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How the Nats could contend in 2011

Feb 4, 2010, 5:15 PM EDT

Thanks to everyone who voted in our first Nats Insider poll. It turned out to feature a neck-and-neck race. Take a look…

QUESTION: How soon do you think the Nats could realistically be in a pennant race?
2010: 5 (4%)
2011: 57 (45%)
2012: 50 (40%)
2013 or later: 12 (9%)

I guess we can safely say there's only minimal belief the pieces could all fall into place this year and produce a surprise pennant run on South Capitol Street. But I guess we can also say with some conviction that fans are optimistic it could happen in the near future.

My personal take on the matter? I think it's entirely possible the Nats could contend in 2011. I'm not saying I think it's a certainty,Read more ยป

  1. An Briosca Mor - Feb 4, 2010 at 5:45 PM

    I would suggest that the Nats could contend in 2011 if only they'd fire Manny Acta, but I don't want to get JayB started again. But seriously, in regard to your characterization of Willingham consider what his 2009 line would have looked like if so many of his homers hadn't been solo shots. (I believe his first 12 or 13 were, before he finally hit one out with runners aboard.) Add another 15 or so missed RBI to the 61 he had, and he's getting closer to the 90 you're looking for. He already had 24 of the 25 dingers you want. I think the big question with Willingham is this: Is he streaky, like Ryan Zimmerman always has been, and if so can he produce enough during his hot spells to offset his slumps? Or was his hot spell in 2009 just an aberration? 2010 should provide the answer to that. Similarly, 2010 is the make-or-break year for Dukes. One has to hope that at least one of those ships comes in.

  2. JMW4th - Feb 4, 2010 at 5:59 PM

    Josh Willingham….they call him Sir Solo Shot.*cue cheesy tv-show intro music*

  3. Anonymous - Feb 4, 2010 at 6:38 PM

    If this team is every going to contend, they will need to improve their defense. They had the most errors of any team last year and I think the most by any team in over 5 years.Until they gobble of all the balls, they won't have much success, since thier pitchers don't strike guys out. Ground ball pitchers and bad defense, is not good!

  4. JayB - Feb 4, 2010 at 6:49 PM

    That is the unknown….Defense…thus the need to have a focused, well run Spring Training with accountability and high expectations….everything Acta did not do…..Oh and who decided to play Kearns instead of Willingham….Ding Ding….Acta is the right answer.

  5. Wally - Feb 4, 2010 at 7:13 PM

    MarkGood note. Color me skeptical for 2011, but I think that you are touching on most of the things that have to happen for there to be a chance. Here is my two cents:On Willingham, I think that he can be that #5 hitter. I think that he already is. FanGraphs ran a piece a little while ago comparing him to Jason Bay, and concluding, based on career stats (not just last year) that they are very similar players, and Bay is only slightly better. That feels right to me. My bigger issue, lineupwise, is everyone else :#2, 6, 7 and 8. For the Nats to seriously contend for the playoffs into September (within 5 games of WC on Sep 1?), their lineup needs to get MLB average or better production from C, SS and 2B, with a bopper in RF. Does Flores step up? With Hudson apparently going to the Twins, can Desmond/Espinosa or a FA step up (we need two of them). And then Dukes. It is a lot to ask for all of that to happen. But the bigger reason that I am skeptical is the pitching – let's say that SS becomes a dominant hurler during his career – does it happen after only 1/2 season? And ditto for JZimm – assuming a complete recovery from TJ, does he rebound by that first full season back? Once again a long shot. Then Marquis has to hold on, not decline. lannan seems safe, but again, with pitchers there is always that risk. So sorry to be a pessimist, but it just seems like too much has to go right.

  6. jcj5y - Feb 4, 2010 at 8:29 PM

    I agree with others that Willingham is pretty close to the ideal 5 hitter you're describing. I don't want to be overly optimistic here, especially as Hudson signs with the Twins, but if Dukes were to fulfill his potential in 2010, the Nats' 3-6 hitters are as good or better than anyone's. As for 2011, I think Strasburg and Zimmermann are the two biggest keys, because front line starting pitchers are the hardest thing to find on the open market. The second hardest thing, which you didn't mention, is a quality catcher. So I think Flores is a huge key to 2011. Itbis unlikely that Norris will be ready by then.

  7. JMW4th - Feb 4, 2010 at 8:33 PM

    lemme ask you something Mark. I don't expect a detailed answer here, but I was just wondering.are you still getting Reporter-esque access to the team and FO? or are you kinda blogging from the outside like a regular blogger, based on what you already know about the team?

