Nationals Offense Bashing, But Long-Term Outlook Doesn't Look Good

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Nationals Offense Bashing, But Long-Term Outlook Doesn't Look Good
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
With their 6-3 win over the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday afternoon, the Washington Nationals return home with a still league-worst record of 11-21. That said, they finished their west-coast road trip at 4-4, and really, it should have been 6-2.

But I don't have to tell you about the Nationals' bullpen, right?

A couple of interesting themes are beginning to emerge now that the season is about one-fifth over. The bullpen could be the worst of baseball's modern era, and the starting pitching, though it started badly, is looking pretty good.

And oh, can the Washington Nationals hit.

How would you like to face this lineup?

SS-Cristian Guzman: .390-1-9
1B-Nick Johnson: .333-3-19
3B-Ryan Zimmerman: .357-8-26
LF-Adam Dunn: .313-11-28
CF-Elijah Dukes: .280-4-23
RF-Kearns/Willingham .220-8-22
C - Jesus Flores: .311-4-15
2B-Alberto Gonzalez: .271-1-5

The Nationals are fourth in the National League in runs (5.4 per game), third in home runs (42), walks (138), batting average (.280), on-base percent (.361), second in slugging percent (.447) and first in OPS (.809) and total bases (512).

In 2008, the Nationals' offense was a polar opposite, finishing dead last in total bases, OPS, slugging percent and home runs. They finished 14th in batting average and 11th in walks.

So Nationals' fans can look forward to several more years of a top-of-the-line offense, right?

Wrong.

Nick Johnson and Austin Kearns won't return in 2010, and in all probability, won't be in Washington after the July 31st trade deadline. Cristian Guzman and Adam Dunn are only signed through next year, and it's doubtful that either will resign with the Nationals as long as the team continues to lose this badly. Josh Willingham will be eligible for free agency after the 2011 season.

That leaves Ryan Zimmerman, Jesus Flores, Alberto Gonzalez and Elijah Dukes as the only starters who can be counted on long-term.

Sure, the Nationals might sign some of these players to multi-year deals in the next couple of years, but if attendance remains bad-the Nationals are currently 29th out of 30 teams-they might not have the money to lure their stars back even if they want to.

Sure, there are a few good prospects in the minor leagues, but most of them are pitchers. Justin Maxwell at 'AAA' Columbus, Chris Marrero and Michael Burgess at "A+" Potomac, and Derek Norris at "A-" Hagerstown are promising, but only one-Maxwell-is close to being major league ready.

My concern is that just as this potent offense deconstructs, that lousy pitching staff is going to become very, very good.

John Lannan (2-3, 3.89) is 24 and Shairon Martis (5-0, 3.98) is just 22, and both have shown that they will be quality starters for years to come. Jordan Zimmermann (2-1, 5.28) is 22 and has had three quality starts in his five major league games. He has struck out 26 and walked just 8 in 29 innings. Scott Olsen hasn't pitched well this year but is just 25 and has already started 100 games in the major leagues.

The Nationals also have several pitchers in their minor league system that look very good. Craig Stammen at Columbus (4-1, 1.85) and Ross Detwiler at Harrisburg (0-3, 2.96) look promising, and there are several others (Colten Willems, Josh Smoker, Cole Kimball) who are impressing as well.

Add Steven Strasburg, the presumptive number-one pick in the June amateur draft (11-0, 1.28, 17 strikeouts per 9 innings for San Diego State), and the Washington Nationals will soon have one of the strongest starting rotations in the National League.

The problem is that the starting pitching will get good about the same time that the offense returns to earth. So instead of losing games 9-8, they'll lose them 3-2.

Unless of course, the Lerner family-owners of the Washington Nationals-take a deep breath, cross their fingers, and resign their core players next year.

If they do that, and if the rotation matures as expected, the Nationals will be a 90-win team by 2011. And if they can do something about that atrocious bullpen, they could reach .... dare I say it .... the World Series.

Of course, they need to get to .500 first, and that isn't happening anytime soon.
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