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Opening Day preview

Mar 30, 2011, 2:32 PM EST

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Jim Riggleman enters the final year of his contract with expectations raised.

While it’s certainly good to be home again, I have to say: This weather is pretty depressing. I mean, it was 85 degrees in Viera yesterday when I left Space Coast Stadium. It’s 45 degrees here in the D.C. area, and the rain is coming.

The forecast for the next two days does not look good. Seventy percent chance of rain this afternoon and evening during NatsFest. Eighty percent chance of rain tomorrow afternoon during the scheduled opener against the Braves. (If you’re wondering, Friday’s forecast is much better, which temperatures climbing into the 50s and sunshine replacing the gray clouds. If tomorrow’s game is postponed, it would almost certainly be made up at 1:05 p.m. Friday.)

For now, though, let’s remain optimistic and assume everything gets played as planned. Speaking of optimism, you’ll want to make sure you read the complete Opening Day preview package we put together at It includes a Q&A in which I answer all your pressing questions about the Nats (and even make a couple of predictions). I also suggest the six home series you won’t want to miss this season. And you can read my NL East preview, with predicted standings.

One final programming note before I start bundling up to head to Nationals Park for today’s RainFest: ESPN 980 AM will be broadcasting live from The Bullpen bar outside the center field gate tomorrow from 10 a.m. through 2 p.m. Barring a last-minute change of schedule, I’ll be out there from 11 a.m. through about 12:30 p.m. Please stop by and say hello on your way into the ballpark.

  1. Sec 3, My Sofa - Mar 30, 2011 at 2:42 PM

    I was going to start posting predicted W/L, but you're right, Mark–the weather alone will drive it down below 70 wins.

  2. erocks33 - Mar 30, 2011 at 2:49 PM

    This has nothing to do with predictions for the season (78 wins) or weather for tomorrow (45 and rainy), but I *NEED* to find out the answer to this and the only place I know where to get the correct answer would be here, so here goes:I just switched from DirecTV to FiOS. While I know where MASN is (HD and standard def channels), for the life of me I can't find any mention of where MASN2 is. Please tell me that FiOS has MASN2 (I mean they have virtually every other channel that's out there!).Please help!

  3. JD - Mar 30, 2011 at 3:07 PM

    My predictions: 75 wins based on a starting rotation which cannot realistically compete with that of the Phillies, Marlins and the Braves. I think that Espinosa, Desmond and Ramos are still large question marks. I think that Livo will be hard pressed to repeat last year but that should be mitigated by a much better Marquis this year. Lannan should be better than last year and Zimmermann and Gorzelany are significantly better than Olsen and Mock. I think we need to be very patient with Zimmermann because pitchers in year 2 after TJ surgery have historically struggled to maintain consistency and command; velocity should be fine. Detwiler will be in the rotation on a regular basis because of an injury or a trade; I think he will be succsesful. Finally; and this may be an unpopular opinion; I think that the Werth signing; while a feel good story for us fans was a horrendous baseball move with a real possibility; even probability that the last 3 years of the contract will be a huge albatross around the teams neck (I like Werth a lot but like the rest of us he is subject to aging). Go Nats

  4. Knoxville Nat - Mar 30, 2011 at 3:07 PM

    Mark,I returned from Viera myself just yesterday having completed my first trip to a Nationals spring training. I want to thank you for the two guides to ST that you wrote several weeks ago as they were most helpful in our stay. Since we stayed in Melbourne I will attest to your recommendations of Meg O'Malley's Irish Pub and Bonefish Willy's as two excellent choices for dining. I also want to thank NatsJack for his tips on parking and directions to the stadium. Got to meet NatsJack at the Marlins game on Sunday and it was a pleasure to meet him. Only two regrets were the rain out on Monday evening and of course not meeting Mark the Man so I could personally thank him for this blog and his hard work in covering all things Nationals. Maybe some other time…. Go Nats!!

