Friday, May 28, 2010

Nationals on the Verge of Greatness

Let me just be clear about something before I get into this post - I said at the beginning of the season that Nats were going to be the most improved team in the Major Leagues this season. Not quite a playoff contender, but certainly around .500. Everybody laughed at me at the time, but so far in the first two months of the season, the Nats aren't making me look like a idiot - a feat that is usually pretty easy to accomplish. The last couple of seasons, I've noticed that this team can actually rake quite a bit, and if they were to just get some solid pitching, they would contend in the NL East. Enter the 2009 Draft. The Washington Nationals selected two incredible power arms in the first round: Stephen Strasburg (San Diego State, #1 overall) and Drew Storen (Stanford #10 overall). Strasburg has been touted as the best raw pitching talent drafted since Dwight Gooden, and Storen dominated as The Cardinal's closer for two seasons. Both pitchers began in AA, breezed through to AAA after about a month, and now both are already making an impact on the big league roster. Storen made his MLB debut last week against the Cardinals and struck out slugger Matt Holliday for his first major league out, and it was recently announced that Strasburg will make his debut against in the June 7-9 series against the Pirates. The Nats have reportedly sold over 60,000 tickets for those three games already, which will be almost a year to the day since Stephen was drafted.

So you already had a solid lineup. Good on-base guys in Nyjer Morgan and Cristian Guzman, big run producers in Zimmerman, Dunn, and Willingham, and perhaps most importantly a veteran backstop in Ivan Rodriguez to guide a Nationals staff that averages about 24 years old, if you exclude the ageless wonder Livan Hernandez - who has been dealing, by the way. Guys like Stammen, Lannon, and Luis Atiliano are finally starting to come into their own with Ivan's and Livan's tutelage. To add to this lineup and their young starting staff, Washington's front office had a productive offseason. Despite giving over $50 million to a guy who's never thrown a pitch in his professional career, the Nationals decided not to just sit on this goldmine in Strasburg and went and acquired the aforementioned Hernandez, Jason Marquis, Chien-Ming Wang, and Matt Capps. Not necessarily good moves on paper, but Hernandez is an innings-eater and has an ERA under 2 and Capps leads the league in saves. You also can't overlook that maybe the best moves the Nats made in the offseason were the guys they released - injury-prone Nick Johnson and perennial clubhouse cancer Elijah Dukes. Incidentally, Johnson is back on the Yankees and is on the DL again and Dukes remains unsigned and is out of baseball.

The bottom line is that Marquis, Wang, and Strasburg have not even thrown a pitch this season yet (Marquis and Wang are injured) and the team is 24-24. When this team is at full strength, I suspect this team will be very good and will make a run at the division title, for this year and for years to come. The scariest part is that the Nats again have the #1 pick in the 2010 draft and will undoubtedly select catcher Bryce Harper out of the College of Southern Nevada, another absolute star in waiting. This kid is being called the "LeBron James of baseball" and was the first high school sophmore ever to be selected as a first-team All-American. If I was a betting man, I'd be putting my money on the Nationals next year.

Brewers 19-28, -8.5 (3 v. Mets, 4 @ Marlins)
Reds 28-20, +0.5 (3 v. Astros, 3 @ Cardinals)
Twins 27-20,
+1.5 (3 v. Rangers, 4 @ Mariners)

Erik - 10
Peter - 9

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