Weaknesses Being Exposed for Every MLB Team in Spring Training

Doug Mead@@Sports_A_HolicCorrespondent IMarch 8, 2013

Weaknesses Being Exposed for Every MLB Team in Spring Training

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    During the offseason, each MLB team worked to shore up its roster, with the thought of strengthening areas of weakness.

    Spring training is a time to gauge whether those weaknesses were properly addressed.

    It's early yet, with each team completing roughly a third of scheduled exhibition games. Managers and coaches are still going through the process of assessing their rosters and determining the best fixes for any possible deficiencies.

    Here is a look at each MLB team's weakness that has been exposed early in spring training.

Arizona Diamondbacks: None

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    The Arizona Diamondbacks acquired shortstop prospect Didi Gregorius from the Cincinnati Reds during the offseason, hoping that he would become the long-term solution following the departure of Stephen Drew.

    Gregorius, however, injured his right elbow shortly after the trade and just recently began playing catch once again. He will likely start the season on the disabled list and be dispatched to the minors upon his return.

    That left the D-Backs with a collection of shortstops who were generally not considered to be everyday solutions. However, based upon early returns, the quartet is covering the position quite nicely.

    Cliff Pennington, Willie Bloomquist, John McDonald and Josh Wilson are hitting a combined .397 in the first 10 games of Cactus League.

    That's hardly exposing a weakness.

    The D-Backs are performing well, giving fans hope that maybe deficiencies in the roster were dealt with properly by general manager Kevin Towers.

Atlanta Braves: Second Base

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    The Atlanta Braves have to be worried second baseman Dan Uggla, not to mention possible backups.

    Uggla, who hit just .220 last season with a career-low 19 home runs, is off to a miserable start in spring training. Uggla was hitting just .130 as of Tuesday with 12 strikeouts in 27 plate appearances.

    Backup Blake DeWitt was hitting a paltry .188 and young prospect Elmer Reyes is 0-for-10.

    Uggla is known as a player who works hard and has earned the respect of his teammates. But considering he's owed $39 million for the next three seasons, his efforts thus far are certainly a cause for concern.

Baltimore Orioles: Fifth Starter

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    Barring injuries, the Baltimore Orioles will likely feature Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman as their top four starters.

    The battle for the fifth spot in the rotation has yet to see anyone establish himself as a front-runner.

    Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta, Steve Johnson, Jair Jurrjens, Brian Matusz and T.J. McFarland are battling for the coveted role. Britton seems to have the early edge, posting a 3.00 ERA in two outings, followed by Johnson with a 3.60 ERA in three outings.

    Jurrjens might be pitching his way out of contention with a 9.53 ERA in three outings. McFarland, a Rule 5 pickup, could be returned to the Cleveland Indians if he doesn't vastly improve on his spring ERA of 11.57.

    Prospect Dylan Bundy could be the dark horse. While the Orioles want to protect their top pitching prospect, he has yet to allow a run in Grapefruit League this spring.

    The Orioles definitely have pitching depth. But it's the quality of that depth that is in question.

Boston Red Sox: Outfield Depth

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    The Boston Red Sox acquired outfielders Shane Victorino and Jonny Gomes during the offseason to address a serious need in their outfield.

    However, with Ryan Kalish likely lost for at least the first two months of the regular season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum, outfield depth for the Red Sox is definitely an issue.

    Early returns from spring training magnifies that concern.

    Daniel Nava and Drew Sutton are both hitting just .200, Ryan Sweeney a paltry .211. Even regular right-fielder Shane Victorino was without a hit before leaving to play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.

    General manager Ben Cherington might have to come up with some answers before long.

Chicago Cubs: Starting Pitching Depth

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    With Matt Garza likely out until late April, the Chicago Cubs' starting rotation has taken a hit. Not completely loaded with depth, the Cubs' early returns haven't been encouraging.

    Jeff Samardzija, Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood have pitched effectively, but the same can't be said for Scott Feldman and Carlos Villanueva.

    Feldman has allowed five runs on eight hits in four innings, and Villanueva three runs on five hits in 3.2 innings.

    Scott Baker is progressing in his rehab from Tommy John surgery, but likely won't be ready until mid-April.

    If all the stars align, Garza and Baker will return in mid-to-late April, giving the Cubs a full complement of starters, with Wood and Villanueva serving as options.

    But since when do stars actually align for the Cubs?

