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Washington Nationals Preview: Reason for Hope in D.C.

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Washington Nationals Preview: Reason for Hope in D.C.
Baseball fans will no longer have to cling to Spring Training stats, check out how the local college baseball team is doing, or settle for the 7-11 hot dogs that just aren't the same as the ballpark ones...because Opening Day is in eight days!

Now that America's pastime is back everyone won't have to ponder if their team's offseason changes have paid off. They can simply turn on their TVs to ESPN next Sunday.

Led by Manager Manny Acta, the novel Nationals have had an uphill struggle during the offseason with injuries and questionable trades.

But now that Spring Training is coming to a close and the roster has been trimmed to 32 players, it's pretty clear what the team will be like Opening Day.

Possibly the team's Achilles heal, the starting rotation is most likely going to be Shawn Hill, Odalis Perez, Tim Redding, Jason Bergmann, and Matt Chico.

Although Hill appears to be the Nats' number one starter, he will not pitch on Opening Day because of arm problems and will instead pitch last.

Surprisingly, the team released its former ace, right-hander John Patterson, on Thursday due to lack of performance.

The team would rather give younger pitchers like John Lannan and Chico a chance.

The bullpen, definitely one the Nats' strengths, will most likely be Jon Rauch, Luis Ayala, Jesus Colome, Saul Rivera, Joel Hanrahan, Ray King, and Chad Cordero as the closer.

There has been so much speculation on the starting rotation that these guys been overlooked but the bullpen will be an important part once the starting pitchers give up too many runs and Manny has to take them out early.

The outfield is more than solid with powerhouse Wily Mo Pena in left, Lastings Milledge in center, and killer-arm Austin Kearns in right.

With new support and confidence, Milledge is making Jim Bowden look good by hitting well and stealing bases.

All have shown their strength at the plate during spring training. I think these guys will be the most reliable and most consistent players during the season.

Elijah Dukes, who either strikes out or hits a long homer, will be the fourth outfielder.

The infield was the big question mark coming into spring, but for me it's leaving  a big exclamation point.

Ryan Zimmerman is, of course, the starting third baseman for the next three centuries and Cristian Guzman, coming back from two years of injuries, will be the shortstop.

There was a war at second base between Felipe Lopez and Ronnie Belliard, but Lopez has lost the job by barely hitting and making five careless errors.

His attitude towards the situation isn't helping himself either—I thought we got rid of Ryan Church!

The Battle of the Bulge took place at first base (literally) between heavyset men Dmitri Young and Nick Johnson.

Their performances correlated with their weight and Johnson won the starting job.

Expect to see Johnson a steady defender and hit clean up with a high BA.

Paul Lo Duca will be the starting catcher with Johnny Estrada and Will Nieves to back him up.

Lo Duca hasn't really gotten to prove himself because he's been hurt for weeks but Acta trusts him from all those years together on the Mets.

The young team has changed for the better and players like Zimmerman, Milledge, Belliard, Johnson, and Guzman are bound to have great years. With each player coming into the new stadium with something to prove, the Nationals will be a fun team to watch.

Thanks to Jim Bowden's offseason work the pieces of the puzzle are starting to fit together pretty nicely.

In the evenly matched NL East, expect the Nationals to get third place and have a .500 year.
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