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Washington Nationals: 2011 Season Preview.

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In a recent interview I predicted the Washington Nationals would win somewhere between 75-79 games in 2011, leaving them 75-87 at the low end or 79-83 at the high end, which would be another ten win jump over last year's 69-93 finish and twenty wins in two seasons from 2009's 59-103 record. "Considering how little pitchers like Jason Marquis and Jordan Zimmermann contributed last season it shouldn't be out of the question," I said, but, "I'd be very surprised to see a .500 team at this point...2012-13 though..."

The Washington Post agrees. In this morning's, "NL East predictions", the WaPost predicted that though, "...the Nationals have finished last in five of their six seasons in D.C.," 2011 could finally be, "...the year they escape the cellar — maybe for good. If everything goes right then 2012 could get interesting." SI.com's Ted Keith predicts a fourth place finish in the NL East with Washington posting a 75-87 record in 2011, one win ahead of the NY Mets and 10.0 games behind the third-place Marlins.

ESPN.com's Keith Law has the Nats finishing 72-90, and he wonders why there is any optimism surrounding the Nats, who have a rotation worse than the Royals', a light-hitting second baseman and a right fielder who is no longer playing in Philadelphia or a contract year. SI.com's Jon Heyman similarly describes the Nats' pitchers as, "mostly back-end starters filling out their rotation," until Stephen Strasburg returns and he wonders who'll close games for the 2011 Nationals. Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman said it would be right-hander Drew Storen or lefty Sean Burnett in the ninth when the season starts, though Burnett said yesterday neither player had their roles defined for them. 

• The 2011 Nats' bullpen: 

  1. Brian Broderick (RHP)
  2. Sean Burnett (LHP)
  3. Tyler Clippard (RHP)
  4. Todd Coffey (RHP)
  5. Chad Gaudin (RHP) 
  6. Doug Slaten (LHP)
  7. Drew Storen (RHP)

As for the Nats' "back-end starters", D.C. GM Mike Rizzo identified the starters who open the season in the rotation back in early November when he mentioned Jordan Zimmermann, Livan Hernandez, John Lannan and Jason Marquis (along with Yunesky Maya) when asked about the pitching talent in the organization during an MLB Network Radio interview. Mr. Rizzo has since said that he thinks he rushed Maya to the Majors last season, so the fact that the right-hander is starting in Triple-A Syracuse isn't too much of a surprise.

The only addition to the list is left-hander Tom Gorzelanny, a pitcher the General Manager told TBD.com's Samuel Chamberlain, "got very favorable scouting reports," from the Nats' scouts who pointed to the fact that, "'...last year he threw the ball extremely well. His velocity was back to its 2007 form,'" when he was able to win 14 games for the Pirates while posting 6.0 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, a 3.88 ERA and 4.24 FIP in 32 starts and 201.2 IP. Another left-hander, 25-year-old Ross Detwiler is in Syracuse should any of the Nats' starters get injured or falter, and the '07 1st Round pick and Yunesky Maya will likely be next in line should the Nationals reach down for help. 

• Washington Nationals' 2011 Rotation: 

  1. Livan Hernandez - RHP
  2. John Lannan - LHP 
  3. Jordan Zimmermann - RHP
  4. Jason Marquis - RHP 
  5. Tom Gorzelanny - LHP
• So Many ?'s: Can Ian Desmond cut down on the errors, which the SI.com preview notes, "cost his team 10.5 more runs than the average shortstop," or will the Washington Nationals eventually flip their young infielders, moving Danny Espinosa to short where some think he belongs? Will Adam LaRoche's "slightly" torn labrum hold up for a whole season? Who plays first if LaRoche doesn't stay healthy, and please don't say Pudge? Will Wilson Ramos push Pudge Rodriguez to the bench? Will Pudge accept his bench role? How long will the Rick Ankiel and Jerry Hairston platoon in center last? Does Roger Bernadina get the next shot in center if Ankiel hits like he has the last few seasons? Eury Perez is far away...Corey Brown? If not Ankiel or Bernadina does the Nats' search for a center fielder start all over again? Will Jayson Werth play outside of Philadelphia? Will the Nationals' decision to go with older veterans Matt Stairs, Laynce Nix, Alex Cora and Hairston actually be an improvement over 2010's Willie Harris, Alberto Gonzalez and Nyjer Morgan? Is Michael Morse's late-in-life arrival for real? How many times will he be compared to Jayson Werth this season?

• Nats' Opening Day Starting Lineup: 
  1. Ian Desmond - SS
  2. Jayson Werth - RF
  3. Ryan Zimmerman - 3B (Word.)
  4. Adam LaRoche - 1B
  5. Michael Morse - LF
  6. Rick Ankiel - CF
  7. Danny Espinosa - 2B
  8. Ivan "Pudge Rodriguez - C
• 2011 Nats' Bench: 
  1. Alex Cora - IF
  2. Jerry Hairston - IF/OF
  3. Laynce Nix - OF
  4. Wilson Ramos - C
  5. Matt Stairs - 1B/PH
• D.C. GM Mike Rizzo's reputation was earned as a scout. Since taking over as the GM in March of '09, the Nats have committed fully to building the team through scouting and the Draft. The Nats have financially supported this part of Rizzo's plan, outspending the rest of the league in each of the last two drafts. Mr. Rizzo brought what he describes as "the best and brightest scouting and front office types" from around the league to the nation's capital. When the Nationals' owners signed the second-year GM to a five-year extension back in mid-October, Rizzo promised that though, "There really hasn't been a shortage of my stamp on the organization," now that he's been given a vote of confidence, "It will be my baby, and my fingerprints will be all over the organization, more so than they are already."

"Pitching, defense, speed and athleticism." That's been the mantra all winter. Veteran leadership and acceptance of roles might be the Spring mantra. Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Jordan Zimmermann, Wilson Ramos and Drew Storen are already in the majors and at some point this season the next prospects in line like Cole Kimball, Ross Detwiler and Collin Balester (who deserved a spot on the roster out of ST) should be in D.C., but after that it's Bryce Harper, Derek Norris and Eury Perez who are all a year or more away by most estimates and the legion of arms the Nats have drafted and developed in the last few years.

It's going to be about growth again and following the development of prospects at the major and minor league level. It's going to be about following the top pitching prospect in the system's recovery from Tommy John surgery for the second-straight season and following the no.1 pick in the draft in his first year of pro ball for the second-straight season.

While the Nats might have somehow gotten older this offseason it's still about the future, which is just a year or two away...It all starts again tomorrow.