November 13, 2019

Washington Redskins Game 2 Preview: St. Louis Rams

The Washington Redskins look to steer their ship on the right track as they face the St. Louis Rams on Sunday in an important Week 2 home match up. The Redskins lost a tough one to the Miami Dolphins last Sunday, 17-10, after leading 10-0 late in the first half. The Rams come in on a high after defeating division nemesis Seattle 34-31 in Overtime, and sport one of the NFL’s top defensive lines, just as the Dolphins did last week.

Washington also has the taste of a disgusting 24-0 home loss at the hands of these same Rams late last season, a game in which nothing went right for them, including the opening coin toss (Jeff Fisher sent out all the players acquired by the Rams during the blockbuster Robert Griffin III trade).  Needless to say, the Rams coming to town will provide more than enough motivation for the boys in Burgundy and Gold. [Read more…]

Washington Redskins Game 1 Preview: Miami Dolphins

The Washington Redskins enter their season opener having endured almost a full season’s worth of drama already. The Robert Griffin III-Kirk Cousins-Jay Gruden-front office soap opera was in full gear during training camp, but now it is time to actually play a meaningful game. The Miami Dolphins and Coach Joe Philbin come to FedEx Field to take on the hometown Redskins to kick off the 2015 season.

After 3-13 and 4-12 campaigns, the last couple of seasons have not given the Washington faithful much optimism. However, a new year gives the team a clean slate to work with and a new guy with the keys to the car, Mr. Kirk Cousins. Cousins has been named the official starter, and Robert Griffin III will be relegated to the bench once he returns from a concussion. With the history of this team and its game of musical Quarterbacks, there is no doubt that Kirk knows he must perform in order to keep this job.

[Read more…]

Washington Capitals 2014-15 Season Roundtable Part VII: How will the Caps finish?

We’re a little late to the party here, but District Sports Page conducted a roundtable with staff writers and friends of the site to discuss pertinent issues surrounding the 2014-15 Washington Capitals.

Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief; Katie Brown, Staff Writer; Eric Hobeck, Staff Writer; J.J. Regan, Contributor; Abram Fox, former contributor, Harry Hawkings, Editor at Rock the Red.

Part I: Grade the Caps offseason and their biggest acquisitions
Part II: What is your single biggest area of concern?
Part III: What do you expect out of Alex Ovechkin this season?
Part IV: Are you satisfied with the goaltending situation?
Part V: How many games do you expect Brooks Laich to play?
Part VI: Which young player makes a bigger impact this season, Burakovsky, Kuznetsov or Wilson?

Part VII: How many points will the Caps finish with, their place in the standings and playoff result, if any?

Dave: I have historically been pretty terrible at picking the Caps record, so I don’t expect to be any better at it this year. Realistically, you have to look at last season and think the Caps are trending down, but considering they missed the playoffs, how much further down could they go. They you look at the early season success they have in the possession game and Mike Green’s apparent rejuvenation and think, well, they might not be so bad. The difference a good coach makes?

Honestly, one can envision this team gelling and getting better throughout the year, or just as easily struggling with having to depend on rookies to provide the bulk of secondary scoring and a goalie that tends to fight himself when he struggles.

I’m gonna say 94 points (41-29-12) points, third place in the Metro and bounced in the first round. Just like old times.

Katie: The Capitals could feasibly finish in the top 3 of the Metropolitan Division and make the playoffs, but I’m already worried that they’ll end up with too many games going to shootout (they’ve already had 3 of 5 games go to SO). Sure, it’s point padding, however, they need regulation wins to prove they are a team that can go places in the playoffs. I’d like to see them make it past the first round if they do make it to the playoffs, but I think it’s too soon to predict what kind of team they’ll be just yet as far as playoff longevity. The overall picture looks far more promising than last season, by a country mile.

Eric: I think they’ll get back in the playoffs this year as the champions of the Metropolitan Division. They’ll finish around 47-23-12 for 106 points because of the improved defense, resurgent forwards and stable goaltending, as well as the steady coaching hand of Trotz. In the playoffs, they’ll get through the first two rounds and get to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1998, where they’ll fall to a more experienced Montreal Canadiens squad.

