce Allen, Coach Shanahan, Kyle Shanahan and most importantly, the scouting department is finally coming to fruition.   Long gone are the days where just making the playoffs was the ultimate ceiling for the team, we can now build a true contender which one day could make “just” winning divisional titles commonplace.  HAIL!

Oh, I know this posting is about DC Sports, but I’m a HUGE Kentucky Wildcats fan….and we won that chip last year….don’t get mad at Calipari, DEAL WITH IT…”Coach YOUR team!” GO BIG BLUE!

How about those Nationals!

Hello readers!

Happy to say that I have my laptop back up and running again (Thanks to the homie Chris!) and Ive missed writing.  Ive also missed writing on a lot of different happenings in the sports world.  The Skins drafted the future savior in Heisman Trophy-winning QB Robert Griffin III, The Wizards FINALLY got rid of those immature douchebags Nick Young and Javale McGee, traded for Nene, Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza and drafted Florida freshman stud guard Bradley Beal and the Capitals lost in Game 7 in the 2nd rd of the playoffs to the New York Rangers.

Oh, and before I forget, the 2012 NCAA National Basketball Champions are none other than YOUR KENTUCKY WILDCATS! Led by Coach Calipari, we ran roughshod through the season and tourney with only 2 losses with eventual #1 draft pick Anthony Davis winning every major award you can possibly win.  We also had 5 other players drafted in this years NBA Draft (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrance Jones, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller). Big Blue Nation is proud as hell of this team and ecstatic  to have our 8th National Title banner hanging in Rupp Arena.

But as great as all of those things are, the main reason I felt like writing is the ascension of the Washington Nationals as possibly the best team in the National League. If you would have told me that during the 1st half of the season, we would lose our starting catcher (Wilson Ramos), our closer (Drew Stanton), our best power bat (Michael Morse), our starting LF (Jayson Werth), lose 2 MORE catchers (Sandy Leon and Carlos Maldanado)  AND have our best overall player (Ryan Zimmerman) be a virtual non-factor and we would still have a CHANCE to compete for the divisional crown, I would have said you are on Bath Salts. Yet this team under the leadership of the great Davey Johnson and a pitching staff that has been simply outstanding, the team has a 4 game lead on the rest of the NL East and all eyes are on Washington for a good reason.

The starting rotation of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzales, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detweiler have exceeded the high expectations fans had coming into the season.  All 5 guys are power arms and have kept the team in games throughout the 1st half when the bats didn’t produce.  Strasburg and Gonzales earned All-Star nods for their efforts but Jordan Zimmermann could have easily earned one as well if he he were a little luckier.  This staff is good, deep and ready to make a sustained run towards the playoffs even if GM Mike Rizzo decides to shut down Strasburg at the 160-170 innings limit that is the usual norm the 1st season off of Tommy John surgery.  I understand that this team could make a run for the title this year, but I totally understand and agree with Rizzo if he shuts The Franchise down for the season.  We are equipped to make a extended run of winning, competing seasons and I would rather have a healthy Strasburg for 10 years than a tired, overworked one for this one.

Nationally, Bryce Harper has been the story and rightly so, the kid has been better than advertised while earning a All Star replacement nod as a 19 year old rookie becoming the youngest position player to ever play in the Midsummer Classic, but the most consistent player in the lineup has been the much maligned Ian Desmond.  Desi has transformed from an error prone rookie to a premier 2nd baseman and clutch hitter we all thought he could be, but with unexpected power.  He was originally chosen for the All Star game but did not have the chance to play because of an Oblique injury, which I hope doesn’t hinder an otherwise breakout season during the 2nd half because his bat is needed.

Going into the 2nd half of the season, we may see less of Strasburg but the schedule should actually be much easier than the 1st half looking at the winning percentages of the opposition. We do not have to see the AL East anymore (Thank God! LOL) and with the Phillies seemingly done for the season, we just have to worry about the Mets and Braves catching us.  I honestly don’t think the Mets have enough to keep up with us and we seem to own the Braves, so….I cant believe I’m actually typing this….but Id be damn surprised if we didn’t win the Division this season!  We start the 2nd half of the season tomorrow at Florida where we got swept earlier this year, If we can split there and then come home and continue what we’ve been doing, the DC Area should be preparing for home playoff games in October! I cant wait to watch this all unfold!

GO NATS!!!!! #Natitude

2011 Washington Nationals Season Preview

The 2010 version of the Nationals for the majority of fans meant only one thing, Stephen Strasburg.  And while he was as advertised during his 10 starts last year, he will be shelved for the 2011 season with Ligament Replacement aka “Tommy John” surgery on his right elbow.  This roster has also been revamped with a larger emphasis on the defensive side of the ball.  Gone are players such as fan favorite Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham, Cristan Guzman and recently, the Nyjer Morgan experiment was deemed a failure by GM Mike Rizzo and was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers near the end of Spring Training.