  5. Original Nats Fan - Mar 30, 2011 at 3:08 PM

    excellent writing as usual, Mark. I hope the Nats get out of the basement and approach 80 wins.@erocks33here's what MASN has on their website under find MASN, at bottom under Verizon:masn: 77 or 78masn2: 1masnHD 577Masn2 HD 501hope that helps

  6. Anonymous - Mar 30, 2011 at 3:10 PM

    MASN2 HD is on Channel 501 on FiOS when it is in operation, just like CSNWashington is on 501 when there are Wizards and Caps games on at the same time. The good news is that Nats are in HD on 501–CSN is not.

  7. sjb - Mar 30, 2011 at 3:14 PM

    Mark:In your CSN article, you say that there is a chance Riggleman might be relieved of duty midseason if the Nats have a REALLY bad first half. If so, there are tow obvious possibilities for an interim replacement– bench coach John McLaren (managed in MLB before, not too impressively) or third base coach Bo Porter (never managed in majors but has been tagged a 'manager of the future' by some pundits). Care to say which one should/will get the nod if it comes to that, or is there another candidate(s)?

  8. Steve M. - Mar 30, 2011 at 3:14 PM

    Try 77 and 1526 for MASN and MASN2 in Loudoun County.

  9. NatsJack in Florida - Mar 30, 2011 at 3:16 PM

    Hey Knoxville Nat…. great to meet you, too. I'm flying out at 7:30 AM tomorrow and heading straight to the ball park from the airport. Weather be damned!!! I'll still be there through Sunday morning.

  10. Pete - Mar 30, 2011 at 3:20 PM

    Anybody going to go to the fanfest? The weather SUCKS.

  11. Anonymous - Mar 30, 2011 at 3:22 PM

    @erocks If you're in Richmond, MASN2 is on channel 1 (non-HD).

  12. Jim Mc - Mar 30, 2011 at 3:22 PM

    Last season MASN2 was on 1 or 501 for HD. Not sure if that's changed this year. It might not be labelled such but games pop up there when they're on.

  13. sjm308 - Mar 30, 2011 at 3:26 PM

    I am going to natsfest but have a backup plan. Will meet my buddy on 8th street for good beer and pizza around 1:30. If the weather is ok, we will walk to the park, if not, more beer. I agree, this weather sucks for baseball fans.This was already covered but in Mont. Co. its 577 for masn hd and 501 for masn 2 and it is great that the Nats are in High Def on both channelsGo Nats!!

  14. Steve M. - Mar 30, 2011 at 3:31 PM

    Mark – That is a Nats friendly prediction I see on your CSN. Predicted record: 77-85.I could see that or better if the Nats get a winning record against the Marlins. I like that the Marlins don't have Uggla although he is now in a tougher Braves lineup.Buster Olney is picking the Braves to win the NL East so it will be a tough climb in the NL East as usual.I am picking the Nats at 75 wins and hoping they better it by 10%.

  15. Anonymous - Mar 30, 2011 at 3:34 PM

    So wait, no more Five Guys?

  16. citizen16 - Mar 30, 2011 at 3:34 PM

    Does anyone have an idea when the Nats will make a decision on the game tomorrow?Would they wait until the last minute and hope they can get the game in on Thursday, or would they decide sometime today to just push the game to Friday?

  17. Tcostant - Mar 30, 2011 at 3:45 PM

    I think I read on the Washington Post blogs yesterday that 5 Guys is gone and Giffords has been replaced by Bryers and that they added a place with Crab Cakes…

  18. N. Cognito - Mar 30, 2011 at 4:00 PM

    Five Guys decided not to renew their lease.Giffords was not Giffords. Lots of money problems.

  19. erocks33 - Mar 30, 2011 at 4:01 PM

    thanks everyone for the MASN2 info. I'll be flipping over to 501 whenever the Nats games are on MASN2.NatsJack … where will you be sitting for OD tomorrow? If I'm walking around that area tomorrow I'll keep my eyes out for someone wearing a NatsJack shirt (though I'm guessing it may be covered up by a jacket since it will be pretty chilly).