J.J. : 44-30-10, 98 points, third in the Metropolitan Division. They will lose in the second round to Pittsburgh (who else?). The Caps were the first team out of the playoffs last season, missing the cut by only three points. This team has a better coach and better defense. If the Caps can come that close to the playoffs with Oates as coach, then they should be able to easily make the playoffs this season.

Abram: 42-29-11, 95 points, 4th in the Metropolitan (by a point or two), 1st wild card in the East. Lose to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs in six games.

Harry: 43-30-9; 95 standings points; 4th in Metro; Lose to Pittsburgh in first round. Ultimately, this team is slightly better than they were last year. They’ll get better goaltending (probabaly some of the best in the NHL because Holtby is that good), but they will struggle on offense. Trotz is a good enough coach that he’ll be able to maximize the team and they will make the playoffs, but don’t expect much once they do. They’re just not deep enough.

Predicting the Washington Redskins final 53-man roster

by Justin Byram

With the 2014 Washington Redskins training camp underway, we’ve decided to go out on a limb and predict the final opening day 53-man roster:

To kick off training camp, we are going to predict who makes the final cut for the Redskins’ 53-man roster. Have a question? Leave a comment!

Quarterback: 3

Robert Griffin III

Kirk Cousins

Colt McCoy

With RGIII healthy and Gruden’s tendency to only keep two quarterbacks it is tempting to cut McCoy, however, RGIII needs to prove his long term health before that happens.

Running Back: 4

Alfred Morris

Roy Helu

Lache Seastrunk

Darrel Young

This battle will go through camp and pre-season, but the bottom line is Seastunk is a more durable version of Chris Thompson and was drafted by Gruden giving him the edge.

Wide Receiver: 6

Pierre Garcon

DeSean Jackson

Andre Roberts

Santana Moss

Leonard Hankerson

Ryan Grant

The top three are a lock, but Gruden has stated he likes Moss and what he brings to the table, Leonard Hankerson may start the season on the PUP list but will make the team at one point or another, and Grant has impressed early and was another Gruden draft pick. (if Hankerson opens the season on the PUP look for Alderick Robinson to stick around a little longer)

Offensive Line: 9

Trent Williams

Shawn Lauvao

Kory Lichtensteiger

Chris Chester

Tyler Polumbus

Mike McGlynn

Spencer Long

Morgan Moses

Tom Compton

The starters are pretty set in stone unless one of the two rookies overcomes Chester or Polumbus (I don’t think that happens). The two rookies are locks to make the roster, they are the future of the right side of the line. McGlynn is a solid versatile backup, and Tom Compton is playing right tackle with the second team and looks much more pro-ready than Moses.

Tight End: 3

Jordan Reed

Logan Paulson

Niles Paul

This is a pretty easy group. Jordan Reed is a budding superstar, Paulson is the team’s best blocker and an underrated pass-catcher, and Niles Paul is a special teams ace and when your special teams is as bad as the Redskins’ was in 2013 you don’t cut a guy like that.

Defensive Line: 6

Jason Hatcher

Barry Cofield

Chris Baker

Jarvis Jenkins

Kedric Golston

Stephen Bowen

The starters are set in stone. Jarvis Jenkins is now over a year removed from knee surgery, and looking to make good on the potential he flashed as a rookie, Golston gives the Redskins versatility to play the nose and end position, and Bowen will make the team, but barely as a rotational player.

Inside Linebacker: 5

Perry Riley Jr.

Keenan robinson

Darryl Sharpton

Akeem Jordan

Adam Heyward

Back to the terrible special teams from 2013, the Redskins brought in three athletic inside linebackers who all excel in special teams, which is why Sharpton, Jordan, and Heyward all make the roster behind the starters Riley and Robinson.

Outside Linebacker: 4

Ryan Kerrigan

Brian Orakpo

Trent Murphy

Brandon Jenkins

This is one of the toughest decisions the Redskins will have to make this season. The top three are established, Rak and Kerrigan are two of the best players on the Redskins’ entire roster, and Murphy was the Redskins’ first draft pick and will have a chance to make an impact early. That leaves Rob Jackson and Brandon Jenkins fighting for the final roster spot. Outside Linbackers coach Brian Baker said that Jenkins might be the most improved this season, and the Redskins didn’t make an effort to re-sign Jackson early in free-agency so I’ll give the edge to Jenkins because he is younger with a higher ceiling.