  8. Mark Zuckerman - Feb 4, 2010 at 8:42 PM

    JMW: Same access as always, because I'll still have a BBWAA card this year (which guarantees admittance to any major-league press box/clubhouse) and the Nats will also credential me for some regular freelance reporting I've landed.

  9. NatsGirl - Feb 4, 2010 at 10:26 PM

    Mark: is it a major concern that Jordan Zimmerman needed Tommy John surgery so early in his career, or is that a pretty standard thing these days?When do you think we'll be likely to see Flores behind the plate regularly?

  10. Anonymous - Feb 5, 2010 at 2:40 AM

    Adam Dunn isn't the answer. There's a reason why the Nats were the only bidder on a guy who hit 40HR/100RBI for 5 straight seasons, because his defense makes him borderline useless. He was worth just as much as Jason Kendall and Skip Schumaker last year, despite doing exactly what was expected of him. His defense probably isn't as historically bad at 1B. Sure, he caught most of the balls thrown at him, but that still doesn't make him a good firstbaseman.The Nats would be better off trading Dunn at the deadline to a AL team for whatever they can get for him, then hope that Marrero or Norris can step up in 2011.

  11. Nattydread - Feb 5, 2010 at 6:17 AM

    MarkThanks for the 2011 Kool-aid. Great points about Strassburg, Zimmermann, Dunn. Willingham, right (the guy that only hit solo shots until he knocked 2 grand slams in one game?). Also the need for someone to "bust out". Point 6 needs to be defense. I agree with JayB on that. In this years' crappy free agent market, Hudson wouldn't have been much help — in fact he's a huge risk, and could have saddled us with another Guzman millstone. From what I can see, we don't have much help coming from the farm. We need a Nyjer Morgan-type trade for a hustling middle infielder. I suspect Rizzo is working on this quietly — but, except for relievers and AAAA starters, we don't have many useful pieces.

  12. Sasskuash - Feb 5, 2010 at 3:09 PM

    The Nats defense does need to get better, but I think last years dreadful performance was partially bad luck. You saw fewer errors and better defensive play last year in the second half and after certain changes- Dunn at 1B instead of LF, Willingham in LF instead of RF, a real CF (Morgan), Dukes out of CF, in his natural positon of RF, and (Yes JayB) a different manager who appears to do a better job of holding players accountable. Those changes will still be in effect this season. Also, the 2B defense will be better with Kennedy than the embarrassing mix of A. Hernandez, A. Gonzalez, Willie Harris (I love him in the OF, but he's a terrible IF defender), Pete Orr, Mike Morse and whoever else let some grounders by them at that position last season. Pudge, even though he's not the Pudge of old, is a better back-up C option than Bard or Nieves. Even if our defense is not great this year, it will not be the worst in MLB either.

  13. periculum - Feb 6, 2010 at 4:21 AM

    They needed Aroldis Chapman to make this a statistically probably done deal. It didn't happen.The draft may yield better possibilities for the pitching rotation … but now its 2012 … Rizzo/Riggleman MUST do better … they know they've screwed the pooch … get to work boyz …you missed the mark.

  14. NatsGirl - Feb 6, 2010 at 4:20 PM

    We're all bemoaning these trades and acquisitions for no reason. These guys are all just stop-gaps. There's no way the Nats are going to be contenders this year or next. I did some research on Baseball Reference.com (because what else am I going to do in a blizzard) and came up with this: if a team–expansion or relocation–hasn't become a contender (defined as finishing first or second in its division) by year 3, then it generally takes at least ten years for the team to contend. We're entering year 6. If the Nats are still finishing last in the NL East in 2014, then I'll start thinking about moving to Birdland.

Archives

NL EAST STANDINGS

W L GB
WASHINGTON 72 53 --
ATLANTA 66 61 7.0
MIAMI 63 63 9.5
NEW YORK 60 68 13.5
PHILADELPHIA 56 71 17.0
Through Wednesday's games

UPCOMING SCHEDULE
THU: Diamondbacks at Nats, 4:05 p.m.
FRI: Giants at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
SAT: Giants at Nats, 4:05 p.m.
SUN: Giants at Nats, 1:35 p.m.
MON: Nats at Phillies, 7:05 p.m.
TUE: Nats at Phillies, 7:05 p.m.
WED: Nats at Phillies, 7:05 p.m.
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ON THE RADIO

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TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
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