Chicago White Sox: Infield Depth

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    The Chicago White Sox added Jeff Keppinger over the offseason, presumably to replace Kevin Youkilis at third base.

    But third baseman Brent Morel is still with the White Sox. He is also looking to get back into the starting lineup after suffering a herniated disc in his back last year that shortened his season.

    The White Sox also have Angel Sanchez, a Rule 5 pickup from the Los Angeles Angels.

    Thus far, Morel is hitting just .190 in his attempt to return, while Sanchez has hit at a .273 clip.

    The White Sox regular infield as it stands now would be Paul Koneroko at first, Gordon Beckham at second, Alexei Ramirez at short and Keppinger at third.

    The White Sox do have flexibility—Keppinger can play all over the infield, Sanchez can cover short, second and third, while Morel has also been taking reps at short to increase his chances of making the team.

    If Morel continues to struggle at the plate, the White Sox will have compromised their infield depth. Sanchez has exactly one home run in his three-plus years in the majors, while Morel has a .230 career average.

Cincinnati Reds: Outfield Defense

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    The Cincinnati Reds have a potent outfield with Ryan Ludwick, Shin-Soo Choo and Jay Bruce.

    Offensively, that is.

    Defensively, they may be one of the worst in the majors.

    In terms of UZR, FanGraphs.com ranked Choo as the second-worst defender among all qualified outfielders with a -17.0 rating.

    And that was in right field. Now, making the move to center field and its more expansive real estate, Choo will leave the Reds exposed.

    Ludwick's UZR rating last year was -4.7 while Bruce's was -5.5. No other outfield combination was worse in 2012.

    While the Reds definitely upgraded with Choo taking over at the top of their batting order, their outfield defense will be compromised in a major way. Look for teams to do whatever they can to take advantage of that.

Cleveland Indians: Starting Rotation

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    Despite all the acquisitions made by the Cleveland Indians over the offseason, one thing is still clear—their starting rotation is a major question mark.

    Ubaldo Jimenez bounced back from a rough start to post four strong innings against the San Francisco Giants on Thursday, allowing just one run on three hits while striking out two. The most important stat of the day, however, was no walks.

    Given that Jimenez issued 95 free passes last year and threw a league-leading 16 wild pitches, that was certainly an encouraging sign.

    Justin Masterson has also looked solid, as has Brett Myers. Daisuke Matsuzaka, bidding for the fifth spot in the rotation, has also looked sharp, posting a 2.57 ERA in three appearances.

    However, depth is not considered the strong suit of Cleveland's rotation. Early on, that depth is being tested. Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco have both looked shaky, Kluber posting a 6.43 ERA in three outings and Carrasco allowing six runs on eight hits in four innings. Even Zach McAllister is off to a slow start, allowing five runs on eight hits in seven innings of work.

    It's obviously way too early to make assumptions about the Indians' rotation. But early returns suggest that experts who believe the Indians' pitching staff can't keep up with the Tigers and Royals in the AL Central might have a valid point.

Colorado Rockies: Starting Rotation

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    Just who will occupy the five spots in the starting rotation is the big mystery for the Colorado Rockies during spring training.

    Jorge De La Rosa is one of the biggest concerns. De La Rosa underwent Tommy John surgery in June 2011, returning to make three late-season starts last year. He has been a bit shaky this spring, with a 7.36 ERA in two outings, allowing three runs on four hits with four walks in 3.2 innings.

    Jhoulys Chacin is now pitching for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, and he too missed extensive time with injuries last year, making only 14 starts. Juan Nicasio is trying to redevelop plate command after an injury-filled 2012 season as well.

    Chris Volstad, Jeff Francis, Drew Pomeranz and Christian Friedrich are all vying for spots as well, although Friedrich has yet to throw a pitch due to back and neck issues.

    Walt Weiss will have his hands full constructing a rotation that can keep his team in games this season. Given the incomplete results thus far, it could be a day-to-day venture.

Detroit Tigers: Closer

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    So far, Bruce Rondon hasn't done anything to convince the Detroit Tigers that he's capable of replacing Jose Valverde as their closer.

    In fact, after posting a 7.36 ERA in his first four appearances with five walks in 3.2 innings, the Tigers have held Rondon out of game action and had him work with pitching coach Jeff Jones on the side.

    Rondon is scheduled to pitch against the New York Yankees on Friday. His next few appearances will go a long way toward deciding the fate of the back end of the Tigers' bullpen.

