In my 2009 predictions, I slotted the Washington Nationals last in their division, but I suggested that they would have some legit offense thanks to offseason additions and growth from pieces they already had, “Washington finally doesn’t have an offense hinged on whether or not Nick Johnson stays healthy. They are pretty strong 1-8 as well as deep on the bench with Elijah Dukes, Josh Willingham and Willie Harris.”
Though it is still only May, it looks as though the Nationals won’t be dead last in the NL in OPS. Last year, they posted an embarrassing sub-.700 (.696) that was “topped” by only the Oakland Athletics (.686) in all of baseball. This year has been markedly different with the Nationals improving nearly 100 points in OPS to .794 that is good for 4th in the NL and 8th overall. Adam Dunn has been a huge addition with nine home runs already, but also an impressive .297 average. He has never hit anywhere near that level so it is safe to bet that the average will come down at least a bit. He has seasons of .264 (2007) and .266 (2004) that stand as his two highest. With one of the game’s best batting eyes and a commitment to not being a batting average anchor, Dunn is capable of .275-.280, but even if he only manages to match his career high of .266, he will still post a .400+ OBP with 40+ home runs.
Cristian Guzman has spent some time on the DL already this season, but he has remained the hitting force he was last year carrying a .386 average with 12 multi-hit games and just two 0-fers in his 17 games played. Nick Johnson‘s ability has never been in question, but his inability to stay healthy has stunted his career. He’s healthy right now and back to being the high average-high on base perfect #2 hitter for this lineup. Typically you want big time power from your first baseman, but Dunn fills that role and takes the heat off of Johnson when it comes to home run hitting.
The most impressive thing about the Nationals’ hot hitting thus far is the fact that it has come with NOTHING from Lastings Milledge (.397 OPS-now in AAA) and Josh Willingham (.693 OPS propped up by 10 walks; hitting just .174). Their worthlessness has been erased by the guys already mentioned as well as one of my favorites to rebound in 2009: Ryan Zimmerman. His only 0-fer of the season was in the 2nd game of the year which has resulted in an on-going 27-game hitting streak. He is hitting a robust .336 with six home runs and 21 RBIs. His 71 total bases are 2nd-best in the National League.
The downside to Washington’s offensive uproar? It hasn’t translated to much in the win column as they are dead last in not only the NL East, but the entire National League with a 10-18 record. That futility rests on the shoulders of the pitching, or severe lack thereof. Only Joe Beimel (1.74 ERA in 10 IP) has an ERA below 3.60 on the entire staff. Only three others are below 4.66. After two strong starts in late April, ace-of-the-future Jordan Zimmerman has been rocked for 11 runs in 11 and 2/3rds innings over his two latest starts. Allowing him to learn on the job and take his inevitable lumps wouldn’t be a problem on team that had two or three other starters capable of stopping a losing streak, but on a team like this it just adds to the mess. It’s reminiscent of Jeremy Bonderman‘s 2003 rookie campaign on that God-awful 43-119 team that saw Mike Maroth lose 21 and would’ve featured two 20-game losers had the Tigers not purposely moved Bonderman to the bullpen to save him that hit on his psyche.
If Zimmerman (20 years old) and their other youngster that surprisingly broke camp with the team, Shairon Martis (22) can develop into reliable rotation pieces through their experiences this year, they will go with ace John Lannan (24) to give the Nats a fair 1-3. Then there is the X-factor… or should I say the S-factor as in Stephen Strasburg. There hasn’t been a pitching prospect with this much promise in quite some time and recent reports suggest that the Nats will wisely take the San Diego State righty with the #1 overall pick in this June’s amateur draft despite the potentially absurd $50 million dollar asking price from idiot loser Scott Boras. Unfortunately for the Nats, you simply can’t pass on a talent like this:
2007 – 37 IP, 2.43 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 11.4 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9
2008 – 97 IP, 1.57 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 12.3 K/9 and 1.5 BB/9
2009 – 87 IP, 1.24 ERA, 0.74 WHIP, 17.0 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9
So confident was I that the Nationals just COULDN’T pass on the youngster that I had this made:
I will be in D.C. for a game later this year and I’m hoping I’m the only one with that shirt, but since it’ll be a week after the draft, I’m sure there will be a few others floating around. And that’s also assuming that locals haven’t gotten the same exact idea I had and already own one.
With the offense they have displayed in the early going and the potential rotation they’re developing, the Nationals may be making noise much sooner than most would have expected. I haven’t even covered some of their up and coming minor league arms like Ross Detwiler, Tyler Clippard and J.D. Martin, all of whom are off to good starts as well as Colin Balester, whom the organization likes a lot. The biggest hurdle for the Nationals is their four opponents in the NL East. It will be interesting to see what Strasburg does for the team and how they choose to play the free agent and trade markets in an effort to thwart their worthy competition within the division.