Washington Nationals 2011 MLB Preview: Another Long Summer at the Bottom
Previewing the 2011 MLB season, we’ve already named the Phillies, Yankees, and Red Sox the top World Series favorites. We’ve already looked at the NL Central, and this week we’re looking at the NL East. We’ve already covered the Phillies, Braves, Marlins, and Mets. Today we’ll wrap up the division with the Washington Nationals.
Off-Season Moves: Obviously, the Nationals’ biggest off-season move was signing right fielder Jayson Werth (pictured at left) to a seven year, $126 million deal. Washington picked up outfielder Rick Ankiel as a possible replacement for last year’s primary left-fielder Josh Willingham, whom they traded away. Other notable additions include first baseman Adam LaRoche, utility man Alex Cora and left-hander Tom Gorzelanny. Other noteworthy departures include first baseman Adam Dunn and utility man Adam Kennedy.
Strengths: This is a tough one. The Nationals did rank ninth in the majors in stolen bases last season with 110. The issue there is 34 of those belonged to center fielder Nyjer Morgan, no other player had more than 17, and only two other current players hit double-digits. Pitching-wise, last year’s Nationals finished ninth in hits allowed and 10th in runs allowed. If default ace Livan Hernandez can do what he did last year and Jason Marquis and Tom Gorzelanny can improve, they should be able to remain in the top third of the majors in those categories again.
Weaknesses: Where to begin? The starting rotation is just about as shaky as it gets. Hernandez (10-12, 3.66) will likely top the staff, followed in some order by John Lannan (8-8, 4.65), Jordan Zimmerman (1-2, 4.94), Marquis (2-9, 6.60) and Gorzelanny (7-9, 4.09). Reliever Tyler Clippard (11-8, 3.07, pictured at right) actually led the team in wins — in zero starts — and finished just two strikeouts behind Hernandez for the team lead in less than half as many innings pitched.
Offensively, the Nats dropped Dunn’s 199 strikeouts, but acquired LaRoche’s 172 and Werth’s 147. The team finished sixth in the Majors with 1220 strikeouts last season. Those two players also combined for just two more home runs than Dunn hit himself in 2010. Washington finished last season 21st and 22nd in team batting average and on-base percentage respectively. LaRoche and Werth won’t do much to bring those up.
In the field, they finished tied for last in the majors with a .979 fielding percentage. Ankiel and his left field competition Roger Bernadina both represent downgrades defensively in comparison to Willingham. Werth and LaRoche represent negligible upgrades over the guys they are replacing.
Summary: Sorry Nats fans, but Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper aren’t coming to the rescue this year. The rotation and defense are mediocre at best and this team doesn’t do anything very special on defense. Werth is a good player, but he had so much around him in Philly and also had that park to hit in. Washington finished 69-93 and last in the NL East in 2010. I’m predicting at least 100 losses this year and obviously another last place finish.