  20. Knoxville Nat - Mar 30, 2011 at 4:19 PM

    NatsJack,Bring the winter gear and have fun!

  21. Feel Wood - Mar 30, 2011 at 4:28 PM

    "Does anyone have an idea when the Nats will make a decision on the game tomorrow?Would they wait until the last minute and hope they can get the game in on Thursday, or would they decide sometime today to just push the game to Friday?"Unless there's an absolute monsoon today and the park gets flooded beyond the point of recovery, they would not decide today to postpone the game to Friday. And the last forecast I heard was calling for about a half inch of rain today and cloudy/drizzly tomorrow. If that holds up, they'll play tomorrow, even if it results in a rain delay or two. At any rate, they never cancel games based only on a dire forecast. They wait until the forecast comes true to do it – which means that if the game is really canceled, that decision likely won't be made until close to game time tomorrow.

  22. Steve M. - Mar 30, 2011 at 4:46 PM missed this that Justin Maxwell was sent down to AAA on Monday. He has actually shortened his swing which is what he needed to do. Still not sure where he is on the Yankees depth chart although I expect he will do well in AAA.

  23. citizen16 - Mar 30, 2011 at 4:46 PM

    @Feel Wood said: "Unless there's an absolute monsoon today and the park gets flooded beyond the point of recovery, they would not decide today to postpone the game to Friday."Okay, thanks. That's helpful. With Friday as an open day with a much more optimistic weather forecaset too, I thought they might opt to go ahead and push everything a day.

  24. PAY TO PLAY - Mar 30, 2011 at 5:04 PM

    On ex-favorite Nats, Lastings Milledge is reunited with Adam Dunn again over in Chicago but it could be short-lived as the White Sox are going 1 pitcher short to start their season until they need a 5 man rotation and then will have to remove a bench player.Milledge bulked up over the winter and flashed some real power in Arizona. He hit more HRs in ST then Adam Dunn (I put that in there for JD so he can tell us again ST stats don't matter). I don't know how long Milledge will last on that roster but he impressed a lot of people with plate discipline and then flashing some power. Problem is he still can't play great defense.

  25. DFL - Mar 30, 2011 at 5:09 PM

    I'm not surprised 5 Guys is gone. With the expense of tickets, parking and beer, who can afford to eat? Operating a food stand at a ball park must not make much profit.The Nats seem to be a mid-70s win team. Oddly, the relief pitching, such a pleasant surprise last year, looks a bit shaky. Storen may find himself in Syracuse by May 1. Giving Rodriguez the starting catching job is a mistake. Ramos should be starting two-thirds of the games because he's the better player. The Nats need to find out whether Ramos is a Brain McCann or whether he's a Jim Sundberg.

  26. natsfan1a - Mar 30, 2011 at 5:24 PM

    P to P, if memory serves Dunn is typically a slow starter, in ST and in the regular season.

  27. PAY TO PLAY - Mar 30, 2011 at 5:35 PM

    natsfan1a, absolutely correct on Dunn and my comment was tongue-in-cheek about the HRs, though Milledge did play well. He probably was that guy who took too much for granted his whole career, and finally getting serious about his game to possibly save it if he gets another opportunity.His plate discipline is what was so surprising taking a lot of walks. If nothing else, it was a good audition for bottom dweller teams that could have a need for a low-cost solution if the White Sox try to trade him.

  28. Dave - Mar 30, 2011 at 5:41 PM

    Kinda bummed out about the weather report for tomorrow. Still, a rainy sell-out against Atlanta beats the heck out of a sunny sell-out to Phillies fans.Still looking for those Nats Bucks and Red Carpet Rewards. My own personal "fan experience" feels a little bit out-of-whack this year.

  29. Mark'd - Mar 30, 2011 at 5:43 PM

    Please pencil me in for 76 wins. I'm thinking the Nationals go 21-33 against the NL East not including the Mets and 55-53 against all other team with a winning home records.

