How good will the inaugural Washington Nationals' roster turn out to be? Well, everyone else in the National League East made off-season improvements, too, but with spring training just a couple of weeks away, I think it's safe to say this club is not likely to lose 90-plus games like last year's Montreal Expos.Fair enough, though I don't know that everyone else in the division has improved. The Mets and Marlins certainly have. I think the Nats are better than the '04 Expos. Not drastically better, but better.
They may still finish last in what is clearly baseball's toughest division, but they'll make it exciting.He's already making more sense than Thomas Boswell.
On opening day last year, this club's starting lineup featured Carl Everett and Peter Bergeron in the outfield, and Orlando Cabrera and Tony Batista on the left side of the infield. Those guys are gone, and their replacements are generally upgrades.I don't like Cabrera, but there's no way Cristian Guzman's an upgrade.
Free agent outfielder Jose Guillen was signed to play right field. Whatever happened with the Angels last year, Guillen's track record with Nationals Interim General Manager Jim Bowden is solid, and if Bowden says he'd trust Guillen with his kids, that's good enough for me.FACTUAL ERROR! It's a minor one, but what is it about that Angels trade that makes everyone forget it? I didn't dream it, did I?
Reigning National League RBI king Vinny Castilla takes over at third base. Castilla is a good defensive player whose reputation as a Coors Field hitter may be somewhat overstated. He's got legitimate 25-30 home run power, and aside from a disastrous term with Tampa Bay, has been productive with the bat everywhere he's been.Depends on how you define "productive," I guess. Yeah, he hits some homers, and Castilla defenders are quick to point out that he had more on the road than at Coors last year. However, like Tony Batista, Castilla does nothing but hit home runs. No speed, no patience, no nothing. He should be fine defensively. I wonder, by the way, if he's kicking himself for signing so early after Batista got $15 million in Japan.
Cristian Guzman is the new shortstop, and while his on-base percentage could be better - a lot better - he's respected defensively and can run a little bit.Wood 2, Boswell 0.
The Nats' best player - at least based upon his '04 season in Montreal - is likely Brad Wilkerson. Wilkerson was the everyday first baseman last year, but with the return of a healthy Nick Johnson, I expect to see Wilkerson in the outfield for Washington. Again, Wilkerson should hit plus-or-minus 30 home runs for the Nats, and hit somewhere in the middle of Frank Robinson's lineup.You're preaching to the choir there, Phil. Everyone loves B-Wilk. (Except that Livan was the best player on the 'Spos last year.)
Add the new guys to the returning everyday players - All-Star Jose Vidro at second, catcher Brian Schneider and outfielder Terrmel Sledge (this guy's begging to be called either "Hammer" or "Percy" in tribute to the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer) - and it's clear this club will score some runs.That's technically true, I guess. They'll score more than one, and that's "some." They won't score many, though. The Expos finished second to last in the NL in runs last year, and it would be positively Boswellian to argue that the Nats' additions will pull them up even into the middle of the pack.
Pitching is another story.As Chris at Capitol Punishment points out, Wood has it all bass-ackwards here. The pitching is the strength, the offense is the weakness.
The top of the all-righty rotation should be Livan Hernandez and Esteban Loaiza, both former All-Stars. Hernandez has pitched more than his share of big games during a career that includes a World Series ring with Florida, and won't turn 30 until Feb. 20. Loaiza won 21 games with the White Sox two years ago, but slumped to nine wins and a high ERA last year between the White Sox and Yankees.Don't lump those two together, Phil. They're like night and day. Yankees and Devil Rays. Roger Angell and Dayn Perry. It would also be nice of Wood to mention a) Livan has a hell of a lot more on his resume than "his share of big games" and 2) what did Loaiza do three years ago? Four? His whole damn career except for one year?
One of his former pitching coaches told me that Loaiza's problem has frequently been leaving his best stuff in the bullpen before the game. Apparently, it's that all-important walk to the mound that's been his downfall.I like the sarcasm. Seriously.
The rest of the rotation will likely include three from the quartet of Tony Armas, Zach Day, Tomo Ohka and Jon Rauch, with Day likely to emerge as number three, or number two should Loaiza falter. Chad Cordero is a competent closer in a bullpen that includes T.J. Tucker, John Patterson, Luis Ayala and lefty Joey Eischen.This is what I mean when I say Ohka is criminally underrated. It's pretty close to impossible to argue non-delusionally that Ohka isn't the second-best starter on this team, but he gets thrown in the afterthought bin with the kids. And now the big finish:
I feel pretty confident in predicting a .500 finish for the '05 Nationals. No matter the record, this club is the best this town has seen in decades.I obviously don't agree with Wood's methodology, but his conclusion is acceptable. I think .500 is at the high end of what the Nats are capable of this year, but quite possible. This column is probably the best mainstream media analysis of the Nats I've seen. Does that say more about the piece's quality or about the high standards of Nats bloggers compared to the papers? Use the links to your right and compare.