Tuesday, March 31, 2009

NL East Preview: Washington Nationals

Prediction: Washington Nationals: 5th place finish

Strengths: The Nationals have the potential to have a pretty good line-up. First baseman Nick Johnson, and outfielders Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham are all middle of the order hitters that have power and on-base ability. These veteran players are supplemented by the Nationals talented young core, led by third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, and outfielders Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes. Zimmerman, already one of the best defensive third baseman in the league, has the ability to be an offensive force as well and should hit between 25-30 home runs with a high average. Washington also has a number of talented young arms with a lot of upside.

Weaknesses: The Nationals biggest weakness is their inability to stay healthy. Johnson should be their best offensive player but since he has missed a year and a half of the last two seasons isn't being counted on as a big run producer. Last season every starter but shortstop Christian Guzman spent time on the disabled list, and Guzman still missed 24 games throughout the season. Another area of concern is the fact that the Nationals have four starting caliber outfielders for only three positions. This could lead to unrest in the locker room and could necessitate a trade. Defense was a major problem for the Nationals last season as only Zimmerman and Johnson are considered good defensively. Though the Nats have a number of talented young arms in the rotation, none of them are proven as a sure thing. Washington's bullpen is a major red flag even after the free agent addition of Joe Biemel.

Farm Aid: Two of the Nationals young starters will be a pair of 22 year old rookies, right handers Shairon Martis and Jordan Zimmermann. Zimmermann is top young pitcher and could in all likelihood be the Nationals ace this season. Martis doesn't have as big an upside as Zimmermann but can still be a very solid starter. Unfortunately beyond those two starters the Nationals don't have much else in the way of help from the farm.

Outlook: Given the deficiencies on defense and in the bullpen, along with the injury concerns and an unproven rotation the Nationals will likely spend another year in the cellar of the NL East.

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