The Nats were awful in 2009. Don't blame their hitters, though: They had the sixth-highest OBP in the National League. They also have a talented enough corps of power hitters to overcome a park that has slightly depressed offense across the board.
Manager Jim Riggleman will get a full season to run the squad his way, and it will be interesting to see what approach he takes. Riggleman has captained his share of sinking ships and has dutifully overseen the growth of various teams' highly touted prospects with patience. Although they're beyond prospect status, outfielder Elijah Dukes and catcher Jesus Flores should benefit from that paradigm.
Bad teams make midseason trades. Players like first baseman Adam Dunn could be traded to contending clubs. Watch for the men who would replace them, like Chris Marrero.
Not looking to waste young arms, the Nationals handled all their pitchers with extreme caution. They also lacked quality arms to begin with. Starters threw more than 100 pitches just 42 times, fewest in the league and 10 fewer than the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Nats fired their pitching coach on June 9 and replaced him with organizational instructor Steve McCatty. Under McCatty, the staff would finish the season with the third-highest groundball percentage in the NL, lowered its rate of hits and walks allowed, and slightly throttled back on strikeouts. Newcomer Jason Marquis, who relies heavily on his sinker, can help McCatty sell that system.
Judging from Riggleman's past clubs, he'd prefer someone to emerge as his clear-cut closer. If no one stands out, he won't hesitate to mix and match. That is good news for Matt Capps, because at least the onus is on him.
The outfield is great, but unfortunately, the Nats focus on groundball pitching, and their infield defense consists of Ryan Zimmerman and a whole lot of holes.
Adam Kennedy wasn't a serviceable defender at second base last year, so he'll need to rebound. Guzman is limited, oftentimes because of nagging injuries, at short. Ian Desmond is capable of some spectacular play in up the middle and would be an upgrade, but the Nats would probably have to live with mental mistakes.
About Matt Trueblood
Matt is a journalism student at Loyola University Chicago. The guest contributor is a featured Chicago Cubs columnist on the Bleacher Report as well as a contributor to hotstove.com. Matt envisions himself as both a writer and analyst and strives to deliver pieces that are both well-researched and thought-provoking. He work first appeared on KFFL.com in February 2010.
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