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Team Preview - Washington Nationals

While the National fans wait for Strasburg and his golden arm to show up, the rest of the team is not laying down for anyone in 2010.  Just like the Dodgers, the Nats are getting it done with offense as their pitching has been as bad as expected. Also like the Dodgers that offense has been good  enough to keep them right at .500 baseball.  Could be another high scoring series unless Kershaw / Billingsley pitch to the level we had hoped for.

Their offense starts with Ryan Zimmerman, but the other two players who are playing a major part are probably a big surprise to those who don't follow the team. The everyday left fielder Josh Willingham has been a good hitter in the past, in 2010, he's been one of the best hitters in the NL. The other hitter who is helping to fuel this offense is none other then Pudge Rodriguez whom you could not be blamed for thinking he'd retired.  The one hitter who you would have expected to be helping the offense has actually been an anchor. He's the guy so many want to play 1st base for us instead of James Loney.

The pitching is at the bottom of the NL in xFIP at 5.11. At the bottom of the K/Rate with 5.86. At the bottom with a walk rate of 4.64. Actually not really at the bottom, they are 14th. Some team called the Los Angeles Dodgers is in last at 4.94. They have a team WHIP of 1.65 which is at the bottom. Hard to say to much about the Nat pitching because ours sucks just as bad. The difference is we have the pitchers to get better, I'm not sure they do. At least not the guys on the current 25 man roster.

The Dodgers might miss the great Zimmerman as he is day to day. Hopefully that day is Monday.


Notable Losses: Elijah Dukes

Notable Additions: Jason Marquis, Ivan Rodriguez, Ian Desmond, Adam Kennedy, Matt Capps

Old Friends: None

Position Breakdown

1st Base- Adam Dunn was mercifully  pulled from LF, and placed at 1st base for 2010. Adam Dunn can mash but he is not mashing in 2010. While he's dropped his K rate below 25% for the first time, he has only one home run after 62 plate appearances. This is a man who lofted over 240 home runs in the last six years. One of my all time favorite stats came to an end last year when Dunn was unable to hit exactly 40 home runs for the fifth year in a row and had to settle for 38.  So while the Nationals offense is in high gear it is not because of Dunn but in spite of his slow start. Let's hope he continues in his early season slump for another three games. .191/.387/.319. This may be the last time you see Dunn with a slug% almost 100 points below his OB.

2nd Base- A year ago Adam Kennedy was trying to work his way back to the major leagues. Luckily he found a home in Oakland where he resurrected his career. Signed as a free agent he is now their starting 2nd baseman. Back in his Angel days he was an above average defender but  those days are gone. Somehow Kennedy found his bat in Oakland, and posted his best offensive numbers since 2002. Not many expected that to continue and so far he has regressed back to the hitter that was released by the Cardinals last year. .237/.318/.316 - Strange trend that the 1st and 2nd baseman both have a slug% below the OB.

SS - Ian Desmond won the job during the spring, but this seems to be a job share at the moment as Christian Guzman was not ready to give up the ghost.  I'm not sure which one will play this weekend, Guzman is red hot with the bat so he could easily find himself in the lineup. If not then Ian Desmond will get the call. Desmond is a rookie who has some tools and should be the Nat SS for the next few years. The Baseball HQ scouting report:

Took as big a step forward as any prospect in the system in 09. Fluid athlete rates as one of the better defensive shortstops in the minors with his plus arm, soft/quick hands, and range. Below average speed doesn’t hinder ability to steal or take extra base. Possesses moderate power, and showed improved contact ability which resulted in a BA over .300 all year.

At the moment Desmond is doing more with the bat because of the OB skills but Guzman has the exciting average.

3rd Base -Ryan Zimmerman plays in the shadows of David Wright, but Zimmerman is too good to play in anyone shadows.  Zimmerman can play circles around Wright when it comes too defense, and his offense might be just as good.  Zimmerman posted a wOBA of .377 in 2009,  and he's not slowing down in 2010. In a league full of good 3rd baseman, Zimmerman might be the most complete. He'll steal a few hits from us this weekend while doing some damage from the clean up slot. Or hopefully he simply won't play, which is good for Dodger fans but bad for those of us who wanted to see Zimmerman play.

C - I thought Pudge was done. Everyone thought Pudge was done. As we stand here on April 22nd, Pudge is not done. In fact Pudge is a big reason why the Nat offense is doing so well. Hard to believe but Pudge is in the top ten in wOBA sitting in at .467. Of course he has a BABIP of .467 so he's going to regress but even still this hot start came out of the blue.

CF - Center Field belongs to speedster Nyjer Morgan. Everything Nyjer touched last year after he was acquired from the Pirates was golden. So far in 2010 he is still doing what he did in 2009. The BA is down around forty points but that seems to be driven by a lower BABIP then normal.  The OB is soaring due to the increased walk rate which has moved into double digits (12.7%). If he can maintain that walk rate while his BABIP normalizes he could actually touch a .400 OBP, which for a player with his speed would be quite awesome for the Nationals.

