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Lineups, Change-ups, And 'Bitter Bob'

OK, finally, a chance to exhale! Sorry for the absenteeism today. About an hour ago, the Nats finished off their workout at Dolphin Stadium. Some notes for the cause...

* The Nationals and Ryan Zimmerman are not close to striking a long-term deal within the next 24 hours. (Or, by now, 19 hours...) No deal is expected to be reached before the first pitch tomorrow, which means that Zimmerman negotiations won't resume until 2010.

* Manny Acta indicated his Opening Day lineup for tomorrow. Milledge, CF; Guzman, SS; Zimmerman, 3B; Dunn, LF; Johnson, 1B; Kearns, RF; Belliard, 2B; Flores, C; Lannan, P. The only part of this that probably warrants elaboration is the Johnson-Kearns decision, because maybe you're thinking (as I was) about the merits of batting Kearns fifth, Johnson sixth. By doing so, after all, you continue the lefty-righty progression.

Acta reasoned that Johnson should bat fifth, though, because that way the Nats group their two most patient hitters -- Dunn and Nick -- in the middle. As for the lefty-righty matchup problems? Johnson already creates problems against lefties, because he hits them better (.286 career) than he does righties (.263).

* My favorite quote from the day, courtesy of Acta: "At least now we have the depth that gives me an opportunity to have a few talented but unhappy guys on the bench, which I'll take any time over a few happy guys with no talent."

* Speaking of unhappy depth... Josh Willingham is undoubtedly the player who, at least initially, is losing out on the most here. Elijah Dukes isn't technically a starter, but he'll get plenty of ABs in RF, plus he can fill in for Milledge in CF. Willingham is stuck in left, though, or waiting on the trading block.

For what it's worth, his initial round of comments about the situation should encourage the Nats that he'll be able to handle the situation.

Here is what Willingham said today: "I mean, I wish I was starting. But the chips fell how they fell, and I'm going to have to accept it one way or another. I don't have to be happy about it. But I do have to accept it. I think that is two totally different things. You can't just be 'Bitter Bob' the whole season or the whole time you're not playing. It won't do anybody any good if I'm pissed all the time."

* This spring, Joel Hanrahan has tried to add a third pitch, a change-up, to his repertoire. Certainly last year, his first in the 'pen, he was very much a two-pitch pony, throwing his fastball and/or slider 98.1 percent of time.

"You can probably count on one hand the number of times I threw a change-up," Hanrahan said.

Well, we're starting the season now, and the closer's third pitch is still very much a work-in-progress. At the end of last week, he actually tweaked his grip on the pitch -- just one more reason you won't be seeing him use much of it in one-run ballgames.

"If I go out there and I throw one a game, that might be a big step up," Hanrahan said. "It will depend on the hitter, the count, the situation. If I come in and we're up five runs and a lefty is up, I might mess around with it there... But yeah, you come in in the ninth inning and it's a one-run game, you're not there to be experimenting and get beat on your third-best pitch."

* Can we withstand one scavenger hunt? Please. Look, Sports Illustrated predicts the Nats to finish 5th in the NL East. Same with ESPN the Mag. Same with the Sporting News. Same with pretty much every newspaper I've gotten my hands on. OK, so here's what I'm wondering: If you find any publication/blog/projection specialist -- no matter how obscure -- who predicts something better than a last place finish for the 2009 Nats, share it here.

I'll start the list with the Nats' biggest coup of the speculation season: Baseball Prospectus's PECOTA system has the Nats finishing 77-85, in fourth place ahead of the Marlins.

So, what else do we have out there?

By Chico Harlan  |  April 5, 2009; 8:39 PM ET
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Next: The Official 2009 Prediction Post


BaseballProspectus, Nats 4th, Marlins 5th.

Based on PECOTA and their season projection system.

Posted by: AnonymousSources | April 5, 2009 8:47 PM | Report abuse

Oh, didn't see that. Sorry.

Posted by: AnonymousSources | April 5, 2009 8:48 PM | Report abuse

The NL East is very strong this year, and I think even better than last year. The Nats just need to make sure they aren't LAST PLACE in the NL this year.

