On the eve of Opening Day 2010, I'm going to go out on a limb and publish some highly debatable predicitons. I'd love to hear any feedback you might have, and if you want to leave predicitons of your own in the comments, we can compare when the season is over.
Or, if you just want to rip mine mercilessly anonymously, that's ok too.
2010 Record: Let's get the big one out of the way. Honestly, last year's team suffered from such horrendous luck in the first half of the season, it would be almost impossible for this edition not to be better.
The turnaround had less to do with Riggleman taking over for Acta and more to the bullpen normalizing, Josh Willingham playing every day and Nyjer Morgan playing out of his head.
However, I don't think the Nats have made themselves that much better, and certainly not as much as the kool-aid drinkers think.
The bullpen has more question marks than on the Riddler's costume from the old Batman TV series. The rotation for the first two months will be Lannan, Marquis and three revolving doors. Right field will be full of non-OBP slap-and-dashers. And everyone that prays better tune the big guy up so that Willingham stays healthy, or the five hole will be a black hole.
Morgan won't hit as well as hit did during that six-week stretch last summer. Guzman has one more year of being an albatross and will eat at bats Desmond should get. And Dunn's defense at first just isn't going to get better.
All that said, I think this team will manage to make a ten-game or so improvement, which is relatively huge. I'm setting the bar at 68 wins.
Biggest Pleasant Surprise: Adam Kennedy. I was originally against his signing, fearing that it would signal the end of Ian Desmond on the big club. But as things have shaken out, I think Kennedy will provide decent production and passable defense.
Biggest Disappointment: Matt Capps. I don't think he's fully recovered from arm injuries he had two seasons ago in Pittsburgh, and if he leads this team with saves I will be very surprised. At least it was a one-year deal. And if he IS leading the team in saves come the trade deadline and he isn't moved...well, I guess that's just status quo.
Honorable Mention: Ivan Rodriguez. Anyone hoping for Pudge circa 2004 will be sorely disappointed.
Most Critical Decision of the Year: To sign, or not sign, Adam Dunn to a long-term deal. I'm on the record saying the team should move Dunn at the deadline to an AL team for what the going rate will be this year. I think it's a big mistake to tie up money and a position to a 30-plus player with a skill set that does not age well and plays terrible defense.
That said, I think Rizzo re-signs him.
What's Strasburg Going To Do: I see Saint Stephen dominating Double-A for five starts, moving up and having much the same success at Triple-A for another 5-6 starts (in five/six inning chunks) and getting the call just after Memorial Day when his "Super Two" status will pass, thus allowing the Nats to keep him from becoming a free agent a year early and adding another arbitration year.
Of course, if he becomes the pitcher we all think he will, the Nats should tie him up long-term before it gets to that. But that's another story.
Bottom line once he reaches the bigs: I think he'll get around 15 carefully managed starts, average around eight strikeouts per nine innings, and be prone to the gopher ball.
What About Wang?: I think Wang will return around the all-star break (he was put on the 60-day DL today) and eventually look serviceable. He never blew anyone way, and I think he'll be better next year than this year. But I think he does come back and does contribute. It could turn out to be Rizzo's shrewdest move.
HRs: Dunn with 41
RBIs: Zimmerman with 105
Steals: Morgan with 40 (and 15 caught stealing)
Wins: Lannan with 12
Losses: Marquis with 14
Saves: Bruney with 18
Lastly, Looking Ahead: I think Desmond gets 450 at bats, has 15 homers and 20 steals, and probably 30 errors. Live with it this year, he'll be worth it.
Jordan Zimmermann gets four starts at the end of the season and reminds everyone why they're so high on him.
Drew Storen comes up with Strasburg at Memorial Day and initially is used in the sixth-seventh inning. Capps and Bruney both keep getting save opportunities until the trade deadline, then Storne takes over. I'll say he gets eight saves this year and is annointed for next season.
There you go, some bold and sure to be wrong predicitons for 2010. Please make sure when you rip me in the comments you refrain from vulgarity.
Seriously, it might not sound like I'm looking forward to covering the team this year with some of the dour comments and predictions. Nothing could be further from the truth. I'm looking forward to this season so much it hurts.
But I'm also trying to take a realistic outlook to what's going on and not just relying on hope and marketing to believe this season will be much different than last season. It won't be. But there is hope coming. You'll just have to look carefully for it this season, and especially early on.