LF - Willingham is one of best hitters no one has ever heard of.  He's one of those guys who has hit at every level but never had a position. The Nats finally stuck him into LF, and all he's done is mash his way to the 7th best wOBA in the NL.  He walks, he hits for power, and right now he's also hitting for average. He's been one of my favorite players for a while now, so I'm glad he's getting full time at bats. 

RF -As solid as CF/LF are, RF is a mess right now. The Nats are trying everyone hoping someone will stick. They don't have any good options but Justin Maxwell is probably the best option. Maxwell seems to have won a platoon spot so we will see him against Kershaw. Maxwell has speed and power but the 27 year old journeyman outfielder just doesn't seem to have enough contact ability to keep a full time gig.  When Maxwell is not playing, Willie Harris is. Willie Harris is a great bench player but if Willie Harris is your starting RF, you are doing the other teams pitching staff a favor. It is to bad Dukes didnt pan out because this should have been his spot for the next several years.

Bench - The rest of the team rounds out with Will Nieves(Backup Catcher), Alberto Gonzalez, Wily Taveras, and Mike Morse. If Zimmerman cannot play, then Alberto Gonzalez will be playing 3rd. That would be like replacing Matt Kemp with Jamie Hoffman.

On the DL: Mike Morse (15 day DL), Jason Marquis (low self esteem)

Starting Pitching for our Series:

Game One -Luis Atilano -The one time 2003 number one pick of the Braves finally makes his major league debut. Luckily for him he gets to go against the best offense in baseball. Atilano replaced Jason Marquis who went on the DL. Too bad, I love facing Marquis. Atilano was not considered by BaseballHQ to be on the teams top 15 prospects. This was the rotowire scouting report:

Atilano didn't show much at Double-A to warrant his spot on the 40-man roster, but a couple of superficially good starts at Triple-A to end the year may have provided some hope that he'll be able to contribute down the road. The Nationals have had some success in recent seasons with pitchers who rely on defense, but as the organizational depth improves the opportunities for future Craig Stammens (whom Atilano seems to be) should shrink, if not disappear entirely.

More on Atilano from Baseball HQ:

Who is Luis Atilano?

Taking Marquis' place on the roster is Luis Atilano (RHP, WAS), a 24-year-old righty who is going to make his major league debut against the Dodgers Friday. Atilano has spent seven years in the minors, though he was a former 1st-rounder of the Braves in 2003. Last year in 125 IP between AA and AAA, Atilano had a Dom of only 4.7 but a low 2.0 Ctl to give him a decent Cmd of 2.4. So far this year in AAA, over 11 IP he has an improved Dom of 7.4 and an even better Ctl of 1.6. The improved strikeout rate is encouraging, but it is a tiny sample size and very out of place with his history where his dominance is usually in the 4s. The low dominance could prove an issue in the big leagues, but if he can keep his control in such excellent territory, he might have a chance.

Game Two -.Craig Stammen - Rotowire report:

Stammen was the prototypical Nationals pitcher last season, keeping his fringy stuff down in the strike zone just enough to have some degree of success in the majors, if a 5.11 ERA can be called 'success'. To be fair his FIP was only 4.68, but when you live as close to the edge as Stammen, it's hard to see that gap as merely a product of bad luck. Jordan Zimmermann's Tommy John surgery likely keeps him in the rotation picture for one more year, but the organization's pitching depth is improving rapidly and a guy like Stammen will be the first one to get the ax when the kids are ready.

Stammen had one of the worst lines of the year in his 2nd start going one inning and giving up seven runs. He bounced back against the Rockies with an above average start, going eight innings and only giving up two earned runs. He's a soft tosser who relies on his defense.

Game Three - According to Rotowire, Scott Olsen is going to get the call. Olsen was once a top pitching prospect for the Florida Marlins. He ran in drinking trouble, anger issues, and then his plus stuff disappeared. The Rockies made short work of him on Tuesday Night as he was gone by the 3rd inning.

Bullpen: Matt Capps was signed to be the closer and so far he's closing. It is a mad cap adventure to get a lead to him but when they do he gets it done. Ex-Yankee prospect Tyler Clippard has been the best pitcher out of the bullpen so far. In seven  games he's only allowed one earned runs. We should be so lucky. Another ex-Yankee Brian Bruney is another setup man but so far has been ineffective. Sean Burnett(LHP), Tyler Walker, Miguel Batista, and Jesse English (LHP) round out the bullpen. Batista and Walker were once closers but not very good ones. Now they are lousy setup men.

I'd like our chances for a sweep if we didn't have our pitching staff and defense. At this point I'm hoping for two out of three with lots of runs crossing the plate for both teams.

Help on the way:

Strasburg is the big name for the rotation, but Drew Storen another number one pick could help the bullpen. Plus they have Jordan Zimmerman rehabbing from TJ Surgery. No team in baseball probably has as much good help coming this summer. We should be happy we are making this trip in April and not August.