Corner: 5

DeAngelo Hall

David Amerson

Tracy Porter

Bashaud Breeland

Richard Crawford Jr.

Richard Crawford looks healthy despite suffering a nasty knee injury during last pre-season. Crawford was playing his best football before the injury and is a solid special teams player which is why he gets the final spot behind the starters and fourth round pick Bashaud Breeland.

Safety: 5

Ryan Clark

Brandon Meriweather

Phillip Thomas

Bacarri Rambo

Akeem Davis

Ryan Clark and Brandon Meriweather are penciled in as starters, and Phillip Thomas will push Meriweather for playing time early, leaving two spots up for grabs. Bacarri Rambo will get one more chance to prove his potential and that he can improve upon his tackling. Akeem Davis is a great athlete that has turned heads at camp and will be kept around to challenge Rambo for playing time.

Specialist: 3

Kai Forbath

Robert Malone

Nick Sundberg

Zach Hocker will push Kai Forbath for the kicker position, and there is a small chance the Redskins could keep a field goal kicker and a kickoff specialist – but that’s not likely. Sundberg is now the only long snapper on the team so he’s a lock, and Malone has the edge at punter early but that is another competition that will last throughout camp.
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Justin Byram is a contributor to District Sports Page. He covers the Washington Redskins for several on-line publications. You can follow him on Twitter @Justin_Byram.

Washington Nationals 2014 “Natosphere” Preseason Survey

HAPPY OPENING DAY!

For the past several seasons, the DC Chapter of the Internet Baseball Writers Association (DC-IBWA) has conducted a preseason survey, asking questions to key Washington Nationals issues and seeking predictions for season statistical leaders. You can find this year’s results here. Below is how our staff answered the tough questions.

1) Who will lead the Nats in home runs?

DAVE NICHOLS (Editor-in-Chief): Bryce Harper. Hopefully Harper stays healthy, lays off the breaking stuff, and is passable against lefties.

RYAN KELLEY (Prospects and scouting): Harper’s left-handed power is the best on a team with plenty of pop. In his early 20’s he’s put together a career .209 ISO during his first two MLB seasons, and there’s plenty more power to come. He also showed up to spring training with more muscle in his frame. If he stays healthy he could hit 30+ bombs, and even 40 wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to predict.

STUART WALLACE (Statistical analysis): Bryce Harper.

CHRIS GAROSI (Fantasy): Harper. A full healthy season sees him approach 30 homers.

ALYSSA WOLICE (Beat writer): It’s no secret that last season Jayson Werth edged Bryce Harper for D.C.’s home run crown with 25 total home runs. But the sophomore battled injuries for the greater portion of the year. And, his new stature makes evident the fact he’s had a productive offseason. Critics – or, pessimists, rather – say Harper’s weight gain could adversely affect his swing. But, I’m not buying it. If he can remain healthy, Harper will certainly lead the Nats in home runs – and, perhaps, he’ll even make a run for the 40-mark.

