If you asked me to explain baseball to someone living in a cave I'd start by saying:
"The goal of baseball is to score more runs than your opponent."
We often make things way too complicated. That's what good teams do. Some great teams score a little more, some prevent a little more, but ultimately, all great teams score significantly more then they allow.
For a team to improve, at any kind of a dramatic rate, they have to improve one or both sides quickly.
In 2007, the Rays scored 782 runs and allowed 944, for a difference of -162. In 2008, they scored 774 and allowed 671, for a difference of +103.
Notice something? They scored less in their magic 2008 season, but they allowed 273 runs less—that's just astounding.
For the Nats to improve in 2009, they need to improve from a league worst of -184 runs. Let's break down how the Nats have made huge strides on both sides.
1. Adam Dunn. While a liability in the field, he's probably a 25 run upgrade by himself. He continues to be underrated.
2. Youth gets better. Milledge, Dukes, and scores of others are all expected to take steps forward. Don't believe me? Take a look at how many Nats get drafted into fantasy leagues.
3. Nick Johnson. Ok, this might be a long shot, but when healthy, he's a quality first baseman with a bat and a glove.
4. Dimitri Young. Just kidding, I wanted to see if you were paying attention.
1. Scott Olsen. He's a good young pitcher who, at worst, is going to be league average. Compared to last year that's a huge improvement.
2. Jordan Zimmerman. He has excelled at every level. I don't know if I buy his potential as an ace, but a very good number two would be worth 20-30 runs on this team.
3. Daniel Cabrera. He could really be a five ERA pitcher with control problems, but he has electric stuff and certainly has more upside than Odalis Perez.
4. Strasburg. Would I be surprised if they didn't sign him—maybe, but not stunned. If the Nats do get him inked, he's ready for the majors right now.
No one's expecting this team to be in the World Series, but changing that -184 to a -40 would mean this team would be a 70+ win team. That my friends, in the words of Herm Edwards, is something to build on. Add Strasburg and some help in free agency, and the Nats really aren't that far from contending.
I think the Nats will win 72 games this year, in a tough division.
For the first time, Nats fans be hopeful, help is around the corner. The Nats may not be the Rays, but for Nats fans .500 is the World Series.