Today is the first day of mandatory spring training for the Nats and after my dad and I looked over the 40-man roster that was in the Washington Post the other day, I decided I would share a few lineup scenarios that I consider to be a reality with my loyal readers (all 3 of you).
First, I would like to start with the Opening Day lineup for when the Nats open the season in Florida against the Marlins on April 6th for a three-game series. Essentially what this lineup dictates is what the 9-man batting order is going to look like for the Nationals when they field their best lineup, although you could certainly laugh at the use of the word "best" in that sentence, seeing as it is the Nats afterall. Accompanying the players' names are their batting average, home run total, and runs-batted-in total for 2008, except for the pitcher, who has his pitching stats displayed in win-loss, earned-run-average, innings pitched, and strikeouts. Now, the lineup.
1st - SS Christian Guzman (.316, 9 HR, 55 RBI in 138 games)
2nd - CF Lastings Milledge (.268, 14 HR, 61 RBI in 138 games)
3rd - 3B Ryan Zimmerman (.283, 14 HR, 51 RBI in 106 games)
4th - LF Adam Dunn (.236, 40 HR, 100 RBI in 158 games)
5th - RF Elijah Dukes (.264, 13 HR, 44 RBI in 81 games)
6th - 1B Nick Johnson (.220, 5 HR, 20 RBI in 38 games)
7th - C Jesus Flores (.256, 8 HR, 59 RBI in 90 games)
8th - 2B Anderson Hernandez (.333, 0 HR, 17 RBI in 28 games)
9th - P John Lannan (9-15, 3.91 ERA, 182.0 IP, 117 K)
Now that lineup may not have opposing teams wetting themselves by just looking at it, but there is a great deal of potential hidden under the surface. Christian Guzman was an all-star last year who had his best year at the plate and seems likely to repeat that this year. Lastings Milledge, like many players on this list, spent some time injured last season, but coming off his injury hit .300 and showed a great deal of potential at the plate. Ryan Zimmerman is the face of the franchise and has the skills to back it up, but because of no lineup protection the last few seasons, has been unable to put up the kind of offensive numbers that people would like because pitchers stay away from the strike zone while he's at bat because nobody behind him could hit. However, that looks to change this year as the big signing of the off-season, Adam Dunn, sits behind him in the lineup with a consistent 40 HR a season bat that will give pitchers a reason to try and throw strikes to Zimmerman as well as the young-and-talented Elijah Dukes, who hits behind Dunn and, with the right lineup protection, could hit 25-30 HR this year. Nick Johnson rounds out the middle of the lineup in the 6-hole and, provided he stays healthy (he's played only 38 games the past 2 seasons because of injury), he could be a very solid offensive presence in the lineup capable of hitting around .300 and has a history of being good at getting on base as well. Following him up is Jesus Flores, whose talent last year both behind and at the plate demanded he play ahead of veteran Paul Lo Duca, and with good reason. Flores calls a good game behind the plate to back up a knack for getting timely hits to score runs or keep innings alive. The wild card of the offensive side of the lineup is sitting in the 8-hole, but could very well find himself at the top of the lineup or at the bottom of the bench depending on how well he does with his opportunities this spring. If he falters, look for Willie Harris to fill in for him and hit at the top of the lineup because of his excellent play last season. Last, but certainly not least is John Lannan, who anchored a very inconsistent pitching staff last year and whose body of work looks to have situated him as the ace of the staff this season until somebody else proves they can out-pitch him.
Personally, I have a lot of hope for this season and I think this team has the potential finish much better than they did last year. The remainder of the starting pitching staff, which I did not have time to cover, shows a good deal of potential and could surprise some people this year. The clincher to whether the Nats can be successful this year depends largely on their young bullpen. Should the bullpen be able to hold down good performances, this team could surprise people and finish as high as 3rd place in the NL East. While there's obviously no comparison to the Phillies and Mets, the Braves and Marlins could find themselves overtaken by this Nationals team if all their potential and youth pans out into wins. It's a bold prediction, but we'll see what happens. Afterall, anything is possible and, as Chris Berman said 400 times during Super Bowl week this year, "that's why they play the game."