  30. natsfan1a - Mar 30, 2011 at 5:47 PM

    P to P: oops. Evidently my snarkdar is a slow starter as well. Hope that Milledge has put it together. I'd be happy for him, if so. (And now I suppose I should duck and cover as I may bring on the ire of those who were not fans of his. ;-))

  31. LoveDaNats - Mar 30, 2011 at 5:47 PM

    Maybe I'm dreaming, but if everyone lives up to their potential I see 81 wins. This year .500, next year…..contend.

  32. Anonymous - Mar 30, 2011 at 5:50 PM

    So the Nats front office believes people will skip work for possible a 3rd day in a row!? They are IDIOTS, my prediction is due to weather concerns tomorrow about 20K show up and on Friday less than 10K show up, they should have it on Saturday as part of a doubleheader, if they rain out tomorrow!!!!Also Markmeister not sure where you are getting your weather from but from about 12-4, they are forecastng light rain with a total of less than 1/4 inch which is totally playable.

  33. NatinBeantown - Mar 30, 2011 at 5:57 PM

    81 wins or bust!My real prediction contest: what 5 pitchers will have the greatest number of games started for the Nats this year?My guess:(1) Livo, 30+(2) Gorzelanny, 30+(3) Lannan, 25+(4) Maya, 20+(5) JZimm, 20+(6) Marquis, 15+ then traded(7) Detwiler, 10+(8) Wang, 5+ then traded or releasedwith Gaudin and Broderick getting the spot starts until Sept.

  34. JD - Mar 30, 2011 at 6:00 PM

    Pay to Play,Just to clarify: ST team record doesn't matter, ST performance by regulars doesn't matter. Clearly ST for players on the fence matters.BTW; I,m not buying Milledge for 1 minute. This is the same guy who failed to stick with the Pirates; enough said.

  35. masnstinks - Mar 30, 2011 at 6:07 PM

    Haven't seen much info on opening day — what time do the gates open, is all of the parking available ( it's a week-day), etc. Anywhere I can find out about what's going on tomorrow?

  36. NatsJack in Florida - Mar 30, 2011 at 6:11 PM

    erocks33… I'll be sitting just to the foul side of the right field foul pole on the level with the scoreboard pavillion. I'll also hang around the 980 ESPN booth from about 11:00 AM till 12:00 noon.masnstinks…. got an e-mail from the Nats that said gates open at 10:30 AM.

  37. Harper_ROY_2012 - Mar 30, 2011 at 6:11 PM

    Cannot wait for the shake Shack to open in June! also cannot wait for Hard Times nachos rain or shine tomorrow!!

  38. PAY TO PLAY - Mar 30, 2011 at 6:12 PM

    JD, I was on the run Milledge out of town in 2009 myself because he was a joke in ST and in the 2 weeks he was in DC that year he ran a few bad routes, was picked off base and couldn't hit.The Chisox gave him a chance and he came in with some extra bulk and motivation. His plate discipline was excellent as he saw a lot of pitches and took his walks and made the team so Kenny Williams bought it for the time being. We will see if he is there at the end of April after they cut 1 bench player.

  39. Jeeves - Mar 30, 2011 at 6:24 PM

    You've heard it here first (and likely never again)–Barring serious injury, the Nats will get 84 wins. Although I'm bothered about some of the final cuts they made, especially sending down Balester.

  40. JohninMPLS - Mar 30, 2011 at 6:24 PM

    I'm going in for 69 wins. I know – if you can't be optimistic the day before Opening Day, when can you be? I guess this says a lot about my perspective.But I just don't have a lot of confidence in the pitching – starters and relievers.And hey, pessimists are never disappointed. I may be setting myself up for a nice summer surprise.