2) Who will lead the Nats in RBI?
DN:  Harper. If he hits fourth the bulk of the season he’ll have the best opportunity to lead the team in RBIs batting behind Rendon and Zimmerman. At least, in a perfect world that’s how it works out.
RK: Ryan Zimmerman. Lineup spot plays a direct part in determining totals. Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman are generally guys that stay closest to the middle of the lineup, and furthest from the leadoff spot. LaRoche will sit against some lefties this year though, and he looked punchless for much of last season.
Zimmerman has plenty of power and is a good hitter, but if Williams decides to spread his lefties out, there’s an outside shot Ryan could be pushed away from the RBI spots. He’s also a guy that will lose games to injuries every year. Harper has the most pop, but he’s young and he was owned by southpaws last year. So, I guess I’ll gamble and go with Ryan Zimmerman. He’s a good bet to be in the either the 3-hole, clean-up spot, or 5th spot in the lineup consistently and he’s a good balance of power, discipline and hitting ability–though his bat wrapping makes his swing very long.
SW: Ian Desmond.
CG: Harper. If he keeps hitting fifth he’ll have plenty of opportunities to drive in Werth and Zim.
AW: Ian Desmond. Last season, the star shortstop knocked in 80 runs – just two shy of Jayson Werth. And, while Werth posted some of the best numbers of his career in 2013, Desmond has the advantage of relative youth. In fact, Desmond has batted in more runs year after year, and I would bank on that trend continuing, at least for 2014.
3) Who will lead the Nats in stolen bases?
DN: Denard Span. If spring training taught us anything, it’s that new skipper Matt Williams wants to be aggressive on the basepaths. I expect Span will be running a lot this season.
RK:  The Nats don’t have much speed. Supposedly, first-year skipper Matt Williams will run the team on the bases more aggressively than Davey did, but judging by the player he himself was — and the juiced-up era he learned to play MLB baseball in — it’s hard for me to envision the offense putting a lot of emphasis on stolen bases.
Harper, Span and Desmond have some speed, while McLouth is a heady baserunner, but none of them are truly plus runners. If I had to pick one, I guess I’d say Desmond, who is the best mix of aggression, veteran instincts and raw speed. His workload also means he’ll get plenty of chances. But if Eury Perez gets extensive playing time, that’ll be the guy.
SW: Ian Desmond.
CG: Ian Desmond.
AW: Denard Span. Sure, Span had a less-than-stellar 2013 season. But if spring training can produce only one thing, it’s promise. And, Span gave plenty of reasons to hope for improvement this season. But of course, in order for Span to rack up the stolen base total for Washington, he’ll have to fine-tune his approach at the plate to avoid repeating last season’s .327 OBP.
4) Who will lead the staff in wins?
DN:  Stephen Strasburg. This is his year to put up 200+ innings and show he’s the workhorse of the staff he’s always said he wants to be. His stuff is downright nasty, he has a mean streak on the mound, and he’ll be working to a decent pair of catchers really for the first time in his career.
RK:  Jordan Zimmermann. I really like JZ, he’s an outstanding pitcher and one of the most underrated guys in baseball-even now that he’s gotten his money. His approach to pitching and demeanor are very similar to Mike Mussina, and statistically, he’s a similarly productive — and overlooked — player. He led the NL in wins last year with 19, and his 4.03 K/BB ratio was seventh in the league and tops among returning members of the staff. Considering he’s this talented, and he’ll get plenty of favorable match-ups in the middle of the rotation, JZ is the safe bet.
SW: Stephen Strasburg.
CG: Jordan Zimmermann.
AW: I’m finally going to write what I’ve been long hoping to write: I think this season will be Stephen Strasburg’s breakout year. Fans have every reason to believe he will emerge better than ever before, now that he’s had the bone chips in his elbow taken care of. Now that the birth of his daughter has provided Strasburg with a new perspective on life, I think he’ll approach each start with a renewed sense of focus and purpose. Add to that, one can only hope Strasburg’s newly acquired slider will create even more frustrations for opposing batters. That’s not to say Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez won’t challenge Strasburg for most wins. But, I’m going to go out on a limb and say Strasburg could reach 20 wins this year, provided he remains healthy and garners the run support he lacked last season.
5) How many games will Ryan Zimmerman play first base?
DN:  25 or so. I think Zimmerman will get a handful of starts against lefties and get moved around a handful of times late in games when LaRoche gets pinch-hit for against LOOGYs. I think the Nats will resist the temptation of moving him over to first full-time until next year, but it’s coming. His throwing looked no better in spring training than it did for much of last season. It’s a shame that Zim and Espinosa both wrecked their careers (Zim defensively, Epsi offensively) playing through injury in 2012 in pursuit of a pennant.
