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The Washington Nationals Will Turn the Corner Sooner Than Expected

Farid RushdiAnalyst ISeptember 13, 2009

VIERA, FL - FEBRUARY 21:  Ian Desmond #76 of the Washington Nationals poses during photo day at Roger Dean Stadium on February 21, 2009 in Viera, Florida.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

The Washington Nationals are on a pace to finish the season at 56-106, four games worse than last year’s woeful effort.

Their wish list for next year, however, is not nearly as long as their record would suggest.

They are set with quality major leaguers at catcher (Jesus Flores), first base (Adam Dunn), shortstop (Cristian Guzman), third base (Ryan Zimmerman), left field (Josh Willingham), and center field (Nyjer Morgan) .

Second is a problem and right field could be if Elijah Dukes doesn’t continue to mature. That said, had Dukes played regularly this year, he would have been on pace to hit .260-15-97, certainly good enough for a six-place hitter.

Really, if the Nationals upgrade second base—or move Guzman to second and find a new short stop—the offense will be just fine.

The bullpen, once the worst in major league baseball, has also become at least major league average, maybe a little bit better.

Mike MacDougal (1-0, 2.72), Sean Burnett (1-1, 2.62), Tyler Clippard (2-2, 3.02) and Ron Villone (4-5, 4.20) are four quality arms that should return in 2010. Add Drew Storen, who was an unbelievable 2-1, 1.95 in 37 innings with 49 strikeouts and just 8 walks, and the Nationals are only one or two arms short of having a great bullpen.

Mike Rizzo said late this week that there were many quality starting pitchers who will be available this offseason, and while he couldn’t say who, he did say the Nationals would sign one of them.

Livan Hernandez (1-2, 4.50), who has had three solid outings in his four starts with the Nationals, will probably be back next year. So the team can likely count on the free agent signing, Hernandez and John Lannan to fill the first three spots in the team’s rotation.

Garrett Mock (4.72 ERA as a starter), J.D. Martin (4-4, 4.29), and Craig Stammen (4-7, 5.11) have all shown enough to warrant a second year in the team’s rotation.

Stephen Strasburg will probably join the team for good sometime around the 2010 all-star break, and Jordan Zimmermann should be well enough to start a few games in late September.

The rotation, at least by year's end, should be fine.

So here is what we could expect the offense to produce next season:

CF: Nyjer Morgan—.285-4-50, 50 steals

SS: Cristian Guzman—.280-8-56

3B: Ryan Zimmerman—.285-30-100

1B: Adam Dunn—.270-40-120

LF: Josh Willingham—.270-25-85

RF: Elijah Dukes—.270-20-75

 C: Jesus Flores—.270-16-60

2B: XXXXXXXXX

If these starters can remain healthy, the Nationals can do one of two things with the middle infield. They can move Guzman to second and find a defensive specialist to play short, or keep Guzman at short and acquire a second baseman through free agency or via a trade.

Depending on which starting pitcher Mike Rizzo signs this winter—I’d guess it would be someone like Randy Wolfe—the Nationals could win an additional 23-28 games in 2010. I understand that is a stretch, but this team isn’t as bad as its record.

I’m not suggesting that the Nationals will be in a hunt for the playoffs next year, but neither will they be a laughingstock. The corner is about to be turned.

Really.

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