  41. PAY TO PLAY - Mar 30, 2011 at 6:38 PM

    JohninMPLS, I like the starting pitching and the depth. The bullpen will need to be tweaked just like last year as well as CF but so much improved at 2nd, C, and overall in the OF and starting pitching that I will go with 73 wins.Any more wins would come from winning more than 15 combined games vs. The Big 3 in the NL East and I do believe the Nats will be over .500 combined against everyone else as a sum total for the 2011 season.If the Phillies didn't pick up Cliff Lee I think that was a -2 in my mind against the Phillies otherwise I would have been at 75. I also hope for some positive surprises.and to NatinBeantown, no love for Stephen Strasburg? I give Stras 4 starts in September.and to Jeeves, I hope you are right!!!!

  42. Section 223 - Mar 30, 2011 at 6:55 PM

    I'll go one better than Jeeves – I say 85 wins. I like who we have in AAA waiting in case of slow starts. I like the veteran makeup of the baseball players (as opposed to athletes learning baseball) and I think this is the year we start learning how to win, instead of just playing not to loose.

  43. A DC Wonk - Mar 30, 2011 at 6:58 PM

    I tend to be a bit optimistic — I'm guessing that between JZimm, Detweiler, Marquis, & Maya, that two will pan out well (which will be two better pitchers than last year). For relief pitching, I'm not convinced it will be that much worse than last year — with Bally ready to come up, and the possible surprise of Broderick, and that Burnett is underrated.Defense is markedly improved (in LF, CF, and 1B). Hitting is slightly improved. Bench is much improved; Pudge won't have to carry the catching load with Ramos around.I think all of the above is worth 9-10 wins or so, and I'll throw in one more for improved professional atmosphere.Put it all together . . . and I'm going all out for an 11-win improvement over last year: 80 wins.

  44. Steve M. - Mar 30, 2011 at 6:58 PM

    Looks like Corey Brown played in a Minor League ST game yesterday and was 2 for 3.Nice to see that! Would love to have seen him in the mix all of March!I will be near the back of Section 124 in the Diamond Club tomorrow for OD! Heading to NatsFest now so see you all tomorrow!

  45. Anonymous - Mar 30, 2011 at 7:25 PM

    I predict that at some point Desmond plays 2B and Espinosa plays SS, as it should be. What are they thinking? Desmond is more Jeff Kent than Derek Jeter in terms of his glove work. And Danny has skills at SS.

  46. Anonymous - Mar 30, 2011 at 8:06 PM

    Weather for tomorrow is no rain from 6am to 4pm so they will get the game in!!!

  47. JohninMPLS - Mar 30, 2011 at 8:09 PM

    P2P, I do like the pitching depth. It's certainly better than last year. They shouldn't be reaching down to AAA to get an Atilano this year.I guess it's the the breadth I'm concerned with?In the end, we're only four wins apart. If I'm only four games more pessimistic than you, I'm not a lost cause, right?Four games more pessimistic. Is there a stat for that?

  48. Cwj - Mar 30, 2011 at 8:29 PM

    Hey guys. I have a question. My dad and fellow Nats fan moved to Colorado but would still like to watch their games on TV (he has Comcast, if that matters). How would he go about doing this?My dad would greatly appreciate any info. Thanks!Go Nats!

  49. Dave - Mar 30, 2011 at 8:31 PM

    I think somebody who posted at 4:06 PM said something about the "weather for tomorrow" being rainless between 6am and 4pm. Don't know where that person got his/her info, but then, he/she has no name.Quoting (with respect to Thursday weather in 20036 ZIP code):"Areas of drizzle, then rain likely after 1pm."And says:"PM showers, chance of rain 30%"Now, to predict the season: I say 82 wins. I remember the last day of the season in 2005 in RFK, when they went 81-81. This year has to be an improvement over that.

  50. NatsJack in Florida - Mar 30, 2011 at 8:36 PM

    Cwj…. Really only one option for TV baseball and that's the MLB Extra-Inning Package provided by the Cable Carrier or DirecTV…

  51. Smatt1001 - Mar 30, 2011 at 8:39 PM

    I'm going to go with 82 wins as well. Makes me wish I was still living in the area so I could be there tomorrow.

