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Game No. 1: Washington Nationals (81-81 in 2005) at New York Mets (83-79), 1:10 pm; ESPN, WTWP; XM 183

iLivan! Hernandez (15-10, 3.98 in 2005) vs. Tom Glavine (13-13, 3.53)

Yahoo! preview
Nats.com preview
Mets.com preview
Amazin' Avenue

Notes:

  • This is iLIVAN!'s sixth career Opening Day start and third in a row.
  • Glavine, appearing in place of Pedro Martinez, makes his seventh Opening Day start and third as a Met.
  • Jose Reyes, New York's shortstop, hit .531 with 25 total bases (four doubles and two triples) in 32 spring training at-bats.
  • Four Mets' regulars (Reyes, Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran, and Paul LoDuca), as well as top bench hitter Julio Franco, hit .350 or better in the Grapefruit League.
  • Star third baseman David Wright hit only .242 but led the Mets with three homers during exhibition baseball.
  • Glavine was 1-1, 5.06, in 16 spring innings (9 BB, 9 K).
  • New closer Billy Wagner, who skipped out on the World Baseball Classic, pitched seven innings during the spring, surrending two runs but striking out only two batters.
Players to watch:
  • Brandon Watson (WASH CF): Speedy Watson makes debut as Nats' center fielder and leadoff man; hit .308/.353/.333 in 78 spring at-bats.
  • Alfonso Soriano (WASH LF): Newly-acquired slugger makes debut as National and in left; for what it's worth, is a career.256/.310/.436 hitter at Shea Stadium, with two homers in 39 at-bats.
  • iLIVAN!: Dominant spring (2.01 ERA, 22:3 K:BB ratio) allays concerns about balky knee.
  • Gary Majewski (WASH MR): Assumed No. 1 set-up man role after Luis Ayala was lost for the season, but had abysmal spring (18.90 ERA; 19 baserunners in 6.2 IP) upon return from WBC.
  • Anderson Hernandez (NYM 2B): Rookie infielder takes over for injured Kaz Matsui.
  • Xavier Nady (NYM RF): Acquired straight-up for Mike Cameron, Nady hit .282/.346/.408 during the spring.
  • Cliff Floyd (NYM LF): Best No. 6 hitter in NL?
Nat at Bat:* Ryan Zimmerman. Dutch officially takes the keys to the hot corner. If all goes well, he won't hand them back until about 2025 or so.

* Consider it a Natty version of the Hawkeroo's "pick to click"

* * * * *

When I was a kid, my dad would partake in this recurring joke when we'd go to Kings Dominion. We would board the Rebel Yell and, just as we completed the slow, inevitable ascent to the top of the initial hill, he would announce, "I changed my mind; I want to get out." Well, I didn't say it was particularly funny (though it was funny to a kid like me), but it was recurring. Similarly, if I have one final shot to comment before the coaster called Nats '06 gains momentum (or, alternatively, falls off the cliff), it might as well be now:

Rotation: M-e-h, meh. The first two promise to be good, obviously---but, just as obviously, two guys don't make a rotation.

Bullpen: I'm feelin' a little uneasy, man. The Chief is great, but we shouldn't expect him to be as great as last season. Ayala is gone; Majewski looks shakly; who really knows about Rodriguez. As for the lefties, Eischen is mediocre in every sense except for his mouth, and Stanton is potential waiver-bait. RFK Stadium will help the pitchers' numbers, but stability from the rotation is the key to the bullpen.

Offense: If Vidro, Soriano, Johnson, and Guillen break out, things could well be improved over last year. But, if Vidro goes down, Watson/Jackson/Anderson/Soriano/Clayton could create an OBP waste-land, and you have a hard time scoring sufficient runs when you don't get many guys on-base, and . . . blah blah blah. You've heard it before.

Defense: Can't be as bad as the spring. Soriano could be an adventure, obviously.

Bench: Improved. As noted previously, duplicative in spots. But it's improved.

Key to the season: To reduce it to one player, I'll say Ramon Ortiz. The Nats need one more starter to have the hope of a stable rotation. It's not going to be Astacio, quite clearly. It's not going to be Armas. It's not going to be Drese. And, though they are promising, it won't be Jon Rauch or spring surprise Billy Traber, either. Ortiz is the one remaining hope of what Brian Lawrence promised to do: hurl 200 innings of near-league-average pitching. That has value---and, to a team that needs it as much as the Nats will, the performance is almost an imperative.

Final Prediction: 75-87, fourth in the NL East.

I should add that I picked 75 wins last year, too. If only midseason '06 could leave me with as much egg on my face as midseason '05! On the other hand, at least I'm not thoroughly crazy, like this guy!

* * * * *

Other perspectives in the Nat(m)osphere:

  • Nats Blog: Straight-up odds-making, yo. DM has the Nats winning 74 games. So pessimistic!
  • Capitol Punishment: The aforementioned crazy guy, going with 90 wins. Leap of faith, indeed! Positively Kierkegaardian! (Though perhaps not with all sincerity . . . )
  • Distinguished Senators: Beer and Skittles, my friends. Skittle-brau for all!
  • Beltway Boys: Three uncertainties for every sure thing. Sounds about right.
  • Donutball: Nats finish fourth; Braves beat Yanks for all the doughnuts.
  • Eucalyptus: If the Nats are a W-particle, then . . . I can't top that. Don't you hate pants?