Can you believe baseball season is here? If you’re a Washington Nationals fan, you should be excited. It’s a season full of possibilities for the team entering their seventh season.
Authors Note: I am an Atlanta Braves fan. I grew up a Braves fan and a team coming to DC did not change my baseball loyalties. But I do love watching the Nationals play and I cheer for the team when they’re not playing Atlanta. My coverage of the Nats will be pro-Nats.
It was a big offseason for the Nationals organization that both pleased and upset fans. Fans were upset with the trade of left fielder Josh Willingham to Oakland for pitchers Henry Rodriguez and outfielder Corey Brown. Also, fans had hoped the Nats could resign first baseman Adam Dunn, who instead signed as a free agent with the Chicago White Sox. Losing Willingham and Dunn was a huge hit to the Nationals. In 114 games last season Willingham had 16 home runs, third on the team, and 56 RBIs, while Dunn lead the team in homers and RBIs with 38 and 103 respectively.
But general manager Mike Rizzo was able to fill those holes by going out and getting right fielder Jayson Werth and first baseman Adam LaRoche. Werth’s numbers from last year don’t match Adam Dunn’s (27 HR, 85 RBI) but LaRoche’s make up the difference (25 HR, 100 RBI).
I want to address the most common complaint I’ve heard this offseason, and that is the Jayson Werth deal. I understand why DC sports fan are always negative of high profile, big contract, free agent signings, especially when the player is obviously being overpaid. The names of Juwan Howard and countless Redskins from the past eleven years bring up painful memories. And yes, Jayson Werth was overpaid. But this is baseball and signing Werth does more than help the team. It sends a message to the fans that the Lerners’ are committed to the making the Washington Nationals a winning team and are willing to spend the money to bring in players (which you HAVE to do in baseball).
Losing Dunn and Willingham upset some fans. But, bringing in Werth and LaRoche, as well as picking up center fielder Rick Ankiel, show the ownership’s willingness to win. Not only were the Nats able to land Werth but they were very publicly in the running for pitcher Cliff Lee. The Jayson Werth signing is more then just getting a big named player in DC. It’s a statement signing.
Now, the Nationals still have a lot of unanswered questions going into the 2011 season. Along with the loss of pure firepower there are other questions concerning the batting lineup. After trading center fielder Nyjer Morgan to Milwaaukee the Nats don’t have a true leadoff batter. But, the Nats biggest question is still pitching.
With pitcher Stephen Strasburg on the disabled list for, probably, the whole season, the Nationals rotation is shaky at best.While both Livan Hernandez and John Lannan have experience and have won games for the Nats over the last three seasons, both pitchers are getting up in age and are wildly inconsistent. Jordan Zimmerman is a young pitcher who showed promise last year, but again, was inconsistent. Jason Marquis is a veteran but is only a .500% win pct. and 4.5 ERA pitcher. Tom Gorzelanny put up solid numbers…in the minor leagues. The team brought in Chien-Ming Wang last year but injuries have prohibited him from making a real impact on this team.
Starting pitching isn’t the only concern, the bullpen has its own issues. Before Spring Training I would have said that if the Nats starters could get through six or seven innings, they’d be in good shape handing the pitching duties over to the relievers. I would have said that Doug Slaten, Tyler Clippard, and Drew Storen would be able to hold leads and win games for the Nationals. But Spring Training has painted a different picture. Both Clippard, your setup pitcher, and Storen, the closer, struggled in Spring Training games. The lack of a real closer going into the season hurts the team. Manager Jim Riggleman has already said they’re going to use a closer by committee approach.
Despite the questions concerning the Nationals pitching, fans should be excited. Ownership has shown a commitment to winning by signing Werth. The Nationals have more fire power this year offensively and on the mound, with the promise of Strasburg and catcher/outfielder Bryce Harper being on the team next year. The future is bright for the Nationals. Will they win the World Series this year? Not a chance. But they will be fun to watch.
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