  52. Ray Needay - Mar 30, 2011 at 8:45 PM

    From Channel 7/TBD…"The clouds will hang around Thursday with highs in the upper 40s. A few showers will be possible tomorrow evening through Friday morning as a coastal low passes to the east."Not great, but it looks like the game should be able to go on as scheduled.

  53. Les in NC - Mar 30, 2011 at 8:47 PM

    I want to be optimistic, I really do. But I just can't see everything breaking just the way we hope it will. I know we have a much, much stronger bench for Riggs to play with for his endgame moves, and that should equate to a few more wins over the course of the year. I also know we have a deeper list of pitchers to choose from so that when one of the OD rotation guys go down with injury we can send someone to the mound to get slaughtered, so that should keep us from losing any more games than we did last season. One last thing that I see as an improvement, our team defense and team professionalism has improved so, that should equate to a few more wins also. At the end of the season, all these things together should net us 5-8 more wins than 2010, so I am going to expect a 75 win season and hope for 81!

  54. sm13 - Mar 30, 2011 at 9:08 PM

    I'll go for 79 wins — a flirtation wtih .500 would make for a fun September. Yes, the starting rotation has holes, but the improved defense, especially Adam L (not D) at first will save us a few games.As for me, I'll miss Five Guys, it was our go-to place on game day.Go NATS!!

  55. Curly W - Mar 30, 2011 at 9:15 PM

    Hey NatsJack …… Back in Ellicott City now ( damn it) but will see you at the park tomorrow. Enjoyed shooting the Sh*t on Sunday afternoon.Kevin

  56. Anonymous - Mar 30, 2011 at 9:16 PM

    "As for me, I'll miss Five Guys, it was our go-to place on game day."Then just go to the one a couple of blocks away from the ballpark and carry it in with you. You'll pay half the price too!

  57. Cwj - Mar 30, 2011 at 9:21 PM

    @NatsJack – Thanks! I'll pass that on to my dad.

  58. JaneB - Mar 30, 2011 at 9:38 PM

    Well, I will be looki g morentha usually porcine tomorrow because I will have two layers of long underwear on under other layers and a big coat. It's nit right ti wat h baseball like that, but I will take cold baseball over NO baseball, any day.I started the off season saying 79 wins. Rationally, I know I should stick there. But why not root root root for the home team and intend what I really want (this year)? Put me down for 81 wins. This is ine time I hope Mark Z gets it wrong. :-)I'll be the stuff sausage in the purple coat in 131 tomorrow. My Nats shirt will be totally hidden.Go Nats!

  59. Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me - Mar 30, 2011 at 9:48 PM

    Pass the Kool-aid, break out the longjohns and the rain gear, and put me down for 83 wins.Yeah, it's probably time to change the bong water.

  60. NatsJck in Florida - Mar 30, 2011 at 9:51 PM

    Curly W…. try and swing by The Bull Pen before the game. I'll try and be there by 11:00 AM.

  61. LoveDaNats - Mar 30, 2011 at 9:58 PM

    As I listen to the rain on the roof I'm really feelin' for you guys at NatsFest. It's gotta be miserable. I had tickets but was too much of a wuss to go with this forecast. See you all tomorrow though, no matter what.

  62. Anonymous8 - Mar 30, 2011 at 11:41 PM PHILADELPHIA PHILLIESProjected lineupSS Jimmy RollinsCF Shane VictorinoLF Raul Ibanez1B Ryan Howard3B Placido PolancoRF Ben FranciscoC Carlos Ruiz2B Luis Castillo, you need to change your projection for the Phils!

  63. bertbkatz - Mar 31, 2011 at 3:10 AM

    Seen on ESPN bottom line: Phillies cut Luis Castillo! Seen on another thread: Phillies bring up Pete Orr!





As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...

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