2010 Outlook: The Nationals – 4th Place Or Bust

The Washington Nationals lost 103 games last season.  It would have been worse had they not been saved by a season ending seven game winning streak.  Their pitching was in chaos all season long.  Relief pitchers blew 25 saves during the season.  They had only one starter who made more than 19 starts.

They have made several moves this winter, mostly investing in pitching.  It’s a safe prediction that they will improve from last year’s 103 loss season.

Starting Pitching: If you can say one positive thing about the Nats starting pitching last year, it was John Lannan, 25 years old, who in 33 starts pitched over 200 innings. He was 9-13 but with an excellent 3.88 ERA.  He will return as their #1 starting pitcher.  Jason Marquis, their big free agent signing should be their #2.  Otherwise all you can say is that they have several young starters with potential.  Ross Detwiler, Garrett Mock, JD Martin, Craig Stammen, and Shairon Martis were all rookies last year and will compete for the other starting spots.  Top rookie Jordan Zimmermann (no relation to Ryan Zimmerman), will miss the entire 2010 season due to elbow surgery.  Phenom Stephen Stasburg  may enter the fray but might very well start the season in the minors.

Relief Pitching: Free agent signings Matt Capps and Brian  Bruney will compete for the closer roll.    However, neither is a sure bet.  Capps pitched to a 5.80 ERA for the Pirates, and Bruney, formerly a Yankee, was injured for half the season and mostly ineffective upon his return. The Nats are hopeful that rookie Drew Storen can quickly step up and contribute.  He was the 10th overall pick in last year’s draft and is projected to be the closer of the future.

Offense: Although their greatest strength was their offense, it still ranked in the bottom half in most categories.  Adam Dunn, Ryan Zimmerman and Josh Willingham had outstanding seasons and will return for 2010.  Christian Guzman may move to 2B to make room for SS Ian Desmond.  Nyjer Morgan and Elijah Dukes will be counted on as well as catcher Jesus Flores who was injured for most of last season.  The Nats have made no major moves this off season to improve their offense, unless you count signing aging catcher Ivan Rodriguez.

Opinion: Upon analyzing the Nationals, they don’t seem to be that much better than the 103 loss season of last year.  Other than Jason Marquis and the two new suspect relief pitchers, they have not added anything of substance.  Offensively, they will be relying totally on Dunn, Zimmerman and  Willingham to repeat their great seasons of 2009.

The one thing that is unarguable is that the Nationals are a very young team.  Twenty two to twenty seven year olds rule.  If Strasburg develops quickly and one or two of their other young pitchers contributes, all bets are off and the Nationals will be much improved.

The Nationals hit rock bottom last year and are now on the rise.  They may be only a couple of years away from being contenders in the NL East.  At least for 2010 Mets fans need not be concerned about falling behind the Nationals.

Prediction:  Wins – 69  Losses – 93