One of my family’s favorite things to do in the spring and summer is to attend Frederick Keys games. They are affordable, close by, and I think the only place in town where my kids can get Dippin’ Dots. It’s also nice to see Keys players moving up within the Orioles organization and making it to the Major Leagues.
But not all Frederick-area residents are Orioles fans; some root for the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Philadelphia Phillies (boo!), and even the New York Yankees (double-boo!). Others, like me, root for the Washington Nationals, who have a very nice ball park in the National Harbor-area of Washington, DC.
The Nationals arrived in the nation’s capital from Canada in 2005, where they were the Montreal Expos. They’ve had some not-so-good seasons, with a record of 492-640. The good thing about having a lousy record is that you get a good draft pick, and the Nationals have capitalized with players like Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen, and Bryce Harper.
When a team has had a lousy season, team officials like to use the excuse that it was “a rebuilding year.” Well. After 7 seasons of “rebuilding,” the Nationals are finally poised for what should be a very good 2012 season.
So what’s all the buzz about this year? It seems the Nationals have some very good arms in Spring Training, and since good pitching stops good hitting, this season promises to be an interesting one. In previous years, the Nationals have had two or three definitive starters, with three or four spots open for players to fill in the starting rotation. This year, thanks to off-season acquisitions, the Nats have an overabundance of pitching, some strong arms that will definitely be starting, and one or two guys who could start, but instead will be relegated to the bullpen.
The highlight of the Nationals’ off-season was the acquisition of lefty Gio Gonzalez, who comes with a solid 38-32 record with the Oakland A’s, and Edwin Jackson, a righty who went a combined 12-9 with a 3.79 ERA last season with the White Sox and Cardinals, registering a double-digit win total for the fourth consecutive season. If the Nationals’ pitching coaches can get Jackson to modify his wind-up a little bit so that little old ladies can no longer steal bases from him, he can definitely have a positive impact on the Nats’ starting rotation.
Gonzalez and Jackson will share the starting role with Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg, both who had Tommy John surgeries one year apart (feel free to Google “Tommy John surgery if you don’t know what it is – it’s very interesting!). Strasburg will be limited to approximately 160 innings this season, which was the same amount that Zimmermann pitched last year as he was coming back from his surgery. Other possible starters are John Lannan (whose name keeps floating around in trade rumors), Chien-Ming Wang (who pitched OK last year after shoulder surgery), and Ross Dettwiler (who has to do an outstanding job this spring to nail a starting slot). Oh yeah, and there’s Craig Stammen, Tom Gorzelanny, and Yunesky Maya who also want starting roles in the rotation!
How about the bullpen? Things there seem a bit crowded too – since it will likely include some of the starters left out of the rotation plus closer Drew Storen, hard-throwing Henry Rodriguez, All-Star Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, former Philly Brad Lidge, Ryan Mattheus, Chad Durbin, Rafael Martin, Atahualpa Severino and Ryan Perry. That’s 20 pitchers in all – obviously some of them will not make the cut after Spring Training, but for the first time in team history, it’s a nice problem to have. Plus they need to have a starter-in-waiting for when Strasburg hit his inning limit, probably around late August.
So things look promising from a pitching standpoint for the Nationals in 2012. In my next post I will discuss the Nats’ fielding, offense, and potential lineups for the regular season. While the Nationals do face some offensive deficiencies, if your pitching staff keeps you in the game every night, you don't have to be dominant offensively to win. Stay tuned, my friends – it’s going to be an exciting baseball season!