RK:  10-15. It could certainly be more depending on how well LaRoche and Espinosa play against southpaws, but I don’t think the Nats will put him there too often so they can avoid raising discussion about him getting unseated there so early. Personally though, I don’t think Rendon plays like a long-term second basemen, and he looks much better at third. Espinosa’s value lays in the fact that he’s a middle infielder with plus defense and pop. So, it’s not a bad idea to get Zimmerman reps at first, especially because his third base defense has regressed to average, largely due to his throwing issues.
SW: 55.
CG: 45.
AW: I’ll give Zimmerman a dozen starts at first base, and 30 total games in which he makes an appearance on the right corner of the infield. I think it’s pretty clear the Nats are interested in having Zim switch corners, at least for curiosity’s sake. And, Matt Williams has already hinted that the star third baseman could be called upon to cover first in double-switch scenarios and the like – anything causing Adam LaRoche to be pulled from the game. Of course, if Zimmerman’s shoulder starts to show signs of wear and tear – or if Adam LaRoche misses significant playing time for any reason – that number could rise tremendously. But, assuming neither of those situations occur, I’d say Zimmerman makes an appearance covering first base a maximum of 30 games.
6) Who starts more games: Ross Detwiler, Taylor Jordan, Tanner Roark, Ross Ohlendorf?
DN:  Taylor Jordan. I think he’s got the better long-term package to succeed out of this group. But they’re all just a place-holders really until Giolito and Cole are ready. By then, though, one of those might be replacing Jordan Zimmermann, who it seems more and more likely that he’ll test the free agent waters.
RK:  Tanner Roark. Taylor Jordan is the best pitcher of the four, but he’s also the youngest and still isn’t that far removed from TJ surgery. Long-term Jordan is a more fundamental member of the rotation, but there isn’t enough need to push him now with options ahead of him. The organization really likes Roark, and though I have my doubts about his feel and the depth of his repertoire, he does have good command of a 94 mph fastball and has a very high floor. Ultimately, he still may be best suited for the bullpen, where he’d be very good in a Craig Stammen role or even as a closer.
SW: Jordan.
CG: Tanner Roark – He’s got more upper minor league experience. I think Jordan heads back to the minors once Fister is healthy.
AW: I’m going to take what we saw of Tanner Roark and run with it and say he earns the most starts with Washington of the four. That’s assuming he posts numbers that come even remotely close to his hard-to-believe 1.51 ERA and 7-1 record from last season. Do I think he’s going to post a sub-2.00 ERA again? Not at all. But, if he can maintain good movement on his sinker and approach the upcoming season with confidence, I think he’ll earn a bit of time in the rotation, particularly if Doug Fister struggles to return to good health.
7) Who will get more at bats for the Nats this season: Danny Espinosa or Jamey Carroll (Survey went out well before Carroll was released or Kevin Frandsen was added to roster)?
DN:  Obviously, the answer is Espinosa by default. But I’m very skeptical that Espinosa will contribute anything with the bat again this year. His two-homer game in spring training aside, he continued to look lousy at the plate in Florida despite cutting down his swing a bit. I just don’t think he has the power in his shoulder to generate MLB bat speed anymore.
RK:  Danny Espinosa. Carroll is insurance, at most. He didn’t look so “ageless” (what so many people refer to him as) last year when he hit .211/.267/.251, and he looked old this spring. The Nats want to see what they can get out of Espinosa, even in a bench role. And at the very least, they’ll showcase his skills enough to trade him at a better price when the market is hungrier.
SW: Espi (but this question is moot. He will get more ABs than Frandsen also).
CG: Danny Espinosa – I assume he’ll play at least one.
AW: The burning joke to make here would be to vote for Jamey Carroll, despite the Nationals’ recent decision to release the 40-year-old infielder. But, all burns aside, I think Danny Espinosa would have earned more at-bats, regardless. Call me an optimist but, I’d like to hope Espinosa has made enough improvements at the plate to make him a considerable option for the Nats’ reserves. I wouldn’t necessarily imply he might be a first- or second-choice in a pinch-hitting situation. But, injuries plague every team, and the optimist in me says that, should the opportunity for a second chance arise, Espinosa could deliver. After all, numbers aside, Espinosa has something to prove – perhaps more than any other player who could find himself on the Nationals’ bench this season.
8) Which minor leaguer are you most interested in keeping tabs on this season?
DN:  Hard not to say Giolito. Scouts are drooling all over the kid. Big fastball, two more plus offerings. Great makeup. This season will be his first full year after TJ surgery, so look for pitch counts and about 160 innings out of him. Next season, the training wheels come off.