Jayson Werth - The $126 Million Dollar Man

In their places are a new crop of players in which one was given a 7 year 126 Million dollar deal in former Philadelphia Phillie and World Series Champion Jayson Werth.  Most observers believe the Nats overpaid for him, but as it goes when your a team that is a perennial doormat, sometimes you may have to overpay to get top-level talent to come to your team, which I believe the case was here but that doesn’t mean he isn’t one of the best all around talents in baseball today.  He is a 5-tool (Hits for Power, average, a solid throwing arm from the field, solid Gold Glove defense and underrated base running skills) athlete and its never a bad thing to have great athletes on your roster.  Another Free Agent pickup to directly replace Adam Dunn is 1B Adam LaRoche.  He wont hit tape measure HRs as Dunn did for his 2 seasons here but he is one of the best defensive 1st basemen in baseball and his presense alone in the field should help cut down on the errors the team accumulated last season and instill a little more confidence in budding star SS Ian Desmond and rookie 2B Danny Espinoza, who replaces 2010 starter Cristan Guzman.  LaRoche also has some pop in his bat as well hitting 25 HRs and driving in 100 runs as well.

The Cornerstone of the infield, and franchise,  is the most underrated superstar in the game in 3B Ryan Zimmerman.  The perenial All Star and Silver Slugger award winner is the type of player franchises build around and this has been the case with the Nats.  He is basically guaranteed to play stellar defense, hit over .300, drive in over 100 runs and hit 30+ Hrs long as he’s healthy.  I’m sure  GM Mike Rizzo’s #1 priority (if it isnt, it should be) is to sign Zimmerman to a long, Werth-esque extension before he hits the Free Agent market after the 2012 season. The outfield will feature the aforementioned Werth, another FA pickup in Rick Ankiel and my choice for breakout player on 2011, Michael Morse, who hit 15 Hrs last season in a reduced role when he only saw action in 98 games and in this spring hit at a .361 and tied for the Major League lead with 8 spring dingers.  If that pop in his bat can translate into the Regular Season and give Manager Jim Riggleman the confidence he had in him to give him the starting job over Roger Bernadina, this could end up a special year for the Nats offense.

The pitching staff on the other hand, is a mixed bag.  You have the veteran Opening Day Starter Livan Hernandez and holdovers such as Jason Marquis who is trying to rebound from an awful 2010 campaign, John Lannan and Tom Gorzelanny who was picked up in the offseason in a trade with the Cubs as 4 of the 5 members of the rotations.  The 5th member of the rotation is the wild card named Jordan Zimmermann.  Now 19 months after his OWN Tommy John surgery, he has shown flashes of why the Nats brass think so highly of him. He was outstanding in the spring with an ERA under 3.00 and electric stuff that almost looks Stras-like.  He has the stuff of a 20 game winner.  Will that occur in 2011? Probably not, but imagine the top of the rotation in 2012 having a healthy Strasburg AND Zimmermann…as a fan, you can finally state that your team can compete every game with the best of the best pitchers and lineups.  The Bullpen was a pleasant surprise last season, with players such as Tyler Clippard, Scott Burnett, and the OTHER 2010 1st rd pick in Closer-of-the-Future Drew Storen.  If the ‘Pen can equal the success of last season, along with better defense and possibly a better starting rotation, this team could easily win 10-15 more games next year and truly compete for the division title in 2012.

And in 2012, expect 2011 #1 overall pick and Uber-prospect Bryce Harper to make his debut with the big club.  Harper is a 18 year old dynamo of a player who has been compared to the likes of Ken Griffey Jr, Alex Rodriguez and Darryl Strawberry in the type of impact he can have on a franchise from the day he puts on a major league jersey.  There have been inklings that have mentioned him in the same breath as Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle.  That has to bring a ton of pressure along with it but if his 1st forte into the “Major League” experience shows, he can compete as he spent Spring Training with the big boys and hit .389 with the big boys.  He was assigned to Single-A Hagerstown to start his career so if you want to see him before he is on the national stage in DC, check him out there.

All in all, this team keeps improving every season.  Gone are the days where there were players who couldn’t make most teams Triple A affiliates, this team has a lot of young major league talent.  Now is the time for those pieces to start their journey from afterthought to a solid team. a .500% mark this season would gladly be accepted as a benchmark for team success in 2011 which is obtainable if everything stated above falls into place.