Overall, sure 3rd or 4th place would be great, but I am looking for major improvement over last year which would be that 20 win differential or 79 wins! More achievable would be a 73 win season given the strength of schedule as the AL interleague teams this year include the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox.

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | April 5, 2009 9:04 PM | Report abuse

Watching the Phillies raise their championship flag tonight made me want to puke.

Posted by: edr04 | April 5, 2009 9:17 PM | Report abuse

The great thing about Opening Day is the optimism. A team like the Nats sometimes doesn't provide you with that feeling of optimism for very long. Let's embrace it while it's here.

Look, we have no reason to doubt Manny when he says he has the best team that he has ever had in this organization. First of all, he's not the kind of person to say something fake just to get a rise out of his team...or anyone else for that matter. That's why we like him, remember? And second of all, the only reason people are predicting them to come in last is because they are looking at last year's record. They obviously haven't compared the two teams.

Oh well...even if none of what I said is true, at least we can bask in the optimism for a couple of weeks.

Prediction: NL Wild Card.

Posted by: Howelsewouldateacherspendhistimeinthesummer | April 5, 2009 9:20 PM | Report abuse

Re: Zimm:
I've said it before, and I'll say it again...neither Zimm nor his agent is/was anxious to do a deal this year. His numbers, last year, were not what he wants to negotiate a L.T. contract off of. Also, his numbers have declined in years 1,2,3 so that he really needs to reverse the trend or become a journeyman 3rd baseman and not the FACE 'O' THE FRANCHISE.

Re: Predictions:
I'll go with PECOTA. Much better track record than S.I., ESPN, etc. Also, if the Mets tank early (and they will tank, at some point), they will lose heart and be a .500 club. Someone has to pick up those wins.

Posted by: Catcher50 | April 5, 2009 9:40 PM | Report abuse

Chico, I think Fertilizer World Today has the Nats finishing fourth. Something about having better horse manure this season.

Posted by: jdschulz50 | April 5, 2009 10:01 PM | Report abuse

Think I would rather have a patient, high OBP hitter like Johnson behind leadoff novice Milledge with Guzman batting sixth behind Kearns.

Posted by: leetee1955 | April 5, 2009 10:04 PM | Report abuse

Chico wrote: "To be sure, nobody made this team by default."

Huh, what?

How about Thrilledge? Dukes?

And, for that matter, Manny?

Posted by: jdschulz50 | April 5, 2009 10:11 PM | Report abuse

Not sure if this counts:

Scroll to the bottom, Rob Neyer has us finishing fourth ahead of the Marlins.

Posted by: krazie85 | April 5, 2009 10:39 PM | Report abuse

I guess that "friendly to sabermetrics" doesn't go as deep as we thought.

Your two best OBP hitters 4th and 5th. And two below average OBP guys 1 and 2? Bassackwards Manny.

Posted by: traderkirk | April 5, 2009 10:49 PM | Report abuse

Milledge is young lets give him a chance just like you all want to give dukes a chance. He was predicted to become a very talented OF

Posted by: theredskin | April 5, 2009 11:03 PM | Report abuse

I'm hoping for the best, fearing the worst. A few reasons...the Nats handled the Braves last year better than one could have expected. The Braves this year upgraded the pitching staff, as evidenced by Lowes (pitcher, not the hardware store) performed in Phoolie land tonight. Plus, as mentioned above by another poster, a much tougher interleague schedule this year...very much tougher. Therefore, I don't feel the Nats winning the east by more than 3 or 4 games would be possible. What, huh...oh the alarm clock just went off in my head...nevermind.

Posted by: cokedispatch | April 5, 2009 11:22 PM | Report abuse

I predict Kearns will remain in the regular starting lineup until at least late May despite a sub-.230 average and awful w/RISP numbers. He will have a few 2 for 4 games with 2 singles in non-clutch situations to make give some posters here false hope and keep his AVG above Mendoza. Willingham and Dukes will look on from the dugout with incredulity.

Partially because of this I also predict 66-96.

Posted by: RickFelt | April 5, 2009 11:22 PM | Report abuse

The main thing I'm actually looking forward to this season is Dibble's awkward clashing with that insufferable moron Carpenter. It'll make the beatings more enjoyable :D

Posted by: RickFelt | April 5, 2009 11:28 PM | Report abuse

how many teams would have both willingham and dukes on the bench on opening day? how many teams and which teams? truly abysmal managing.

