The Washington Nationals have long been the cellar dwellers of the NL East, but this past off-season, they wanted to silence the critics. The Nationals signed Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million contract this past off-season. The contract set a record for the franchise, and more importantly, proved that the Nationals aren’t a punch-line anymore. I had a moment to catch-up with Scott Stewart, the lead blogger for Teddy Never Wins, and ask him five questions about the Washington Nationals 2011 season.
1. Do you think the Nationals offense has improved from last season?
It is still too early to tell but between the off season additions and some of the younger guys having more experience the potential for an improved offense is there.
Of course they still don’t have that Adam Dunn type bat in the lineup (which I miss) but the additions of Werth and LaRoche does give them two proven hitters with a little pop in their bat. Plus having Danny Espinosa for a full season and Wilson Ramos getting more playing time at catcher could be big for them this season.
I’m one of those people that is real big on Danny Espinosa and feel that he could develop in to a future silver slugger type hitter at second base. He definitely has good power for a second baseman and also has plus speed on the base paths so it will be nice to have him in the lineup.
With Ramos it could easily be an upgrade offensively at catcher this year. Last season we saw Pudge get off to a hot start but he lost steam as the season went on which was evident in his first and second half splits
first half- .296 avg, .325 obp, .389 slg
second half- .231 avg, .257 obp, .297 slg
Having a 23 year old Wilson Ramos could go a long way towards helping them especially in the second half of the season.
Also the addition of Ankiel in center field should provide them with more at the plate than what they got from Nyjer Morgan last season.
So the potential is there…
2. Will Drew Storen seize the closer job?
That’s a tough call…. One of the best parts of the Nationals is the bullpen in general and it just so happens that they have more than one guy they feel can close a game out.
So for now they seem happy to go closer by committee with Burnett and Storen depending on who is up for the other team. I do feel Storen eventually will become a full time closer but as to will it happen this season, next or some time beyond that I’m not sure.
3. How much playing time will Wilson Ramos get over Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez?
Just a couple days ago when discussing Ramos the Manager of the Nats said “I don’t think he is at a point where being a No.2 catcher is really going to benefit us or him. He is going to move in there and play more and more.”
Ramos has really impressed the Nats staff with both his offense and his defense and they seem confident in the idea of him being able to carry a much larger load this season. So if things go as hoped I think we can definitely expect to see more of Ramos and less of Pudge as the season progresses.
Which to be honest in my opinion is definitely the way to go seeing as how Ramos is 16 years younger than Pudge who is 39 with not a whole lot left in the tank playing wise. So at some point they have to see what they really have in Ramos and this is the right time to do that. They still like Pudge so he will see some playing time especially early on but his biggest contribution this season may come in the form of being a mentor to Wilson Ramos.
4. What kind of season are fans expecting out of Jordan Zimmermann?
I wouldn’t say they expect it but the hopes of a big year for Zimmermann are definitely running high amongst Nats fans this season. When you talk about talent he has the stuff to be a number 2 pitcher on most teams and possibly even a number 1 on some teams. So people are really hoping to see some good signs from Zimmermann this year in hopes that eventually him and Strasburg will form a pretty solid 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation.
He is in just his first full year back from Tommy John surgery so there will be inning limits and things of that nature but from what we saw spring training and his first two starts of the regular season there has been some real good signs that it could be a good year.
5. Where in the standings do you see the Nationals competing?
In all honesty the Nationals are really a work in progress and in my opinion as well as many other Nats fans they are at least a couple seasons away from making any real significant moves up in the standings. A number of guys that they hope will figure in to the near and long term success of the Nats are either hurt (Strasburg) or in the minors still (ex. Harper).
So realistically I would not be surprised if they finished in the basement of the NL East again and at best maybe 4th in the NL East. I do see them winning more games this season than they did last year but a reasonable number to hope for would be 75 wins this season.