Washington Nationals: 2010 Season Preview In Review.

WASHINGTON - JULY 06: Teammates wait to congratulate Ryan Zimmerman #11 of the Washington Nationals after hitting the game winning home run in the ninth inning against the San Diego Padres at Nationals Park on July 6 2010 in Washington DC. The Nationals won the game 6-5. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

(ed. note - "The following was originally published on March 3, 2010 at SBNation.com as part of a series of 2010 season previews for each MLB team. Post-2010 comments in bold throughout.")

After back-to-back 100-loss+ seasons, (only 93 in 2010!!) the Washington Nationals go into the 2010 season with what they claim is the best roster they've assembled since the move to DC. Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez (Veteran Leadership!! Lots o' GiDP!!), Jason Marquis (Loose Bodies!!!), Matt Capps (Final Countdown, Wilson Ramos) and Adam Kennedy (Riggleman's big regret?) represent the best free agent class Washington's reeled in, and now DC GM Mike Rizzo [Points To Head] and team President Stan Kasten (So long, Mr. Kasten) hope the core young players already on the roster continue to improve to the point where the veteran additions will finally help the Nationals become competitive in a difficult NL East. (Going to try this again in 2011...)

2010 Position Players

  1. Nyjer Morgan - CF (Well, he played center all year and led off, doing neither particularly well.)
  2. Cristian Guzman - SS (Lost out on starting spot in Spring Training to Desmond, Traded to Tex.)
  3. Ryan Zimmerman - 3B (Word. Nothing wrong here, Zim was Zim, may not have defended Gold Glove, but he had the best offensive season yet, and at 26 and signed until 2013, he's the F.O.F™)
  4. Adam Dunn - 1B (Why did I ever worry aboot Dunn D? +3.9 WAR in his first full season at 1st, with a -3.4 UZR/150, 38 HR's for the second-straight season -- he now owes NatsTown 4 HR's-- and 103 RBI's.)
  5. Josh Willingham - LF (The Hammer went down with a knee injury and was lost for the duration in mid-August when he had season-ending surgery. Before that he had a career-high .389 OBP with 19 doubles and 16 HR's in 114 G and 370 AB's.)
  6. Elijah Dukes - RF (Hit .366 with 7 doubles, 5 HR's and collected 19 RBI's in 28 games...for the Newark Bears.)
  7. Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez - C (Provided veteran leadership, solid D and 25 DP grounders, the second highest total of his career.)
  8. Adam Kennedy - 2B (Relegated to a bench role, Kennedy told Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore at the end of the season, that 2010 for him was, "'Not very fun...I know that.'" Not playing on a losing team wouldn't appeal to many pros, I suppose.)

The Nationals spent the winter searching for a middle infielder courting Orlando Hudson before he signed with Minnesota and then settling for Adam Kennedy (Hudson's now on the verge of postseason elimination with the Twins, but seemingly made right decision in choosing Minnesota over D.C...Luckily indirectly allowed for Danny Espinosa's rise). Cristian Guzman's recovering from shoulder surgery and due $8M in the final year of a two-year deal, so if healthy he'll remain at short for now, delaying (at least in my opinion) the ascent of shortstop Ian Desmond as the Nationals' next generation of infielder. Desmond will instead either play a utility role or go to Triple-A to work on his defense. (Luckily Desmond outplayed the competition and claimed the shortstop job out of Spring Training, allowing the Nats to eventually move Guzman to the Texas Rangers for pitching prospects Tanner Roarke and Ryan Tatusko). Pudge Rodriguez was brought in to split time behind the plate with Jesus Flores, but the young catcher won't be ready for the start of the season, (And didn't play til earlier this Fall in the Florida Instructional League), as he too is recovering from surgery to his elbow and shoulder, so Wil Nieves will share the catching duties with Pudge til Flores is ready. The starting outfield is set barring any major developments this Spring, then the Nationals have to decide who'll join Willie Harris as the backups, with Roger Bernadina, Justin Maxwell and Chris Duncan amongst others vying for playing time. (RF was, of course, not set. Shortly after this post was published, Dukes was released, a right field platoon was patched together, Roger Bernadina and Michael Morse eventually ended up seeing the most time in right, and the Nationals go into the winter of 2011 still unsure who'll start there next season.)

Rotation

  1. Jason Marquis - RHP (Won 1st game of 2010 on August 30th...Disaster, surgery, recovery, some late season signs of progress?. Verdict? Not the best use of $7.5M dollars ever. Hope? Good second season in D.C. and late-season deal to contender?)
  2. John Lannan - LHP (Lost then found himself by crouching more in delivery like he's got something to hide...and keeping sinker down. Ended up being the Nats' second best starter, well maybe third...")
  3. Scott Olsen - LHP (Returning from shoulder surgery, spent time on DL with shoulder issues, ended up unhappily in bullpen and couldn't adjust, future with Washington cloudy...")
  4. Garrett Mock - RHP (Surgery to repair ruptured disc in back limited Mock to one start, really thought this was going to be a big year for Mock. Mock made one major league start in 2010, threw 3.1 IP.)
  5. Livan Hernandez - RHP  (Certainly don't think he was supposed to be the staff ace, but Livan ended up anchoring the rotation, at times appearing to have rediscovered his form, and even with a less-impressive second-half earned a contract for 2011. Should have been 4 or 5, not 1 though.)

