We did this last season with varying degrees of success, so we'll try it again.
Feel free to leave your predictions in the comments section, but as always, please refrain from vulgarity when ripping my predictions to shreds.
2011 Record: The final number comes first. I've been waiting until rosters were set to make last minute adjustments to estimated playing time before finalizing my win projection. There's been a lot of movement in the win total number over the last week with all the transactions that GM Mike Rizzo has made in sculpting his Opening Day roster.
First, despite being sent down, I still think Roger Bernadina will get the most playing time in center field for the Nats this year, unless a trade happens to acquire a legitimate center fielder and leadoff man. Rick Ankiel is injury prone and not great to begin with, and I think The Shark will be swimming again sooner than later.
But the bigger problem of not having a high-OBP guy at the top of the order will haunt the Nats just as it has in their entire history in D.C.
The best chance for improving upon the 69-win season the Nats recorded last year is in the starting rotation, as they'll (hopefully) get a full season from a healthy Jordan Zimmermann, the apparent No. 2 to Stephen Strasburg.
The Nats think Jason Marquis can give them what they expected out of him last season, John Lannan to provide his consistent ground ball routine, and Livan Hernandez not to regress to his 2008-09 performance. But I don't see all of those things happening in concert, which would have to happen for the Nats wins to significantly improve.
If Michael Morse gets exposed playing every day for the first time in his career, or Adam LaRoche ends up under the knife to correct his torn rotator cuff, these numbers are off the board completely. And if they BOTH happen, the Nats are looking at 100 losses again.
As for the defense, Rizzo stated on many occasions he wanted to get more athletic and better defensively this off-season, yet traded and demoted his two fastest, most athletic players in Morgan and Bernadina, giving the center field job to a 31-year old former pitcher and left field to man-without-a-position Michael Morse. Expect plenty of catchable balls to fall in between them.
I'll officially set my prediction at 68 wins, just like I did last year.
There's just not enough pitching to compete yet.
Biggest Pleasant Surprise? Wilson Ramos. The young catcher will get his chance this year and not look back. Had a dominating winter league and follwed that with a strong spring. It's his time.
Biggest Disappointment? Michael Morse. He's a great story and had a ridiculous spring, but players don't become regulars in the Major Leagues at 29 for a reason.
I just don't see anything in his history, other than his resemblance to Jayson Werth, that leads me to believe he's going to break out this year any more than he did last season while they were managing his at bats. If he duplicates last year, I'll be happy and surprised.
I know that's going to make me a bad guy around these parts, and I'll be perfectly happy to have folks tell me they told me so at the end of the year.
Best off-season move: Signing Jerry Hairston. He'll platoon with Ankiel in center (and Bernadina later this summer), and serves as insurance for both Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa. He's not a world beater, but he is a credible Major League player at three different positions.
Worst off-season move: Trading three mid- to low-level prospects for Tom Gorzelanny. He can't throw strikes. Never has. I can't imagine Steve McCatty figuring him out now.
Most Critical Decision of the Year? What's replacing Five Guys at Nats Park?
Seriously though, it's whether or not to exercise the option on manager Jim Riggleman's contract. We discussed the situation at length last week, but now that the cat is out of the bag, the decision will be looming over NatsTown all season.
Whether you like Riggleman's "smart ball" or not, Rizzo thinks he's put together a team that will compete this year, adding veterans with every spring training decision he made, so if the team doesn't perform to his expectations, it'll be the manager's job on the line.
What are the middle infielders going to do? I expect Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa to both continue their career progression. I have always been high on both of them and continue to be coming into the new season.
I'm not predicting All-Star games, but I think they are both capable of 15-15 seasons, which is pretty sweet out of your double-play combo. Desmond goes .268/.320/.397 and Espinosa goes .248/.312/.415
As for defense, I'll go out on a limb and say Desmond will cut his errors down to 20-25, and Espinosa will be in the talk for a gold glove, but will lose out to a more veteran player. But his time will come.
What about Wang? We asked the same question last year. At this point, I don't envision ever seeing Chien-Ming Wang take the mound at Nats Park.
Teams Leaders The DC-IBWA made their predictions a few weeks ago and I posted my answers at the time, but I will now adjust for playing time after spring training.
HR: Ryan Zimmerman, 34
RBI: Adam LaRoche, 98 (if healthy)
SB: Roger Bernadina, 19
Wins: Jordan Zimmerman, 12
Saves: Drew Storen, 18
Starts: John Lannan, 32
More starts (Detwiler/Maya/Gorzelanny): Ross Detwiler, 14
More at bats (Ankiel/Hairston/Cora): Jerry Hairston
Most catcher at bats: Wilson Ramos
All-Stars: One, Ryan Zimmerman
Wins and Place: 68, fourth.
Most important development for 2011? The successful recovery of Stephen Strasburg from Tommy John surgery. I said it a few weeks ago and I stick by it: There is no more important player to this franchise and his successful recovery is paramount to anything else that happens in NatsTown this summer.
It's a 12-18 month recovery process, and everyone will be watching and hoping Strasburg can follow Zimmermann's timetable and return to a major league mound in September.
Will we see Bryce Harper in D.C. this season? No. I can't imagine in any way that Harper makes his big league debut this year, short of him hitting .400 with 20 home runs the first two months of the season and the Morse/LaRoche doomsday scenario being in place at that time.
You went the entire post without even mentioning Jayson Werth? Um...yeah.
Okay, so short of an MVP season Werth won't come close to justifying his contract. Does that mean if he puts up 25 homers and 75 RBIs in the No. 2 spot that he'll be a huge disappointment? Probably.
But that's where the money clouds the issue, because that's the player he is. He benefited greatly by playing his home games in Citizen's Bank park the last few years. In fact, the last two years he hit 39 homers at CBP and just 24 on the road. Normalize those numbers for playing his home games at Nats Park, and what you get is a good overall hitter, but not the home run slugger he has been and will be portrayed as.
And we won't even get into Rizzo's proclamation about how he thinks Werth will get better with age.
There you go -- have at them! And remember, have fun this season! Don't get bogged down with wins and losses, enjoy the baseball for what it is and you'll get more out of it.