Explanation of ratings system and other team previews here
Overall – 69 points (24th MLB, 14nd NL)
Starting Rotation – 21 points (29th MLB, 16th NL)
Line-Up – 31 points (22nd MLB, 12th NL)
Bench/Bullpen/Defense – 17 points (T-3rd MLB, T-1st NL)
Offseason Additions – Aaron Boone, Tyler Clippard, Johnny Estrada, Paul LoDuca, Rob Mackowiak, Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes
Offseason Subtractions – Tony Batista, Ryan Church, Nook Logan, Brian Schneider
Biggest Strength– Nationals Park
First of all, kudos to the Nationals for not (yet) selling the rights to name their stadium, for making the first “green” stadium in the country, and for having possibly the coolest backdrop to an outfield, the Capital Building and Washington Monument. That being said, it’s not the stadium that will help the Nats this year, its the fact that there will be PEOPLE there. The last time the Nationals played in front of large crowds was their inagural year in 2005. Going from no crowd to a big crowd can pump a team up, and it showed, with the team starting off 52-36 before finally playing to it’s talent level later in the season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar hot start this season.
Biggest Weakness– Starting Rotation
I started writing about the lack of a big power hitter in this line-up, but when I went to look at the Nationals depth chart on espn.com, it showed Odalis Perez as their #1 starter. This has to be a misprint, right? RIGHT? Even if it isn’t – their is not a single starter on the team (Perez, Jason Bergmann, Matt Chico, John Lannan and Tim Redding) that would be in the Top 4 of a playoff contender. One or two of them will likely surprise, but it’s likely that their very good bullpen will get A LOT of work this season.
Key Player in ’08– Ryan Zimmerman
Zimmerman is the closest thing that the Nationals have to a franchise player. However, he followed his very impressive rookie campaign by taking a step back in 2007, hitting .266 with 24 HR and 91 RBI. He is primarily a doubles hitter and a phenomenal defender, but he needs to step up this season and hit for a better average and more power – the Nationals need a big threat in the middle of their line-up.
Player to Keep an Eye On– Lastings Milledge
Milledge went from being absolutely un-tradable, to being dumped for Ryan Church and Brian Schneider in the matter of a year. Did he somehow become less talented in that year – or did the Mets decide he had character issues they didn’t want to deal with? Who knows. But the bottom line is Milledge is only 22, and talent doesn’t just vanish into thin air. Milledge will get his first chance to start everyday and will have a huge chip on his shoulder to prove the Mets wrong. I wouldn’t be surprised if people look back on this trade much like the historically horrendous Victor Zambrano – Scott Kazmir swap.
2008 Outlook: 4th Place, NL East. The Nationals don’t have any big name players on their team, but they are always a tough team to face. They have one of the best bullpen’s in majors and a decent line-up. If they can ride the emotion of opening a new stadium in front of large crowds, I think they could replicate their 81-81 record of 2005. However, their rotation is too weak for them to do much more.