First, a little self congratulation (if I don’t who will??). Before the 2011 season began (Mar. 11, 2011 in FanPost: “Expect a good year”), and more importantly on May 31 2011, when the Nats were about 6 games under .500, I stayed with an 80-win season (FanPost: “Still expect 80 wins”). In the latter post, I noted that losing a lot of close games portended a turn around when Zim returned, Morse starting to break out, and LaRoche went to the DL. And even before the 2010 season was finished and again before the 2011 season began, I defended Morse against the skeptics who thought his emergence at his age made his success suspect and that he could not hit the better pitchers of the league. Specifically, I made the seemingly outlandish (at the time) prediction for him of .280 BA, 30 HRs, and 110 RBIs. But I am most proud of my insisting that the fastest road to respectability for the personnel at hand on the roster and in the minors was to first emphasize pitching and defense, and a lower strikeout total (this did not happen—if it had 85 wins might have happened). As I suspected, the loss of Dunn would actually be a gain (see Sept 21, 2010 FanPost: “Addition by subtraction”). Similar to the valid saying in golf that “driving is for show, but putting is for dough” is my saying in baseball that “offense is for show, but pitching is for dough”. Both are somewhat simplistic, but they indicate the top priority for success. Enough gloating—now to start to look ahead.
As many have noted, the Nats need to improve the offense to get the brass ring. I would not want them to sacrifice much to achieve this in 2012. I think they can deal a pitcher from among Detwiller, Peacock, Milone, Lannan, Clippard (yes, he was spectacular but replaceable enough from among the pitchers at hand who do not start, IF it means we get a young guy with a good bat AND under contract for 3 yrs. +), and a few others without hurting the pitching staff much, in order to get more offense. And free agency is a relatively low risk route to go. Fielder has the bat, but plays the wrong position to be useful to us, plus he may not age well. With the current personnel, including Harper and a few others waiting in the wings, the Nats are only one or two offensive assets from competing at the top level. The pitching staff is approaching the best in the league so our optimism for 2012-2013 is quite justified. A ST staff of Stras, JZim, Wang, Lannon, and among Peacock/Milone/Detwiller/?? is going to be quite good I believe. And the bullpen should continue to be top notch. I am intrigued by HRod in the bullpen, though he can be a bit scary when his control is off. First prediction for 2012: I think he is going to get it together more often in 2012 and be a big factor in the Nats success.
I agree with much of RobBob’s FanPost assessment of personnel, including letting Livo and Pudge go. I would add Nix and LaRoche. For my part I cringe at Ballester and Slaten entering the game and would jettison them. Ditto for Burnett, regarding the cringing, but my baseball sixth sense says he should be retained. Ankiel has won me over after observing him for a whole season. His ability to track balls down and intimidate base runners with perhaps the best arm in baseball, makes him a keeper as a fifth outfielder at least. I would feel better about him as a starter if he hits .250 with 15 HRs. I give this a 50/50 chance. The default at SS and 2B should be Desi and Espy, until someone comes along to knock one or both out. If they do not improve their OBS and cut down on SO, I want someone to come along to replace them, either from within or via trade/free agency. The road to the pennant is going to fall short without some offensive improvement here. Desi, with the help of Davey, may be good enough right now. Espy has fallen short offensively. His HR total is not impressive enough, given his strikeout total and low BA. The bottom line is winning, and just like with Dunn, the replacement of Espy could improve our winning pct., if the new 2B replacement’s defense is decent. IF we have a near elite pitching staff in 2012 as I expect, and acquire a middle infielder and/or outfielder with good offensive skills (hopefully by the free agency route) then a position setup of :
New guy acquired 2B or SS
Desmond or Espy 2B or SS
New guy acquired, or ‘old’ guy & wait for Harper OF
Bernie, Ankiel, or ?? in a platoon OF
may be enough to contend. In March 2012 I will make my prediction for 2012. Right now I think we may be just one or two offensive weapons away.