The only starters guaranteed a spot in the starting rotation are John Lannan and Jason Marquis. After that it's Scott Olsen (who's recovering from surgery), Garrett Mock, Livan Hernandez (Surprise ace?), Miguel Batista (Old Rubber Arm in pen), Matt Chico (One start), Collin Balester (Successfully moved to pen.), J.D. Martin (Back surgery), Craig Stammen (Eventually transitioned to pen.) and Shairon Martis (WHTSM?) all battling for the final two or three spots. By the time June rolls around, when most are guessing the Nationals' '09 no.1 overall pick will be called up, Chien-Ming Wang is expected to be healthy as well, (Just threw first competitive pitches this week.) and the rotation could have a whole new look with Lannan, Marquis, Olsen, Stephen Strasburg and Wang one through five, (Yeah, that never happened.) which on paper at least, is the best rotation the Nationals have had. A lot of "ifs" involved though.

Bullpen

  1. Matt Capps - CL (The "Save" in Clipp and Save, Capps' resurgence made Nats' Front Office look smart, though the Pirates' GM did predict a return to form. Eventually dealt for the new catcher of the future Wilson Ramos, who was blocked in Minnesota.")
  2. Sean Burnett - SU (Best season in the majors? He thought so, earned himself a spot in 2011 pen. Still keeps cap tilted oddly.)
  3. Brian Bruney - SU (Was he a National?)
  4. Ron Villone - LHP (Turned Collin Balester's season around with advice, released for good in August.)
  5. Craig Stammen/Jason Bergmann - RHP (Stammen moved to pen, became better Bergmann.)
  6. Tyler Walker - RHP (Torn labrum, surgery.)
  7. Tyler Clippard - RHP (Vultured wins, hung changes, thrilled fans, made "Peaches" a hit in D.C. Won 11 games as a reliever, to lead in W's. Struggled after overworked, still impressed.)

Also under consideration for the bullpen are some of the starters who don't make the rotation, as well as the Nationals' 2nd '09 1st Round pick, Drew Storen, who was the Stanford Cardinal closer before his selection 10th overall in last year's Draft. DC GM Mike Rizzo and his scouts seem to think Storen's Major League-ready, but like his fellow first round pick, Storen may start the season in the minors and come up in June. (Storen beat Strasburg to majors, assumed closer's role for short time after Capps was traded, showed signs of tiring late, ended year on high note, collected 5 saves.) Matt Capps is expected to be the closer, though both Brian Bruney and Storen will be pushing for a shot. (Really? Bruney was on the Nats?) Craig Stammen's been mentioned as a potential long man in the pen, which would most likely be Jason Bergmann's role if he makes the roster. (See no.5 on Bullpen List). Clippard and Walker will work the 6th/7th and then Burnett and Villone are available for lefty vs lefty matchups with one or the other working late with Bruney to set up Capps. Much better than what Jim Bowden had in the pen for Washington to start the 2009 campaign. (Definitely better than Bowden's inadequate pen, ended up being Nats' strength.)

In The System

Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen and Ian Desmond are the first three that are going to come up from the system this season. (All three had strong seasons, Stras' injury and Desi's E's tend to overshadow success they had in hindsight, but it should be noted that the three rookies had solid 2010 campaigns.) The final two or three rotation spots could be filled by any two of five or six starters, so expect any injuries or struggles to result in Matt Chico, Collin Balester, J.D. Martin, Shairon Martis, etc. coming up eventually. (Only Martis failed to make appearance.) The same could be said for the outfield. Justin Maxwell and Roger Bernadina are both on the bubble as to where they'll start the season, and could be called upon at any moment if they end up in Triple-A Syracuse. (Maxwell's season has to be considered a bust, Bernadina made the most of his opportunity and showed what he is capable of given sufficient playing time. Maxwell never really got that chance, though he reportedly didn't play his way out of town either.) The Nationals just announced the signing of a 26-year-old reliever from the Mexican League, Rafael Martin, who they think can help the bullpen this season. (Martin = 7.8 K/9, 3.5 BB/9 in 47 G, 67.1 IP at Double-A Harrisburg).

Miscellaneous

Can Elijah Dukes finally put it all together and live up to expectations? (Didn't make it out of Spring Training. What a disappointment...) Can Cristian Guzman and Adam Kennedy improve on down years defensively and cut down on the Nationals' league-leading error total from 2009? Will Adam Dunn be exposed defensively in a full year at first base? (He improved actually, defense a source of much conversation regardless.) Can Scott Olsen, (No.) Matt Chico (No.) and maybe even possibly Jordan Zimmermann (Yes.) late this season, overcome injuries to become consistent contributors again? And is there any way in the world Stephen Strasburg can live up to the hype that's preceded his first Major League pitch? (Yes, Strasburg lived up to hype. See you in September, Stras.) Those are the big questions to be answered this season. 500 is a goal for the Washington Nationals, (Too ambitious a goal, obviously.) but that might even be too ambitious (Oh I already said that then.) for a team that was only able to win 59 games last season, so expecting a miraculous worst-to-first turnaround should reward anyone daring enough to take the Nationals against the odds. (+10 games improvement over two previous seasons...baby steps.)

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