Pitchers and catchers report

2011 February 15
by Don Hammack

Washington Nationals pitchers and catchers reported to Viera, Fla. today, which means another baseball season is right around the corner. I was about to write “another season of futility,” but thought better. I have high hopes this year. This year, it’s all about mediocrity.

There’s no way the Natinals are going to challenge the Phillies’ Four Aces (and Joe Blanton) in the NL East this year. The goals are going to be .500 and avoiding the cellar.

The Natinals haven’t finished above .500. Washington finished at .500 in its first season in the nation’s capital. Even at .500, the team finished in last in the East. It’s been there every year except for 2007.

The last three years, Washington has won 59, 59 and 69 games. I’d guess another 10-game improvement would be about the most to hope for, which would get the Nationals in the .500 ballpark.

They don’t have a No. 1 pitcher, but have more middle- to back-of-the-rotation guys for depth. That’s not Four Aces, but it’s not throwing Triple A pitchers out to the wolves night after night either, hopefully. Stephen Strasburg might be back by September, but I’d bet it’s 2011.

GM Mike Rizzo has concentrated on defense in rebuilding the team, and with Jayson Werth in right field and Adam LaRoche at first base, they’ll be improved on that front. (Werth’s contract is too big, but that doesn’t erase the fact that he will make the club better with his glove and athleticism.) Nyjer Morgan is still a huge question mark in center, and I’d be surprise if left field is anything more than a revolving-door situation with a platoon of question marks penciled in now. A young middle-infield will need to show improvement, but Ryan Zimmerman is one of the best third basemen in baseball, and there’s actually too many options at catchers. Often, that’s a problem, but there actually seems to be legitimate depth there.

Bryce Harper will fill the Stasburg freak show slot this spring. There’s virtually no chance he could be in the big leagues by the end of the season, but I’d bet next year at this time there will be serious consideration of him making the team.

Am I optimistic? Heck yeah. That’s what spring training’s all about, right?

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