With pitchers and catchers reporting in less than a month, Chris Needham of Capitol Punishment provides an early rundown of the Phillies' beltway rivals.
Chris Needham / Capitol Punishment
"Pitching, pitching, pitching," is the tired phrase Jim Bowden has uttered at each and every opportunity since taking the job as Nationals GM, yet Nats fans are left wondering what kind of dreck is going to take the hill next year.
Pitching: Oft-injured John Patterson is inked in to the No. 1 slot for as long as he can remain upright. The other four slots are a grab bag of mediocrity, has-beens and never-weres. Mike O'Connor is the top returner, though he's battling an arm injury. Behind him comes a cast of new guys who've never lived up to their potential: Tim Redding, Jerome Williams, Colby Lewis, Joel Hanrahan, Brandon Claussen and Jason Simontacchi. They join the other returning players headed by Shawn Hill, who, if healthy, is a legit No. 3-4. Expectations are low, and it's likely the Nats will once again field one of the worst pitching staffs in the league.
Infield: Almost everything is set. After the Jose Vidro trade, the defensively challenged Felipe Lopez moves to second, opening up short for fan favorite (in hell) Cristian Guzman. Perhaps the 20 pounds he lost and the lasik surgery will revert him to his prior mediocre form instead of the crime against humanity that was 2005. Catcher Brian Schneider should rebound to be a roughly league average catcher. Nick Johnson, who's recovering from a broken femur, and Rookie of the Year runner-up Ryan Zimmerman round out the infield.
Outfield: With Austin Kearns in right, the Nationals will go with some combo of Ryan Church, Alex Escobar, Chris Snelling and the godawful Nook Logan for the other two slots. Manager Manny Acta has said centerfield is Logan's job to lose, which all reasonable Nats fans are hoping he does. Church continues to be on the trading block, though interest seems tepid.
Expectations: Nameless team officials have quietly whispered '03 Tigers in reference to expectations this year, so Nats fans are trying to find the silver lining. The last two years, I've penciled them for 75 wins. I can't see them coming close to that. With pitching this up in the air, 100 losses seems inevitable. If Patterson stays, and Hill or one of the other scrubs break out, they could conceivably get to 75. However, it's more likely they'll pass through 12 different starters before settling on three or four who can pitch under a 6.00 ERA.
C: Brian Schneider, Jesus Flores
1B: Nick Johnson, Robert Fick
2B: Felipe Lopez
SS: Cristian Guzman
LF: TBD. Chris Snelling, Alex Escobar, Kory Casto, Michael Restovich are possibilities
CF: TBD. Ryan Church, Nook Logan are possibilies
RF: Austin Kearns
SP: John Patterson, with Mike O'Connor, Shawn Hill, Tim Redding, Jerome Williams, Colby Lewis, Joel Hanrahan, Jason Simontacchi and Brandon Claussen as possibilies.
Cl: Chad Cordero
BP: Jon Rauch, Luis Ayala, Ryan Wagner, Saul Rivera, Ray King, others