Washington Nationals Playing for a Future Above .500?

Matthew P. ParkerContributor IJune 19, 2011

Washington Nationals Playing for a Future Above .500?

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    Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse Celebrate the Nationals 8th win in a row
    Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse Celebrate the Nationals 8th win in a rowPatrick Smith/Getty Images

    Saturday, June 18, 2011


    After yesterday's win against the Baltimore Orioles, the Washington Nationals are now just one game below .500 and vying for third place in the NL East.

    The Nationals celebrated their eighth-straight victory after yesterday's game and are looking to make it nine in a row as they conclude the Battle of the Beltway today with the Orioles.

    If they win today they will be at .500.

    Here is how the Washington Nationals will rise above their perpetually below-.500 baseball and stay there for the foreseeable future. 

General Manager Mike Rizzo

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    Washington Nationals General Manager with Right Fielder Jayson Werth
    Washington Nationals General Manager with Right Fielder Jayson WerthMitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Washington Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo has proven himself so far, and many like myself appreciate how he runs and builds a team and how he processes decisions on players. 

    Rizzo has a knack for signing hard-nose, blue-collar guys that are going to do what it takes to win. See: Ivan Rodriguez (veteran hardworking, two-decade-rich catcher); Rick Ankiel (pitcher-converted-outfielder, maybe the best athlete in the league); Jayson Werth (hardworking, can bat anywhere in the lineup), Stephen Strasburg (gifted and hardworking, highly hyped pitcher); Bryce Harper (young phenom with Pete Rose-like hustle and grit); and the list goes on.

    But one thing Rizzo needs to do is take precaution to keep his nose clean—and the club’s, for that matter—in and around baseball. 

    After a reported altercation in mid-May with an umpire crew at Citi Field in New York when the National’s lost a close 1-0 ballgame to the Mets, Rizzo needs to keep his head in the front office and not lose it in heated yelling arguments in and around the clubhouse.

    However, the passion and fire Rizzo carries cannot go unnoticed or unwarranted. Rizzo is the spark that runs throughout the organization and will keep the Nationals organization running on the right circuit to success, so maybe this isolated incident was just that: isolated and also necessary. 

Money and Time, Time and Money

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    Ryan Zimmerman back from the disabled list June 14, 2011
    Ryan Zimmerman back from the disabled list June 14, 2011Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    Are the Nationals willing to spend even bigger bucks to keep Ryan Zimmerman after 2013?

    It is a couple of years down the road but the question will come.

    Zimmerman is as solid a third baseman as there is in the game and a perennial All-Star. When he is healthy there is no reason he can’t keep up his numbers for the next five years after 2013. 

    And with upcoming talent around Zimmerman it will be imperative for the Nationals to keep him.

    We all saw stars when Stephen Strasburg debuted, but it was short-lived. We are all hoping Jayson Werth pans out. We are ready to see Bryce Harper now.

    But there is still some time in the growing process for the Nationals to stay at .500 and above and play competitive baseball in the NL East.

    So keeping Zimmerman—the face of the organization—and the appropriate winning pieces around him will be critical to reaching and surpassing .500 ball in the foreseeable future.

Michael Morse Show

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    Mike Morse vs. the New York Mets, June 7 2011
    Mike Morse vs. the New York Mets, June 7 2011Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    With Adam LaRoche going down for the season, a golden opportunity opened up for Mike Morse. 

    The Nationals have high hopes for Morse, but now is his chance to shore up his spot as an everyday player for the Nationals. 

    He has a high upside, according to Rizzo and company, and can play outfield as well but with his long and lean 6’5" frame and big swing he is a prime candidate for first base.

    If he can optimize his time on the corner and keep his production up with his bat he can confidently seize the first base position and possibly secure a long term contract with the Nationals. 

    Since he started playing every day, he’s hitting .350 in his last 100 at bats. 

    If Morse can keep his production in the ball bark of hitting .270 or above and snag 30 homers (or more) this season, he’ll write his ticket in the bigs either in Washington or elsewhere, being a viable trade option.

    Here’s to hoping he can be an everyday first baseman and carry a big bat around Nationals ballpark.

    It's time to shine for Morse.

The Middle Infield: Part 1a Danny Espinosa

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    Danny Espinosa after game winning 3 run blast to successfully sweep the Cardinals on Thursday, June 16
    Danny Espinosa after game winning 3 run blast to successfully sweep the Cardinals on Thursday, June 16Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    Another key to building the Nationals up to an over .500 ball club will be the growth of the middle infield. 

    Danny Espinosa is having a stellar rookie year so far and is just shy of the path to hitting 30 home runs this year. 

    For Espinosa, if he finishes the year batting close to .250 and solidifying a lineup spot at fifth or sixth and close to 30 home runs and 100 RBIs, he will surely bolster the lineup and vie for Rookie of the Year in the National League. 

    Optimism is high for this young second baseman.

The Middle Infield: Part 1b Ian Desmond

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    Ian Desmond ranges to make a play to his left Saturday June 6 vs the Mets
    Ian Desmond ranges to make a play to his left Saturday June 6 vs the MetsJed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    While Ian Desmond’s 11-game hit streak came to an end today and he is only batting .236, he is playing solid defense at short and shoring up the No. 2 hole in the lineup. 

    Desmond's OBP is not staggering but will hopefully come up as the season runs on. But his decision-making and speed combo has him with 20 steals already mid-way through June—tied for third in the National League. 

    His play at short started off a bit sluggish but is now improving; with 65 games under his belt he has only eight errors in 207 attempts (.974 FPCT) —a much-needed improvement from his 34 errors in 382 attempts (.947 FPCT) from short in 2011.  

When Will the Nationals Bring Up Bryce Harper?

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    Bryce Harper October 23, 2010 - Arizona Fall League
    Bryce Harper October 23, 2010 - Arizona Fall LeagueChristian Petersen/Getty Images

    Bryce Harper is already a phenomenon, but for Harper and the Nationals to be a good thing, both parties must wait. 

    Harper is still young and and some will say immature—we saw that with his antics in blowing a kiss to the pitcher in single-A ball June 6. This will scare some, no doubt, but it is the swagger the Nationals need.

    Don’t think Mike Rizzo is not fully aware of the kid's passion and grit for the game.

    It will be best for the Nationals to stick with Harper and let him mature a bit in the minors, bringing him up likely in mid-to-late season in 2012 (maybe later). 

    This is the earliest we will see Harper in a Nationals uniform, and even then it may be too early.  We will have to wait for the golden boy for some time now.

    The question is can the Nationals organization handle two prodigal sons—Strasburg and Harper—or will one inevitably flounder? 

    Only time will tell.