Posted by: nova_g_man | April 5, 2009 11:34 PM | Report abuse

i mean, lastings mendoza is a great base stealer? so pinch run the prima donna. the quick bat that everyone raves about? where is it? jump at the cut fastball? go ahead, sucker.

Posted by: nova_g_man | April 5, 2009 11:45 PM | Report abuse

I believe MLB Network predicted both the Nats and Marlins for 4th (in Separate 30 in 30 shows). And perhaps most significantly of all, I predict the Nats will finish 4th ahead of the Marlns.

I also predict 76-86, a much better offensive team, a marginally better starting staff, and an uneven bullpen. Adam Dunn will recover his batting average to the .260 range and hit 38 homers, Nick Johnson will play more than 135 games though not all with the Nats, Ryan Zimmerman will drive in more than 100 runs, Lastings Milledge will have a breakthrough year offensively with a 20/20 year and .280+ average, and John Lannan will lead the team with 14 wins.

Also, the Nats will draft and sign Strasburg but he will pitch only in relief in September as they try to protect their investment. Finally I predict that Nats have a winning record in April, but struggle in mid year before pulling it together in the final six weeks of the season when Roger Bernadina takes over centerfield and the leadoff position and Milledge goes to left, and Dunn to first as part of a midseason shakeup.

Posted by: natbiscuits | April 5, 2009 11:47 PM | Report abuse

I predict the Nats will give me indigestion this year, some sorrow, some exhilaration, and a great deal of satisfaction just through being MY team on the way to finishing 1st in baseball in my heart.

I really just love baseball and my hometown, the 5th place NL East finish this year is secondary. Not that I won't rant.

Posted by: Section506 | April 5, 2009 11:56 PM | Report abuse

First in war, first in peace, and last in the National League East. Again. But joyously, we root. And hope.
Let's go Nats!

Posted by: jdschulz50 | April 6, 2009 12:00 AM | Report abuse

Opening Day Ticket Update -- Last week I started checking ticket availability for opening day on the website since so many folks have speculated ticket sales are way down. By the end of the week, it was impossible to get a pair of tickets on the lower level, except in the left field boxes. Entire sections appeared to be sold out, though some had a few single tickets available. But apparently, and not surprisingly, the Nats were holding back a lot of tickets for possible season ticket sales. Now they appear to have given up the ghost on that one. Today, you can get a pair of seats in every section, including the dugout boxes, the front few rows of the left and right field mezzanines, and the 7th row of the club seats right behind homeplate (I believe the club seats were completely sold last year to season ticket holders), not to mention in the third row of the President's club. Ladies and gentlemen, it looks like we are going to have some very sparse attendance this year, even on Opening Day. Wow.

Posted by: Section222 | April 6, 2009 12:35 AM | Report abuse

Last year a few that predicted the Nats to surprise. We crapped out. This year, we are only given a cursory glance.

I think we'll flirt with .500 most of the year and end up 78 and 85. Third or fourth place on the back of better-than-expected pitching from the youngsters.

Posted by: nattydread1 | April 6, 2009 1:52 AM | Report abuse

"Blessed are those who expect nothing, for they shall never be disappointed.'' Let's go Nats! No matter what, I'll never forget the PA guy at RFK in June '05, saying "And now, your FIRST PLACE Washington Nationals.'' Gawd, I was too stunned to know I was supposed to feel good.

Posted by: nats24 | April 6, 2009 2:06 AM | Report abuse

The thing I'm most concerned about, even more than Kearns starting/Dukes on the bench, is the starting rotation. I'm excited to see what the kids (Martis & Zimmermann) can do, but relying on them for 50-60 starts is a little scary. Cabrera and Olsen have not looked good so far either. I think we're looking at a 71-91 team, but really hope I'm wrong.

Posted by: Offense-offensive | April 6, 2009 2:17 AM | Report abuse

I think predicting the final standings is a little like playing the Lotto.

When was the last time that someone you knew got all five numbers right?

I will be thrilled... THRILLED... if we have a team that makes watching them interesting, and discussing the front office boring.

