Hello, Nationals fans! Sorry I've been away for a while - I was totally consumed with the World Baseball Classic, and after it was over, I needed a few days to decompress. I watched way too many games, from those being played in Japan at 6 in the morning to the ones in the west coast starting at 9pm. And congratulations to the Dominican Republic for winning the tournament - they gave my Puerto Rican team a run for their money in the finals.
So now that I've recovered from baseball overload, I'm ready for the regular season to start. Wait! There's still one more week of spring training left - sigh! Because of the World Baseball Classic, spring training started a week earlier this year, so it seems like the Nationals have been down in Viera, Florida forever. But their last Grapefruit League game is this Thursday, and they will be facing the New York Yankees on Friday at Nationals Park for an exhibition game before opening the season against the Miami Marlins next week. We already bought our tickets for one of those games against the Marlins, and boy am I excited and ready to take myself out to the ballgame.
Three players who are definitely ready to get the season going are outfielder Bryce Harper, second-baseman Danny Espinosa, and starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann. Harper is batting an insane .431 this spring and has transitioned nicely from center field to left field, where he will be playing this season. Espinosa (a future Gold Glove winner, in my opinion) is batting .349 and striking out way less than last year (thank goodness!). I continue to be concerned about his shoulder, which he injured last year and did not have surgically repaired during the off-season. The switch-hitting "Espi" needs to stay healthy now that he's figured out how to not strike out so much. And then there's Jordan Zimmermann, the least talked-about but just-as-good-as-the-other-starters rightie who had the seventh-best ERA in the National League (2.94) and went 12-6 last season. Zimmermann was not a first-round draft pick like Stephen Strasburg and he's not extroverted and outgoing like Gio Gonzalez; he's a quiet guy from Wisconsin who just wants to pitch. And he does that very well.
So what's the Nationals' starting lineup probably going to look like for the regular season? Here are the likely starters that manager Davey Johnson will have facing the Marlins next week:
1. Denard Span CF
2. Jayson Werth RF
3. Bryce Harper LF
4. Ryan Zimmerman 3B
5. Adam LaRoche 1B
6. Ian Desmond SS
7. Danny Espinosa 2B
8. Kurt Suzuki/Wilson Ramos C
9. Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler, and Dan Haren
Wow! If everyone can stay healthy, this will definitely be an intimidating lineup for other teams to face! Denard Span needs to get on first base and steal second so Werth can drive him in, Ian Desmond needs to stop swinging at the first pitch, and Ryan Zimmerman needs to continue strengthening his surgically-repaired shoulder so he can go back to being the best-fielding third-baseman in the National League. But it's a long season, so avoiding injuries remains the most important factor in keeping this lineup consistent throughout the upcoming months.
So is it "World Series or bust!" like Davey Johnson said earlier this spring? Oh, I hate making predictions when a season is so long and so much can happen! But the Nationals have the talent and determination to win the NL East again this year. What they do in the playoffs is not up to me to decide (especially after last year's heartbreak). For now, let's get the season started on a good note and for goodness sake, let's get some warm weather to go along with the start of a new season!