Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Monday, February 25, 2008

Washington Nationals 2008 Preview: Better Things Coming in the Nation's Capital

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy

It's hard to be much excited about anything that the 2007 Nationals offered. Ryan Zimmerman continued to develop into one of the NL's best players, and Dmitri Young had a thoroughly unexpected and remarkable season. They also continued to stockpile good younger outfielders. Apart from that, their two best starters missed part or most of the season, the rest of the rotation was expansion team bad, the shortstop wasn't good either offensively or defensively, and Nook Logan was the centerfielder. The Nationals brought another end to baseball at RFK Stadium with a 73-89 season. Over the winter the team added to its collection of talented but questionable outfielders and hoped for good news on the injury front.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

Only Petco Field in San Diego diminished offense in 2007 worse than RFK. That certainly hurts the Nationals batting stats, but doesn't justify them; the Nats were near the bottom in runs scored in road games as well. The Nats hit about a league average total of doubles, were below average in triples, and were last in home runs. You can't say that they had a running team either, as they stole only 69 bases. Young, Zimmerman, and Ryan Church were the only hitters who could be said to be above average. Austin Kearns and Ronnie Belliard were ok, and Logan, Felipe Lopez, and Brian Schneider were bad. Wily Mo Pena hit well in 37 games after being acquired from Boston and figures to land a starting job in 2008.

CF Lastings Milledge
2B Ronnie Belliard
RF Austin Kearns
1B Dmitri Young
3B Ryan Zimmerman
LF Wily Mo Pena
C Paul LoDuca
SS Christian Guzman

Here, maybe, are the beginnings of the first good Nationals team. Zimmerman is one of the most valuable properties in the game right now. Kearns could have a huge season if reports that brand new Nationals Park will play well for hitters are correct. Pena, Milledge, and Elijah Dukes all come to Washington with plenty of talent and plenty of baggage. Will they offer Washington new hope, or will they wind up leaving in disgrace?

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

RFK Stadium helped disguise a poor staff in 2007. The Nationals allowed just 4.38 runs per game at home, one of the best records in the league, but 5.28 per game on the road, one of the worst. Losing top starter John Patterson after just seven very poor starts punched a big hole in the rotation (and through my fantasy teams, too). Shawn Hill was impressive in 16 starts but also missed time. No other starter pitched well. The bullpen tandem of Chad Cordero and Jon Rauch pitched well most of the season but wore down late.

SP Shawn Hill
SP John Patterson (or so they hope)
SP Matt Chico
SP Jason Bergman
SP John Lannan

CL Chad Cordero
RP Jon Rauch
RP Luis Ayala

Hill probably doesn't have real number one potential but could develop into a solid number two, which isn't at all bad. Patterson has number one stuff but injuries have kept his career as much a captive as Number Six. Chico, Bergman, and Lannan also have possibilities of becoming useful pitchers at the back end of a good rotation. Cordero is a good closer who should be dealt this year while he can still bring in more young talent. Rauch is also valued by good clubs and could fetch parts of a developing contender.

Witnesses for the defense

The Nationals fielded a pretty decent defensive team in 2007. Although they made a higher than average number of errors, they were efficient at turning batted balls into outs. Zimmerman is a sensational fielder at third and Kearns is a fine rightfielder. Milledge has the tools to be a fine centerfielder.

Farm aid

After years of neglect as the former Expos franchise was left to rot, the farm system is beginning to produce a lot of talent. They've also done a good job recently of picking talented prospects who have fallen out of favor with other teams, such as Milledge, Dukes, and Tyler Clippard. Zimmerman and Hill are the first of the really good ones. The best prospects are a little ways away and the Nationals would be wise not to rush them. Outfielders Justin Maxwell, Chris Marrero, and Michael Burgess will be competing with the talented outfielders already here within a year or so. Pitchers Clippard, Ross Detwiler, Jordan Zimmerman (can't have too many Zimmermans), Jack Mcgeary, and Adam Carr will be pushing for jobs on the staff by 2009. There is a lot more; this is a very deep system.

Watch out for that tree!

Dmitri Young's comeback season was a nice story, but it should have been taken with more skepticism by Washington management than they did. Young has always been able to hit, but he's not exactly known for his physical conditioning. Paul Lo Duca is not aging gracefully; he comes into camp recovering from knee surgery, not what you want in a 36 year old catcher who doesn't really contribute much besides singles. Rauch is not old but has been worked hard for the last two years.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

Almost unnoticed, this franchise is making progress. I've never been a Jim Bowden fan, but as Nationals GM he has been presiding over a very solid accumulation of talent. The Nationals will be an improved team in 2008 even though they will likely not move up in the standings.

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