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Washington Nationals Preview
by Matt Fargo - 03/04/2008
2007 Record 73 Wins 89 Losses - 4th National League East
2007 Money +$1,622 Moneyline ~ +$1,282 Runline ~ 72-79 Over/Under
It was a third straight non-winning season for the Nationals since coming over from Montreal but if any positive can come out of last season it was that they did not finish in last place in the National League East for the first time. 16 games under .500 might sound bad but this team was projected to lose over 100 games and possibly be one of the worst teams in history. The Nationals collected $1,622 for their backers, easily the most for a team with a losing record. Now it is time to increase the win totals.
The offense was dismal last season for the Nationals and that really came as no surprise as coming into the season they knew it would be a weakness. Washington hit only .256 last season, 4th worst in the National League while its 123 home runs was the lowest in the league. Upgrades were needed and the Nationals did just that in the offseason. They acquired Lastings Milledge from the Mets and Elijah Dukes from the Devil Rays, two young outfielders with loads of upside.
Also brought in from the Mets was catcher Paul LoDuca who should help bring in more production at that spot. Holdovers from last season include Ryan Zimmerman, whose numbers dipped somewhat last season but still has a great upside, Austin Kearns, who had a career high in RBIâ€™s and Dmitri Young, the Nationals lone All-Star from last season. Young will get pushed at first base by Nick Johnson, who missed all of last season with a broken leg. A veteran middle infield also remains intact.
2008 Starting Pitching
The starting pitching is a fragile unit and fingers will be crossed throughout the spring. Shawn Hill, the likely Opening Day starter, has already been shut down after complaining of tightness in his right forearm, an injury that forced him to miss time last season. An MRI came back negative and rest is hoping to do the trick. He was solid last season, posting a 3.42 ERA in 16 starts. John Patterson, last yearâ€™s Opening Day starter, has made only 15 starts the last two seasons due to nerve injuries in his throwing arm.
Next in line is Jason Bergmann, who missed time in 2007 with elbow and hamstring injuries. After coming back at the end of August, he posted a 4.24 ERA after putting together an ERA of 2.76 in April and May. The bottom half of the rotation looks to be possessed by two lefties, Matt Chico and John Lannan, both of whom are coming off decent rookie campaigns. They will both be pushed by veterans Tim Redding and Odalis Perez as well as a crop of young players.
The bullpen has been the strength of this team ever since coming to Washington. The Nationals had a 3.81 ERA last season, which was 8th best in baseball and there is no reason to think it wonâ€™t be just as good. The Nationals possess one of the best closers in the game in Chad Cordero and even though his numbers slipped for a second straight season, he is still one of the tops in baseball. Setup men Jon Rauch and Saul Rivera are both back and are vital to this unit.
Even better news is the health of Luis Ayala who after missing all of 2006, came back in late June last season and continued his dominance with a 3.19 ERA in 44 appearances. Jesus Colome and Chris Schroder, who posted 3.82 and 3.18 ERAâ€™s respectively, are the likely long relief candidates and then throw veteran Ray King into the mix and what you have is one of the best pens in baseball. Mike Bacsik struggled as a starter last season but could fill the final bullpen spot.
2008 Overall Outlook
The Nationals are going in the right direction and after surpassing expectations last season, they hope they can continue to do so. The problem is that they are playing in the National League East with the Mets, Phillies and Braves, all of whom are thinking postseason and beyond. The below average record last season will help out bettors this season as Washington will remain low on the radar. If the starting pitching can remain healthy, we will once again see some great value with the Nationals.