There are few sweeter words than “Pitchers and Catchers Report Today.” As Andy Ihnatko said the other day, seeing the team’s gear come off the plane in Florida is like the joy of a three year old espoused by a big, bright floating red ballon. This is the Lent of baseball. We wait in patient hope for the return of the game that brings us summertime joy and no shortage of rollercoaster moments.
The Nationals face an uphill battle this season, but with their off-season moves to pick up some additional power in the outfield, and starting pitcher Odalis Perez has just now accepted the Nats minor-league offer and will join the club for spring training shortly. In addition, Hill and Patterson look good on the mound according to early reports from Viera, Florida where the Nats make their springtime home. Nick Johnson’s back from that nearly-career-ending leg break in 2006, and put on a batting display for press down at Space Coast Stadium the other day. There are reasons to be please with the Nats right now, and hopeful in the long-term.
So, the big questions:
Are Hill and Patterson really healthy? If so, they’ve got three fifths of a decent starting rotation, but no real ace to guarantee a win once every five days. Who’ll start opening day? No telling.
Who’s On First? Dmitri Young or Nick Johnson? Both have incredible power and good average, but neither has the speed or the reflexes to play elsewhere in the infield. The outfield is pretty full, as well, with Lastings Milledge (Thank you, NY Mets!) and Elijah Dukes (Thank you, Free Agency!) and Austin Kearns and Wily Mo Pena splitting three positions across four bodies. In addition, they’ve got a solid fifth outfielder and late replacement in Rob Mackowiak. So, what happens to Young and Johnson? Do they select one and trade the other? Platoon? Pray for a transfer to the AL so Young can be DH?
Who’s behind the plate? The Nats picked up both Johnny Estrada and Paul Lo Duca this off-season, which bumps Jesus Flores back to the #3 spot on the depth chart. I was really looking forward to see more of Flores this season, but I expect that Lo Duca and Estrada will split time behind the plate and we won’t see much of Flores unless either is injured, or, in Lo Duca’s case suspended for buying HGH a few years back.
Can we best .500 this year? Vegas says no. Vegas says we’ll win just 72 games, losing the other 90. But I take the bull position on this one and say the Nats will turn the tables on Vegas, and will come out 85-77 and finish in the middle of the pack in the NL East. The new park will be a significant improvement for the club, and while it’ll be new for everyone, I suspect home field advantage will be quickly conferred to the Nationals.
Position Players report to Viera tomorrow, and games for the Nats start in 8 days. The Lent of Baseball is here. Embrace it.
This post appeared in its original form at DC Metblogs