Houston Astros: Inexperience in Pitching Staff

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    In Monday's Grapefruit League game against the Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros pitchers walked nine batters while throwing 184 pitches in eight innings. The biggest issue was plate command—only seven Tigers batters saw first-pitch strikes.

    Astros pitching coach Doug Brocail addressed that issue following the game, telling Brian McTaggart of MLB.com:

    My theory is one of the first two pitches have to be a strike. We just need to get out there. Guys are in their third times through [the rotation] and are probably going to go through a little bit of a dead-arm phase right now. Hopefully, that's what it is. If it's not, we need to buckle down and start throwing more strikes and trust our stuff and attack the hitters.

    The Astros staff allowed 540 walks last season, the third most in the National League.

Kansas City Royals: Second Base

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    It's hard to show a weakness when your record sits at 11-1-1 after two weeks of exhibition games.

    The Kansas City Royals lost their first game in the Cactus League on Thursday, falling to the Seattle Mariners.

    Thus far, about the only Royals' blemish is at second base. In the battle between Chris Getz, Johnny Giavotella and Irving Falu, no one has separated himself with his early efforts.

    The trio is hitting a combined .226 with one home run and five RBI. Getz has the slight edge with a .238 average.

    Manager Ned Yost is likely no closer now to making a decision than he was at the beginning of spring training.

Los Angeles Angels: Rotation Depth

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    Thus far, everything is going well for the five starters in the Los Angeles Angels' starting rotation. The same can't be said about almost anyone beyond that, however.

    Only Garrett Richards has pitched well, posting a 2.25 ERA in his three appearances.

    Jerome Williams has struggled with an 11.25 ERA in two appearances, also allowing two runs in three innings in an exhibition game against Italy. Barry Enright has allowed four runs on eight hits in just 2.2 innings. Enright also struggled against Italy, giving up two runs on five hits in two innings.

    And Nick Maronde, who worked in relief last year for the Angels in September, has yet to impress in any way, posting an ugly 17.18 ERA in his three outings.

    Any injuries to the starting rotation could lead to trouble for the Angels down the road.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Rotation Depth

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    The top four starters for the Los Angeles Dodgers are pretty much set in stone with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett and Hyun-Jin Ryu.

    The final spot is a battle between Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano, Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly.

    Lilly has just one appearance this spring, giving up one run in two innings of work. Billingsley looked better in his outing against the Texas Rangers on Thursday, giving up one earned run on two hits in 3.1 innings.

    Capuano and Harang have both struggled, posting ERAs greater than 9.00 thus far.

    The Dodgers on paper are strong throughout their roster, but they will need stability from that final spot in the rotation. Billingsley's elbow will continue to be a concern. But he has reported no issues after taking a conservative recovery approach rather than risk missing up to a year with Tommy John surgery.

Miami Marlins: Shortstop

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    The Miami Marlins have little depth at shortstop, and that has already been somewhat exposed during spring training.

    Adeiny Hechavarria is penciled in as the starter, but he is hitting just .188.

    The Marlins don't have another natural shortstop on the roster, so they may be in a sink-or-swim situation while they figure out whether Hechavarria can hit at the major league level.

Milwaukee Brewers: Back End of Bullpen

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    Closer John Axford had a disappointing 2012 season after leading the National League with 46 saves in 2011. Axford saved 35 games but also posted an ugly 4.67 ERA with nine blown saves in 2012.

    Before leaving to play for Canada in the World Baseball Classic, Axford was off to a rocky start this spring as well. He posted a 13.50 ERA in three appearances, allowing four runs on four hits in 2.2 innings.

    Axford is one of the few returning members of last year's bullpen, which posted a league-worst 4.66 ERA. Axford also earned a significant raise ($5 million), so he'll need to be part of the solution in 2013, not part of the problem.

Minnesota Twins: Starting Pitching

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    The unit that hurt the Minnesota Twins the most last season during their 96-loss season was without question their starting pitching. It was a unit that general manager Terry Ryan was determined to address this offseason

    Ryan did just that, acquiring Vance Worley, Mike Pelfrey, Kevin Correia and Rich Harden.

    Thus far, the trio of Worley, Pelfrey and Correia have combined for a 6.46 ERA this spring. Harden has yet to take the mound.

    Harden is coming off shoulder surgery, Pelfrey from Tommy John surgery. Scott Diamond is also on the mend after having bone chips removed from his elbow in December. He's not slated to pitch until March 18.