RK:  Drew Ward. I really like Ward, and see him as a solid bet to be a Hank Blalock-type third baseman, and even if he moves to the outfield, his bat is good enough to be a slugging right fielder with plus on-base percentages like Geoff Jenkins or even J.D. Drew. But there’s considerable risk here, and his background is a throwback to when farm boys used to populate minor league circuits playing on hay-covered dust.

Ward played on a very rural circuit in high school, and while he looked good against stronger competition, he rarely had the chance to swing against high 80’s heat and advanced breaking pitches. His first taste of the pro’s was promising, as he hit .292/.402/.387 in the GCL. So, it’ll be interesting to see how he plays a level higher in 2014. If not for his playing on such a rural circuit, and him not graduating early, Ward would’ve likely been a top-20 draft pick this coming June.
SW: AJ Cole
CG: Zach Walters. He could be a very important piece if the Nats have to move Zimmerman to first base sooner than later.
AW: I’m most interested in seeing what becomes of RHP A.J. Cole this season. For starters, I’m interested to see how Cole works his way up the ranks after being reacquired by the Nats (he was dealt to the Oakland A’s in the Gio Gonzalez deal). I wouldn’t necessarily say Cole will be the Nats’ star prospect this season – that title could very well fall to Lucas Giolito, Matt Skole or Brian Goodwin. But, the Nats, no doubt, have seen something in Cole who, after struggling with the A’s High-A team in 2012, posted strong number fors the Nats’ Double-A Harrisburg. In seven starts last season, Cole recorded a 2.18 ERA and a 4-2 record with Harrisburg. And, if he can improve his curveball a bit, he could really garner some attention, wherever he finds himself in the Nats’ organization this season.
9) Who will reach majors first: Sammy Solis, A.J. Cole, Lucas Giolito or Matt Purke?
DN:  Sammy Solis is the easy answer. He’ll be one of the first recalled if the Nats need a pitcher of any sort. Cole is next, with Giolito in close pursuit. Purke has a long way to go to prove he belongs in this discussion anymore.

RK:  Giolio’s age, recent recovery from elbow surgery and ceiling means he has no chance this year. Purke’s injury-laden resume and struggles this spring make him a long shot, even despite his contract, notoriety and left-handedness. So, that leaves Cole and Solis. Cole has more upside, with a premium heater, plus fastball command and nice athleticism, and he’s very polished for his age. He’s one of the top 10 right-handed pitching prospects in baseball in my opinion. Solis is older, craftier and more MLB-ready. He’s also left-handed, a skill that puts him right behind Jerry Blevins and Ross Detwiler on the team’s depth chart. So, either one of these guys.

I think Solis might get a shot in the ‘pen as soon as someone goes down with injury, so it’ll be him first. But if any of the team’s big name starters goes down for extended time, and if Jordan or Roark don’t live up to expectations, then the organization will be more than happy to start Cole’s arbitration clock early.
SW: AJ Cole.
CG: AJ Cole.
AW: I’m going to go with LHP Sammy Solis on this one, if only because Lucas Giolito will require a bit of time to earn his way up the ranks – and prove his ability to stay healthy. Giolito’s pitching repertoire is downright impressive – he boasts a nasty curveball and a top-notch changeup – but, he’s battled with his fair share of inactivity as the result of a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament.
10) How many all-stars will the Nats have? Whom?
DN: Two: Harper and Strasburg. Jordan Zimmermann will have a tough time replicating his first half last season, just because it was so damn good. And I have a bit of worry about Gio this year.
RK:  Four. Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper are almost locks if they’re healthy. Not only are they elite-level players at their positions, but they’re fan-favorites and high fantasy picks. I know Desmond got snubbed last year, but there was enough hubbub about it that I don’t think the Washington area’s massive market will let that happen if the team lives up to expectations this year. Plus, Tulo and Hanley are both very injury prone.
Stephen Strasburg is a lock if he’s healthy (knock knock), so that’s 3, and it’s hard to believe that one of Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Tyler Clippard won’t make it. So that’s four, almost definitely. Wilson Ramos has star-level talent, and has produced when healthy — he just needs to stay healthy. And then Ryan Zimmerman and Jason Werth also have good chance, and it’s not like Storen, Fister and Rendon don’t have the chops. So I think it’ll be four, But, it could certainly be five, and six isn’t too crazy if the team wins and grabs the spotlight.
SW: 4 – Strasburg, Harper, Desmond, JZimmermann.
CG: Two — Bryce Harper and Tyler Clippard.
AW: Three: Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond, Stephen Strasburg
11) Total wins and what place in the division?
DN:  90 wins, first place. With all the injuries to Atlanta’s pitching staff, the Nats will win the division by default, and I believe the N.L. East is the worst division in baseball now due to the Braves plight. The Phillies are falling apart due to age, the Mets are a couple years away and the Marlins just have so very little big league talent right now, despite a couple of very good pitchers.

