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MAKING PREDICTIONS

[February 14th] -- The hand-wringing is over. The gnashing of teeth has come to an end. None of us can read one more story written by an out-of-town writer proving that they have no clue as to what the Nationals are attempting to do with "the plan."

It's time for us to stop saying how badly the team will do and let them show us how right (or wrong) we were.

The gates of Spacecoast Stadium are now open, and the pitchers and catchers are working off their winter fat.

It's baseball season.

Here are my "Top Five" predictions for the upcoming season. No, I have no particular talent towards clairvoyancy, but I did predict that the 1969 Washington Senators would have a winning season. Hey, that's something!

#1: Cristian Guzman will make up for what happened in 2005:
I don't know if it's possible for a veteran player to have a worse season than Cristian Guzman had in 2005. There was no question that his offense was going to suffer away from the Metrodome's quirky Astroturf; there was no way that he was going to come close to matching his .279 batting average from 2001 through 2004. But general manager Jim Bowden didn't sign the then 26 year old to lead the offense. Guzman committed a combined 35 errors in his last three years with the Twins. By comparison, Felipe Lopez made 28 miscues last year alone. No, had Guzman hit somewhere in the .250 - .260 range and played his normal flawless defense, Nationals' fans would have been very happy with him. Of course, that never happened. Guzman batted .219 with a horrid .574 on-base percentage. Those terrible numbers did overshadow his good year in the field (he committed only 15 errors).

Guzman has a repaired shoulder, new eyes and a smaller waist. He'll do in 2007 what he was supposed to do in 2005. He'll hit somewhere around .260 ... he'll have a the worst OBP on the team, and he'll team with Ryan Zimmerman to be part of the league's best defensive shortstop - 3rd base combination.

#2: One of those 37 pitchers Bowden signed will have a breakthrough year:
The starting pitching - without a doubt - has caused the Nationals the most consternation during the off-season. Most of those pitchers - bodies really - will explode into flames during spring training, but a few will show promise. At least one of them will become a dependable pitcher for the Nationals in 2007.

It might me Tim Redding. It might be Joel Hanranan. Perhaps it'll be Jerome Williams. But one of them (or one of the many non-roster invitees) will step up and have a breakout season, something like 13-10, 3.70.

This isn't a hard prediction to make. The sheer number of pitchers alone suggests that one of these guys will get lucky and become an effective major leaguer.

#3: Nick Johnson will not be the first baseman after August 1st:
Nick is healing slowly and the May 1st return date is looking very iffy. Based on others players who have gone through this type of injury, it might be late May or early June before he's fully healthy. He's likely to miss fifty to sixty games. In his place, Larry Broadway will likely be given the chance to prove that he is in fact a major league first baseman.

What if Broadway is batting .280-6-25 come June 1st (.280-18-75 over a full season) and Nick Johnson returns to the starting lineup. What then? The Nationals certainly aren't going to send him back down to Columbus, but neither are they going to want make him a bench player.

This injury wasn't Nick Johnson's fault. That said, last year was yet another season that he couldn't complete due to injury, and 2007 will be yet another season in which Johnson will miss significant time. At some point, the Nationals have to give up and move on.

If Johnson shows that he is indeed healthy, look for a July 31st trade to a contending team in return for yet another basket of prospects. If, that is, Broadway proves his worth at the major league level. If Travis Lee wins the starting job come opening day, I can't see the Nationals moving Johnson for a failed prospect like Lee.

#4: Ryan Church has a breakout season:
I'm a little unsure as to how this will happen, but it will happen. Austin Kearns is the right-fielder. Nook Logan is the center-fielder. Kory Casto was to be the left-fielder. That said, new manager Manny Acta has promised Church the opportunity to win the left-field starting position with a solid spring.

Church has promised that he has learned his lessons from 2006, that yes, he was having problems focusing, and yes, he had problems with off-speed pitchers, and yes, he's corrected both problems. It sounds like the whole "Mexico breaking-ball" thing has been put to bed and management is again supportive of Church.