    Already, the Twins are having rotation issues even after undergoing a makeover.

New York Mets: Outfield

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    If the experts had reason for concern about the quality of the starting outfield for the New York Mets, they have even more issues about it now.

    The Mets have an outfield penciled in with Lucas Duda in left, Kirk Nieuwenhuis in center and Mike Baxter in right.

    So far in Grapefruit League play, the trio is hitting a combined .113 with one home run and two RBI.

    Ouch.

New York Yankees: Depth

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    The New York Yankees will be without the services of Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and possibly Phil Hughes to start the season.

    They're also hoping that Derek Jeter, who has yet to play in spring training, will be ready in time for Opening Day.

    Kevin Youkilis, penciled in to replace Rodriguez at third, could now be making his way to first base, at least for the first month of the season.

    Heck, even general manager Brian Cashman is disabled after a skydiving mishap.

    The spring couldn't have started much worse for the Yankees.

    Their depth will be sorely tested, at least for the first month of the regular season. The Yankees will just be trying to hang on until Granderson and Teixeira can make their way back.

    With all of the power the Yankees lost during the regular season, it's an offense that will be sorely challenged to score runs.

Oakland Athletics: Third Base

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    The Oakland A's have Josh Donaldson penciled in as their starting third baseman. They also have Scott Sizemore returning after missing the entire 2012 season.

    The duo has combined to hit just .118 with two RBI this spring.

    The A's have infield depth with the addition of Jed Lowrie. Lowrie played 33 games at third for the Boston Red Sox in 2011.

    If Donaldson and Sizemore continue slumping through the rest of this month, manager Bob Melvin may consider putting Lowrie back at third, using Adam Rosales, Jemile Weeks, Erik Sogard and Sizemore as fill-ins at second base.

    A myriad of options are available for Melvin, but he would much rather have a set plan with reliable hitters at this point.

Philadelphia Phillies: Outfield Depth

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    The Philadelphia Phillies have had a smooth spring training thus far. The starting rotation, bullpen and starting lineup have all clicked and, most importantly, remained in good health.

    Outfield depth could be an issue, however. With Delmon Young not expected back until mid-to-late April, John Mayberry has stepped up as the possible replacement in left field. Mayberry is hitting .281 with one home run and five RBI.

    Darin Ruf and Laynce Nix are hitting a combined .156, not what manager Charlie Manuel would have liked to have seen in early exhibition games.

    Mayberry, Ben Revere and Domonic Brown appear to be the current starting outfield for the Phillies. If Young's rehab is delayed in any way, depth will definitely be an issue if Ruf and Nix fail to show they're up for the task.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Third Base

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    Pedro Alvarez joined the 30-home run club last year for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but there are still concerns about his plate discipline.

    Alvarez posted a 30.7 percent strikeout rate last season. Backup Josh Harrison drew just 10 walks against 37 whiffs last year as well.

    During spring training, the two have combined to hit just .071. Alvarez can be a great complement to Andrew McCutchen in the Pirates' lineup, but they also need Alvarez to be more patient at the plate to provide even better protection.

    Harrison can play multiple positions, always a plus for any team. But he too needs to have a better plan of attack at the plate.

San Diego Padres: Pitching Strength

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    The San Diego Padres have played 14 games in Cactus League play, posting a team ERA of 5.31.

    There are 13 teams with an ERA above 5.00 this spring, so the Padres are in good company. But with the fences moving in at Petco Park this season, combined with the fact the team essentially did nothing to upgrade its pitching staff, it's nonetheless a bit disconcerting.

    The Padres will be without the bat of Yasmani Grandal for the first 50 games, taking a major hit offensively. With a shortened real estate at their home ballpark, the entire Padres staff will be challenged more than ever to help keep their team competitive.

    In a division that's seen the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks active in making upgrades, the Padres will be challenged to keep up. With less of an advantage at Petco Park, Padres' management will certainly get an indication of the strength, or weakness, of its pitching staff.

San Francisco Giants: Rotation Depth

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    For the San Francisco Giants, depth is a major concern. If any of the Giants' starters fall, there is little help on the horizon. Venezuelan-born Yusmeiro Petit made one start last year, but he isn't viewed as a long-term solution as a starter.

    Petit has looked sharp, offering up two scoreless outings this spring.

    The Giants have three terrific prospects in Kyle Crick, Chris Stratton and Clayton Blackburn. However, they aren't expected to have impact at the major league level until mid-2014 at the earliest.