Posted by: wigi | April 6, 2009 3:36 AM | Report abuse

Is Bitter Bob any relation to Bitter Barry?

I have to look at my preview publications. I may have seen one other that put us in fourth. Yes, natbisquit, I believe that John Hart had us tied for fourth on MLB Network's 30 Games in 30 Days.

GGG, we were 2-0 against the Yankees in 2006. We lost the first one but took the series at RFK (and the wins were two of my fave Nats games ever). You never know. Just saying.

True, Wigi, and that is also true for championship and World Series winner predictions, IMO. I must say, though, that such predictions can have schadenfreude value at the end of the day (or season).

I don't tend to get into predictions myself so I won't give one for the Nats record.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 6, 2009 6:48 AM | Report abuse

Oh, I found another one. John Dugan of the Washington Nationals Examiner picked the Nats for fourth place (you *did* say obscure).

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 6, 2009 7:00 AM | Report abuse

"Chico, I think Fertilizer World Today has the Nats finishing fourth. Something about having better horse manure this season."

Posted by: jdschulz50

OK, I had to laugh at that one this morning.

How about Modern Plumbing having a centerfold spread on Adam Dunn this month? Something about leaks.

My Spring Fever prediction--we hover near .500 all season, til September, when the new arms are near their slotted innings. Second prediction: ZNN becomes the player who fans pay to see all season long.

Posted by: driley | April 6, 2009 7:17 AM | Report abuse

"GGG, we were 2-0 against the Yankees in 2006."

2-1. Lost the Friday night game, won Saturday in that great comeback and Sunday with Zim's walkoff. Sadly, it was the Friday night game of that series I was at.

Posted by: spamcastin | April 6, 2009 7:23 AM | Report abuse

I have noticed that every ESPN run down on the 2009 season (on both TV and the radio) DO NOT bother to mention the Nats. To them we do not exist. Also to ESPN the league really is only the Yankees Mets Red Sox Dodgers Cubs Gaints and Cards. Everything else is backdrop.

Posted by: CBinDC | April 6, 2009 8:09 AM | Report abuse

CBinDC: ESPN has been going down that road for a few years now. Its been only recently that they added the Mets, Cubs and Dodgers to the list. Frankly now that we have the MLB Network who really cares about ESPN. Whats starting to hurt them is the fact that every major sport now has its own Network, over time that will begin to erode the ESPN mystique, let tham have all of the college football and basketball that they want.

Did anyone hear the Commissioner for Life on the Cal and Billy Show on XM-175 MLB Homplate on Friday? The guy is absolutely dilusional, he actually thinks baseball is so popular and gaining fans at records numbers every year. Earth to Allen, you have no clue, your game has been marginalized by a variety of factors, you have to resort to some trumped up WBC that has zero following in your own country, the scribes and mouth pieces that pushed your game to the public are dying off and whats left are a bunch of snot nosed college boys who grew up with the NCAA and the NFL touting the virtues of the NFL Draft and the Final Four ad-nauseum on ESPN and Sports Talk Radio.

Until this guy goes this game will suffer!

Posted by: TippyCanoe | April 6, 2009 9:13 AM | Report abuse

Thanks, spamcastin. I remembered that we lost the Friday game but mistyped. My baseball buddy came out from Chicago for the series but had to leave after the first game, which we attended together. Sometimes, just for fun, I regale her with stories of the final two games. Good times...

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 6, 2009 9:14 AM | Report abuse

Oh, one other thing, as of this a.m., the World Champion Phillies are at last place in the NL East. To quote noted commentator Nelson Muntz, ha ha!

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 6, 2009 9:17 AM | Report abuse

NatsNut, you seem to have me confused with someone I'm not.

Posted by: spamcastin | April 6, 2009 10:15 AM | Report abuse

"it looks like we are going to have some very sparse attendance this year, even on Opening Day. Wow."

Who cares. The Caps should tell you one thing about this town. Win and people show. You don't and people won't. End of story.

Posted by: JDB1 | April 6, 2009 11:40 AM | Report abuse

View from the Bleachers seems to think we'll move to NY and change our name to "The Mets."

Posted by: sbiel2 | April 6, 2009 1:37 PM | Report abuse

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