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Washington Nationals: 2011 MLB Season Preview

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Washington Nationals: 2011 MLB Season Preview
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

WASHINGTON NATIONALS 

Last Year: 69-93, 5th in NL East  

Manager: Jim Riggelman 

PROJECTED LINEUP 

C - Ivan Rodriguez (R) 

1B - Adam LaRoche (L)

2B - Danny Espinosa (S) 

3B - Ryan Zimmerman (R) 

SS - Ian Desmond (R)

LF/CF - Roger Bernadina (L)/Nyjer Morgan (L)/Rick Ankiel (L)/Mike Morse (R)

RF - Jayson Werth (R) 

The Nationals lineup should be able to put up decent offensive numbers, but the lineup will miss the power numbers that Adam Dunn provided.

Jayson Werth will match Dunn's OBP, but he should fall short of Dunn's 38 home runs in 2010. Expect Werth to hit 25 home runs with a .275/.370/.485 line.

The Nationals have not decided who will join Werth in the outfield, but whoever starts will not have a firm hold over the position. The only thing Nyjer Morgan proved in 2010 was that he is emotionally unstable. Roger Bernadina has speed (approximately 20 stolen bases), and the ability to hit 10 home runs if provided regular playing time. Rick Ankiel and Mike Morse have the best power numbers of the bunch, but both strike out too often to have a consistent batting average. Bernadina and Morse are the favorites to get the most playing time with Bernadina batting leadoff.

Ivan Rodriguez is getting old, but he should run into 5 home runs with a .260 average.    

Ryan Zimmerman will bat cleanup for the Nationals and provide additional right-handed power alongside Werth. Zimmerman put up consistent offensive numbers the last two seasons, and he should hit 27-32 home runs with a .300/.380/.515 line in 2011.

Adam LaRoche will try to provide some of the left-handed power at 1B that Dunn provided. LaRoche has hit 25 home runs for the last three years, and I project him putting up a similar number this year, but his average should dip to around .250 heading into Nationals park. Prospect Danny Espinosa, who is discussed below, will be a pleasant surprise this year. Ian Desmond looks poised for a good year batting in the two hole. He has good speed and his power numbers and OBP should increase steadily in 2011. Desmond will finish the season with 13-15 home runs, 20 stolen bases and a .280/.330/.425 line. 

The Nationals defense ranked 14th in UZR during the 2010 seasoun despite committing a NL-high 127 errors. Defenders like Ryan Zimmerman may commit some errors, but Zimmerman has the best range of any third basemen in the league. Ian Desmond also has some range at SS, but he commits too many errors on routine plays. Adam LaRoche had a good year at 1B in 2010, and is a significant upgrade over Adam Dunn. Pudge is still considered one of the best defensive catchers in the game, and he will be a great mentor to the young Wilson Ramos. Roger Bernadina and Nyjer Morgan would be the best defensive outfield to team with Jayson Werth, whose range is decreasing. Mike Morse and Rick Ankiel are both considered below average.  

BENCH

IF/OF - Jerry Hairston Jr (R)

IF - Alberto Gonzalez (R)

OF - Roger Bernadina (L)/Nyjer Morgan (L)/Rick Ankiel (L)/Mike Morse (R)

C - Wilson Ramos (R)

OF - Matt Stairs (L)   

STARTING ROTATION

RHP - Livan Hernandez

RHP - Jason Marquis 

LHP - John Lannan 

RHP - Jordan Zimmerman 

LHP - Tom Gorzelanny 

Livan Hernandez leads this ragtag group of starters into the 2011 season. Hernandez somehow had an ERA of 3.66 but his 4.76 xFIP tells a different story. His strikeout and groundball numbers didn't improve, but he was able to keep his HR total down. Hernandez uses his experience and knowledge of hitters' tendencies to get outs. He uses an 84 MPH fastball with a slow curveball, mediocre change and slider that do not strike much fear into opposing hitters. Hernandez will eat some precious innings for the Nationals, but don't expect a repeat of those 2010 numbers.

Jason Marquis, who dealt with elbow problems for most of 2010, will slot into the number two spot in the rotation. Marquis is a contact pitcher with a high walk total who had been durable in years past. Like Hernandez, he will be able to eat innings for the club, but he will pitch to an unspectacular mid-four ERA. Marquis uses a little bit of everything including a 90 MPH sinking fastball, slider, curve, cutter and change-up. While none of them are considered above average, his slider would be considered his best pitch. 