RK:  95 wins, 1st place. Matt Williams’ managerial resume is pretty light, so he’s a bit of a wildcard no matter what kind of player he was. With that said, I think the Nationals are the MLB’s best bet for first place.

Besides Atlanta, the Nats’ division is weak and their balanced roster is overflowing with All-Star talent. The team transformed into a winner in 2012, and while they had a sophomore slump in 2013, the franchise’s studs–Harper, Strasburg, Zimmermann, Gio– are now entering their primes and their leaders–Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth–are hungrier than ever for a World Series.
After the front office neglected their need for left-handed pitching and power last year, they did a great job addressing it this offseason. Now, the club not only looks supremely talented, but supremely balanced. Rafael Soriano as the closer looks like the lone weak spot, but the team has enough bullpen talent between Clippard, Storen, Stammen and Detwiler that this issue isn’t troubling. Their run differential could approach a full run per game if they’re well managed, so they could bring home as many as 100 wins and be one of the most dominant teams since the ’98 Yankees. But, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. The rotation is gifted but somewhat fragile and every big league season brings plenty of disappointment.
SW: 91-71; 1st
CG: 89 wins, first in N.L. East.
AW: With the Philadelphia Phillies all but defunct and the Atlanta Braves coping with serious injuries before the season’s first pitch, I say the Nationals absolutely have to win the NL East this season. I’ll give them 96 total wins to edge the Braves, who will likely enjoy a bit of a revival in the second half of the season.
Essay: What should be the single most important development for the Nats this season?
DN:  Ryan Zimmerman’s defense, in conjunction with Adam LaRoche’s offense. Ryan Zimmerman is the Face of the Franchise. He’s signed through 2019. He could outlast all of Desmond, Zimmermann, Strasburg and Harper. His bat is better at third than it would be at first base, but if he can’t get his defense sorted out — and it’s more than just the throwing at this point — he’s going to have to be moved.
LaRoche is essentially a platoon player at this stage in his career. Granted, it’s the side of the platoon where he’ll see the bulk of at bats. He’s never been good at hitting lefties, but last year he was down-right atrocious. The Nats can’t afford that type of production from their first base position. LaRoche is still decent in the field, but not as great as people in this market seem to think. If LaRoche doesn’t show signs of bouncing back early in the year, it’s a bad sign and will force the Nats into shuffling things around.

RK:  Wilson Ramos and the team’s catching. Ramos has shown All-Star-level ability, with outstanding power for a catcher, a strong arm and the ability to keep the ball in front of him. Injuries have been his downfall, and it’s what forced Davey Johnson to give a rundown and weak-swinging Kurt Suzuki so many starts over the previous two years. In Ramos’ absence, Suzuki proved not only to hurt the team with his poor pitch-framing, but he didn’t make opposing base-stealers hesitate before going for second base–not one bit–and his 70 wRC+ during his time in Washington means he was horrific with the bat.