    Eric Surkamp is lost for most of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in late July.

    General manager Brian Sabean will have to keep his cellphone at the ready should any of his starters fail to stay healthy through the entire season.

Seattle Mariners: Rotation Depth

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    It's starting to sound like a broken record, but rotation depth is a concern for several teams on this list.

    The Seattle Mariners have two outstanding young pitching prospects in Danny Hultzen and Taijuan Walker, but the last thing the Mariners want to do is rush either of them at this point. Hultzen appears to be sailing through spring training, throwing three scoreless innings in two appearances with six strikeouts.

    Whether the Mariners are prepared to throw him out there for a full major league season remains to be seen.

    Blake Beavan, Erasmo Ramirez, Jeremy Bonderman and Hector Noesi are the other candidates for the final rotation spots. Ramirez has looked excellent with three scoreless innings, but the other three have had their struggles.

    Any combination of that quartet needs to hold down the fort while Hultzen and/or Walker are ready to take their place in the rotation. With the fences moving in at Safeco Field, they'll also need to have solid command of their secondary pitches and keep the ball down in the zone.

St. Louis Cardinals: Shortstop

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    The one big hole that was a concern for the St. Louis Cardinals just got exposed big time.

    With the news that shortstop Rafael Furcal will be lost for the season with upcoming elbow ligament replacement surgery, the Cardinals will be counting on Pete Kozma and Ronny Cedeno to fill the void.

    Both can capably fill the position, but neither can fill Furcal's position at the top of the batting order.

    Daniel Descalso could also move over to short if Matt Carpenter is ready defensively to take over at second base.

    Kozma has been raking in Grapefruit League games, hitting .429 with two home runs and five RBI. He also filled in more than capably when Furcal was lost for the season last year.

    Nonetheless, it's a blow for manager Mike Matheny, who will now have to remake his batting order to come up with a leadoff option.

Tampa Bay Rays: Offense Behind the Plate

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    One of the concerns for the Tampa Bay Rays heading into spring training was a lack of offense behind the plate. Catchers last year for the Rays combined to hit just .227 with 11 home runs and 59 RBI.

    It's still a concern through early exhibition games as well.

    Backup Chris Gimenez has offered a glimmer of hope, leading the Rays with a .500 batting average this spring. However, he's hit just .199 in four seasons in the majors,  although he did hit .260 for the Rays last year in limited action.

    Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton have combined to hit .208 with just three RBI.

    Maybe the Rays should consider moving prospect Wil Myers back behind the plate again.

Texas Rangers: Bench Depth

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    With the loss of Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Michael Young, the Texas Rangers will likely use two former bench contributors to help replace some of the offense.

    David Murphy, who thrived in a utility role for years in Texas, will now take over full time in left field. Leonys Martin will likely see quite a bit of action in center field as well, with Craig Gentry getting looks in the outfield from time to time.

    Youngsters Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt, both of whom made their major league debuts last year in late season call-ups, have largely been expected to help fill the offensive void. However, both have struggled in spring training, hitting just .174 with 15 strikeouts between them.

    Bench depth is certainly a concern for the Rangers as they try to keep pace with the Oakland A's and Los Angeles Angels in the AL West.

Toronto Blue Jays: Bullpen

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    The Toronto Blue Jays rebuilt virtually their entire roster over the offseason, but they still have concerns about their bullpen as spring training rolls on.

    Sergio Santos, who missed the bulk of last season with arm issues, has experienced a sore triceps in recent days. An MRI revealed no structural damage, but he'll be held out until next week.

    Closer Casey Janssen, working his way back from offseason surgery, has yet to throw to live hitters. The Jays expect Janssen to be ready for Opening Day.

    Dustin McGowan hasn't pitched since 2011, and he's trying to make the team as a middle reliever. McGowan was recently cleared to resume his throwing program as he tries to work his way back from shoulder surgery.

    The Blue Jays need both Janssen and Santos in the back end of their bullpen. Otherwise, general manager Alex Anthopoulos may have to do more creative shopping.

Washington Nationals: None

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    So far, so good for the Washington Nationals.

    One of the favorites to contend for a World Series title, it's been pretty smooth sailing for the Nationals in spring training. They've had no major injury concerns and no terrible slumps from anyone through their first 10 exhibition games.

    Manager Davey Johnson likely has his fingers crossed as his Nats continue to try to form a cohesive unit and begin defense of their NL East title.

    Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.