Now that we know a certain rotund first baseman won't be part of the Nats 2012 lineup, we can start to make predictions about this year's team with a little more certainty. Most sensible folks wouldn't try this at least until spring training, but I've dusted off my somewhat rosy-colored crystal ball and am ready to make some
well-informed predictions wild-ass guesses about a bunch of Nats-related performances in the 2012 season. So FWIW (not much, I'm sure), here's what I see for the coming year.
Leading the offense, I see a big year from Ryan Zimmerman, whether he's extended before the season or not. He stays healthy, has a career offensive year, plays his usual stellar D, and finally gets some recognition outside the DC area (All-Star selection, a top ten finish in MVP voting).
I see Adam LaRoche being the usual (non-2011) Adam LaRoche -- something like .271, 24 HR, 88 RBI. I see him sticking around the whole year, as his first half is (typically) not strong enough to make him really attractive trade bait.
Jayson Werth becomes a lot more popular with the DC faithful. I don't see him returning to his 2010 PHL level - but something like .260/.365/.465 will be useful, and his willingness to handle CF (and to do so fairly capably) for a chunk of the season will win over the bulk of the fandom.
Michael Morse is not exposed -- too much. I see his BA and OBP declining a bit, but the 30 HR power is still there.
Here's a surprise: I see a Bernadina/Cameron/(or someone) platoon turning in an extended period (say 2 months) of decent CF play far better than the black hole we have become accustomed to. The crystal ball seems to indicate that one of them will then get hurt, or will crater, or something -- but by then it will be Harper time.
As for young Mr. Harper, I see him coming up maybe June-ish, getting nearly 300 major league ABs before the season's done. He'll struggle at first (of course), and his final numbers won't look so great (maybe .242, 9 HR, 39 RBI), but there will be enough Harper-esque moments in August and September to make us look forward eagerly to 2013.
In the middle infield, I see that at years end we will notice that Desi and Espi have each taken a step forward in their development. But they will also each continue to be streaky during the season, so the progress won't be that obvious at times.
I see Stephen Lombardozzi filling the role of a useful utility man, a pinch hitter who can get on base, and a pinch runner who doesn't get picked off.
Not sure that I see anything clearly about our two young catchers. Have to let you know if that clears up.
On the pitching staff, I see good things from the Big Three. Gio Gonzalez does not disappoint, turning in a season as good as his last two with Oakland. JZim(nn) pitches as well as last year, but with an extra 40 IP and better run support his W-L numbers are a lot gaudier, maybe 17-8. Strasburg is Strasburg, but I do see one or two scares when because of a little twinge and some extra cautious handling he misses a start or three, maybe even goes on the DL for a while. I don't necessarily see him even getting to his 150-160 IP limit, but that also means he gets to start some meaningful games in September.
Due to Lannan's troubles and Strasburg's missed starts, Ross Detwiler gets a real chance to show his stuff. He doesn't seize the opportunity, though, mixing a couple of flashy starts with a bunch of blah ones. But I see a few nice fill-in starts from someone further down the food chain --Gorzellany, Stammen, maybe even Maya or Meyers or Solis? (Can't tell - it's pretty hazy. But I do see Tommy Milone, 3000 miles away, turning in a real nice unnoticed year for Oakland, better than Lannan or Det -- or even Mark Buerhle down in Miami.)
The bullpen is good. Clippard's not as great as last year - who could be? -- but there are no weak links (coughSlatencough) and Storen remains strong so things are fine there.
Overall, I see this as an 85-90 win team -- hey, I said it was rose-colored crystal -- that stays in contention deep into September. I don't think I see any post-season play, not even the second wild card (is that official yet? I don't remember). But it should be a fun season.
Feel free to tell me what I've been smoking.