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Nation of Heat: a Washington Nationals Preview

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A brief look at an opponent we play this weekend.

Offense: Jayson Werth-RF, Ian Desmond-SS, Ryan Zimmerman-3B, Michael Morse-1B, Matt Stairs-DH, Danny Espinosa-2B, Wilson Ramos-C, Jerry Hairston-LF, Roger Bernadina-CF.  Bench: Ivan Rodriguez-C, Alex Cora-INF.

Don't look now, but depending on how this afternoon's game turns out, the Nationals could be above .500.  It's kind of hard to get a grasp on what lineup they'll use, as Jim Riggleman has been kind of random with them as of late (after batting Werth leadoff for a while, now he's hitting second today).  And as I type this, he has resigned.  The White Sox will now face a team with a brand new manager for the second time this year.  Jayson Werth is yet another high-priced free agent who just isn't getting it done so far this year.  His current OPS (.743) is more in line with his years with the Blue Jays and the Dodgers than his recent seasons with the Phillies.  The once bearded phenom (they made him shave it down to a soul patch) has suffered from a loss of power, which isn't shocking having moved from a very hitter friendly park in Philadelphia to a neutral one in Washington.  He's been hitting the ball on the ground quite a bit more than is usual and hasn't been feasting on fastballs like he did the past four years.  That backloaded contract could look real bad real soon.  It's a good thing Ian Desmond has such a strong defensive reputation, because his bat has been all kinds of atrocious this season.  Desmond has shown some power in the minors, but his ceiling is likely around 10-15 homeruns at best.  The patience he displayed in the minors (BB% of at least 8.4% in his last three stops) hasn't followed him to the bigs (career BB% of 5.0).  Though it seems rare that he actually gets on base, when he does he is more than capable of swiping second (38 career steals so far at an 82.6% efficiency rate).

Ryan Zimmerman has missed the majority of the season due to an abdominal strain which required surgery.  This makes the Nationals current run even more impressive.  They've been able to stay at or around .500 all season without their best position player and their best pitcher (Stephen Strasburg is still in recovery mode after his Tommy John surgery).  Zimmerman is Evan Longoria's true competition for the title of best third baseman in the game.  Ryan does everything but steal bases and is a good guy all around to boot.  He won't be able to match his prior seasons' counting numbers, but his rate stats have been all but identical.  Once he gets comfortable again (which is hopefully after this weekend), he'll be right back where he left off last season.  Since I can't really find a spot for it, here's the intro video they play at their home games.  Doesn't really have anything to do with anything, but I thought it was neat.  Michael Morse has been a very nice surprise for the Nationals this year.  Morse started his career in our farm system and was a part of the original Freddy Garcia trade.  Eventually the Mariners tired of him and decided they wanted Ryan Langerhans more.  One torn left labrum from Adam LaRoche later, Morse found himself the everyday starting first baseman.  For those who don't play fantasy baseball, you may not have yet noticed that Mike has 13 homeruns this season in only 232 PA.  He did the same thing last season, so the power is beginning to look real.  He doesn't walk much and plays poor defense, but there's nothing wrong with a 25-30 homerun type guy who can hit for average as well. 

Matt Stairs is still in baseball.  This amuses me more than any words could possibly express.  Look at the amount of jerseys at the top of his B-R page!  It's like the bottom of a box of crayons!  A man with a physique only slightly better than that of my father is the career record holder for most teams played for (13!).  He's been in baseball longer than I've been in school!  He's somehow managed to still be an average bat off the bench the past few seasons!  He's still a threat to go yard, even though he looks like your neighbor more than a pro athlete.  I'm glad I'm not the only one who'll miss him when he's gone.  Danny Espinosa should be the Nat's ASG representative.  The 24 year old plays good defense, runs very well, and has pretty good power (13 homers already).  Once his BABIP regresses to the mean, he should have a more respectable average as well.  He is yet another prospect in what looks to be a solid group that are ready to move up to the majors for Washington.  Wilson Ramos is a member of that group, though he was not drafted by the franchise.  Ramos was the return in the strange and lopsided Matt Capps trade with the Twins last season.  I, for one, am thrilled to not have him in the division.  The young Venezuelan is the reason the Nationals lead the league in CS% with an obscene 45% of all would-be thieves gunned down.  If he can get his bat up to average (his wOBA is at .315), he will be a very nice player to hold on to.

Jerry Hairston and Laynce Nix have been splitting time in the outfield, but Nix is day-to-day so we'll focus on Hairston.  Hairston no longer has the speed to steal 15+ bases a year, but is still fast enough to run on us.  He's a decent bench player, but little more than that at this point in his career.  Roger Bernadina is a very fast man whose speed someone does not translate into good defensive ability.  He has surprising power and an even more surprising dedicated fan base.

Pitching: Jordan Zimmermann-RHP, Tom Gorzelanny-LHP, Livan Hernandez-RHP, Drew Storen-CL.

Jordan Zimmermann is the de facto ace until Mr. Strasburg returns.  In a fun twist, the day Zimmermann returned from his Tommy John surgery was the day they found out Strasburg needed his.  Jordan has always demonstrated good control (3.19 K/BB career), though he won't be an overpowering strikeout pitcher.  He's managed to not give up many homeruns this season, but that's not the norm for his career.  Zimm throws a low to mid-90's fastball, a slider, a curveball, and a changeup.  His fastball and his slider are his best weapons, and rather unsurprisingly the pitches he goes to over 80% of the time.  Tom Gorzelanny is a recent Cubs castoff, joining the Nats this winter in a trade.  These last names are long and annoying to type.  Tom is a decent back end of the rotation starter who will receive more chances than others due to his left-handed tendencies.  He's been giving up a great deal of flyballs this season and as such is prone to giving up homeruns (12 thus far).  He throws an upper-80's fastball, a changeup, and a slider.  None of them are exactly what you would call good. 

Livan Hernandez is still pitching.  Thanks National League!  The big old fattypants is still somehow a capable innings eater who is easily worth the $1MM he's been making seemingly every year.  He is somehow still putting up similar career numbers to his younger years.  Maybe being really big and fat can be good for you.  He throws a sinker, a low-80's fastball, a slider, a curveball, and a changeup.  The sinker doesn't seem to do much, as he still doesn't get too many groundballs.  His curveball is still a plus pitch though.  Drew Storen was drafted a mere nine picks after Strasburg.  The Nationals put his career on the fast track, as he was their major league set-up man the next season.  Two years after being drafted, he's become their full-time closer.  Storen has good control and the ability to strike hitters out at a good rate.  He has a strong, sinking mid-90's fastball and a slider.  Both are plus pitches.

Outlook: Washington is coming in hot, though they just lost their manager.  Mike Rizzo is looking really uncomfortable in his press conference.  Let's make the streak against the NL a little longer.  2-1 series win.