John Lannan is another contact pitcher with few strikeouts (4.46/9 innings) and an unimpressive walk total (3.08/9). He uses the standard four pitches, with his change-up being his best pitch. Like Marquis, Lannan should pitch to a mid-fours ERA.

Zimmerman should pitch behind Lannan. I detail his season in the "Breakout Player" section below.

Tom Gorzelanny could have a decent season as the fifth man out of the rotation, but he has been extremely inconsistent throughout his years in the majors. Unlike most of the other starters, Gorzelanny has the ability to record strikeouts and pitch to both right- and left-handed hitters. Gorzelanny does struggle with his command, but his walk totals have not correlated with how well he has pitched during a given year. Gorzelanny won't be making any All-Star teams, but he might be one of the better pitchers on the staff by the time the season ends. 

BULLPEN

RHP - Drew Storen (Closer) 

RHP - Tyler Clippard

LHP - Sean Burnett 

RHP - Henry Rodriguez 

LHP - Doug Slaten 

RHP - Todd Coffee   

RHP - Collin Balester or Craig Stammen 

Many of the Nationals pitchers in the bullpen put up career numbers in 2010 and other scouts don't see them having the same years. I, on the other hand, feel like some of the group may surprise again.

Drew Storen will get an opportunity to close to begin the season. Storen throws a 93-96 MPH fastball, a very good slider and above average curveball. His stuff translates into closing, having 8.47 K/9, and is currently the best Nationals' best option.

Tyler Clippard might get some save opportunities if Storen struggles early on. He has posted some impressive strikeout rates over the last two years, while overcoming a high walk total. Some aren't as high on Clippard as I am, and I think he will establish himself as one of the better relievers in baseball.

Sean Burnett has established himself as an effective left-handed set-up man over the last two years. Burnett is tough on lefties with his 91 MPH fastball and tough slider, but can handle righties with his decent change. 

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Henry Rodriguez, acquired from Oakland, averages 99 MPH on his fastball. Rodriguez might have some command problems, but he is a solid option in the sixth inning because of his strikeout ability.

Todd Coffee is another right-handed option in the middle innings who can get right-handed hitters out and provide some groundballs. Doug Slaten, who had a career year in 2010, is the other left-handed specialist. Slaten could be ticketed for a rough year after benefiting from a low BABIP last year. Colin Balester or Craig Stammen will battle it out in the spring for the long-reliever spot. 

NOTABLE NON ROSTER INVITEES

RHP - Chad Gaudin 

RHP - Luis Atliano 

LHP - Matt Chico 

RHP - JD Martin 

RHP - Shairon Martis 

IF - Alex Cora (L)

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

OF - Laynce Nix (L)

OF - Matt Stairs (L)

OF - Johnathan Van Every (L)

BREAKOUT PLAYER- Jordan Zimmerman

Jordan Zimmerman was having a nice rookie season in 2009 until he was ticketed for Tommy John surgery in August. Zimmerman returned last year and strung together some impressive starts at the end of the season. He will turn out to be the Nationals' best pitcher this season, but the Nationals will be cautious with his innings. Zimmerman features a mid-90s fastball, a plus slider, curve and average change up. He gets a lot of swings and misses on his breaking balls which should lead him to strikeout around 8 per 9 innings. Zimmerman has good command for a 24-year-old and should walk a little less than three per 9 innings. His xFIP should be somewhere in the low 4s translating into an ERA around 3.70-3.90. 

PROSPECT TO WATCH NOT NAMED BRYCE HARPER- 2B Danny Espinosa (S)

Espinosa should be a pleasant surprise to Nationals fans. Espinosa has some pop in his bat, and some are projecting him to hit 20 HRs this season. He has some speed, but he strikes out too much to hit for a high average. I say he hits 15 HRs, steals 20 and puts up a line close to .250/.320/.420. Espinosa came up as a shortstop, and should handle 2B very well. 

PROJECTED FINISH- 4th in NL East

The Nationals will be in a competitive race with the Mets to see who will finish last in the NL East. While the Nationals' starting pitching is some of the worst in baseball, the offense will score runs and the bullpen has a chance to be effective. Certain players like Danny Espinosa will impress and should allow the Nationals to finish ahead of the Mets in the division and could entertain the possibility of a .500 season. If Nationals fans are lucky, they could hope to see Strasburg take the mound sometime late in the season. Hope is a dangerous word. 

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