How good will he be? His last couple of seasons point to .275-28-100 if he gets 550 at-bats. He hits left-handers as well as he does righties, so if he starts the season hot, it'll be difficult to get him out of the starting lineup.

#5: Ryan Zimmerman won't reach stardom in 2007:
Many are predicting that Ryan Zimmerman will have his breakout season this year, that .300-30-120 wouldn't be out of the question. They say that Zimmerman is "slump-proof" because he hits to all fields and has a personality that doesn't get too high or too low.

Two words: sophomore slump. It happens to the best of them. No, I'm not saying that Zim is going to hit .220-10-50 -- to that extent, he is slump-proof. But history shows that a player's second year can be difficult as league pitchers and coaches have had an entire off-season to work on finding a player's weak points.

In Washington, a reduction of an increase is called a cut. Because so much is expected from Zimmerman this year, a repeat of last year's numbers would be considered a bad year. Look for Ryan to finish the year somewhere around .275-15-75, certainly good numbers but not what some are predicting. The good thing about sophomore slumps? The player usually has a killer year the following season.

Additions to the Nationals' family: Jimbo announced today that the Nationals have signed Dmitri Young and Tony Batista to minor league contracts. The signing of Batista made no sense when I heard about it and makes less sense now. He was the Expos 3rd baseman in their last year in Montreal, batting .241 with 32 homers and 110 RBI's - good - and a .272 OBP - bad. He spent '05 in Japan before crapping out with the Twins last season. If he makes the team, the Nationals are in far worse shape than I thought.

But Young, well, he's another story. After injuries and personal setbacks got him a pink-slip from the Tigers last fall, he's healthy and happy and ready for another shot at the major leagues. He has a decidedly Daryle Ward feel to him, but with more offense. He's hit as many as 29 homers in a season, and batted .271-21-72 in 2005. He could easily be the team's opening day first baseman and - if given the chance to play everyday - hit .270-23-88 over a full season.

My take? Young is the team's first baseman until Nick Johnson returns, then gets traded for prospect(s) a la Mr. Ward last summer. I think this means that Travis Lee doesn't have much of a chance of sticking with the team now and Larry Broadway just may get his chance to show his talent at the major league level.

In Cincinnati. Or Seattle. Or Atlanta. Or .....


Comments:
Hey there, Nostradamus,welcome back!

I can't help but point out the irony of a guy in Idaho taking a shot at "out-of-town writers." :)

Nice predictions. I'm afraid your faith in Broadway is misplaced, but we've been over that territory before. Add in the Dmitri Young signing today and I doubt that Broadway will be seeing many ABs at RFK this season.

I'd say say it's more likely that he gets package with a Church or Cordero in a deal for pitching prospects.
 
I think Guzman will be a big surprise to Nats fans this year (I know, go ahead and slam me), but there is more evidence that he will do good than there is that he will do bad. Let's see that Triple machine again. Also, I like the Dmitri signing, he just needs to clean his act up.
 
You're alive, ALIVE!! Thank goodness. I have been wondering about you. Glad you are back!!

On your predictions.
Agree on Guzman.
Agree on not only one, but two of The 37 will have a breakout year.
Nick Johnson WILL NOT be traded. No Way.
Ryan Church will have a breakout season. And, be traded on July 31st for something very good.
Ryan Zimmerman will have a solid, but unspectacular sophomore year. Not enough protection around him.

And finally--You WILL come and visit me, enjoy some games in Section 320--AND HAVE A GREAT TIME!! That's my only GUARANTEE!!
 
I have no faith in Guzman (hope I end up wrong)...but I think Ryan Church is going to put it together this year. Unfortunately only one pitcher being better than expected isn't going to amount to a whole lot for our poor Nationals.
 
Guzman will do exactly waht you say, maybe the average will be a little worse. Problem is that's still horrible and his "offense" will hurt the Nats far more than solid but unspectacular play at SS will help.
 
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