Ramos is being handed the reigns to one of the most gifted rotations the game has every seen–and certainly the most valuable. He too is young, and his job comes with plenty of pressure. Even with Jose Lobaton added to the team as both the back-up and injury insurance, the weight still falls heavily on Ramos’ shoulders. For this team to live up to it’s potential, he’ll have to catch 100 games this season and be a stud both in the box and behind the plate.
Can he frame pitches well enough to keep the pitch counts down for fragile guys like Strasburg, Gio and max-effort Tyler Clippard, whom all have exhausting mechanics? Can he get Jordan Zimmermann and Rafael Soriano strike calls while they live on the edges of the zone? After his ACL and hamstring injuries, can he still block the plate well enough to keep the staff’s young guns confident in their premium breaking stuff? And can he get out of his crouch quick enough to slow down base stealers despite a so-so career 27% CS%?
Ramos has a hefty amount of responsibility. He could step up the the plate and flourish, establishing himself as a star, or it could certainly be more disappointment for him. But the team really needs him to play his best. Because even if Lobaton is a solid game caller and receiver, he’s not a first-tier catcher like Ramos is. And after him, the organization has little beyond glove-only Sandy Leon and a few bullpen catchers.
SW: The most important development of the season for the Nats will be the maturation and continued development of Anthony Rendon, both at the plate and as a utility player. Possessing one of the more impressive and advanced hit tools for a player his age, continued seasoning from MLB plate appearances will further hone his contact rate, his understanding of the strike zone and how opposing pitchers will handle him, which will only improve his offensive stock. A full return to health after being a little banged up last season will also add to his performance.
However, the biggest piece of the puzzle for Rendon will be in the field, as he continues to learn how to play 2B at the major league level, while also retaining his above average skills at his natural position of 3B. Given the merry-go-round of players and their positions in the infield with Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa as well as Rendon all looking at new positions part-time or otherwise, it will be up to Rendon to provide a precociously steady influence at both second and third for the other two to have successful transitions. The hitting will always be there, but health and fielding from the young Texan will play an enormous role in the overall success of the bottom half of the batting order and the team’s defense.
AW: Saying the bench should be the Nationals’ single-most important development this season might not fire up fans. But, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be item No. 1 on the Nationals “must-fix” list. Washington boasted some of the league’s best pitching last season, and came up with absolutely no run support to swing the win-loss column in their favor. With the addition of Nate McLouth and the lingering hope that Danny Espinosa could show at least marginal improvement, one would hope Washington will perform better in clutch situations this year.

DC-IBWA Predictions revisited: What we got right & wrong

For the last several seasons, the members of the D.C. Chapter of the Internet Baseball Writers Association have conducted a pre-season survey and post-season awards based on the current Washington Nationals season. This year’s post-season awards will be announced Friday. But I thought it would be fun to look back at our pre-season predictions group-think to see what we got right about 2013, and where we went horribly wrong.

1) Who will lead the Nats in home runs?  Answer: Ryan Zimmerman–26

Survey Results
Bryce Harper — 15
Ryan Zimmerman — 8
Adam LaRoche — 5
Ian Desmond — 1
Danny Espinosa — 1

Most folks picked Harper, expecting him to explode in his second year. We shouldn’t feel too bad, most of the pros had Harper winning the MVP. Two months of injury after colliding with the Dodger Stadium wall put a dent in Harper’s counting stats, but the quality stats were right where we’d want them to be.

My pick was Ryan Zimmerman.

2) Who will lead the Nats in RBIs?  Answer: Ian Desmond–80

Survey Results
Ryan Zimmerman — 19
Adam LaRoche — 6
Bryce Harper — 3
Ian Desmond — 1
Denard Span — 1

Matt from Matt’s Bats was the only person to pick Desmond. Nice call Matt. Desmond followed up his breakthrough season with another terrific year, cementing his position as one of the top three shortstops in the N.L. Has he priced himself out of a long-term deal in D.C., or will the Nats find a way to sign him to an extension before he becomes a free agent?

My pick was Zimmerman.

3) Who will lead the Nats in Stolen Bases?  Ian Desmond–21

Survey Results
Denard Span — 22
Ian Desmond — 6
Bryce Harper — 3

Desmond beat out Span by one stolen base, though if Span hadn’t taken so long to get adjusted to the N.L., he probably would have topped this list.

My pick was Span.

4) Who will lead the Nats in wins?  Jordan Zimmermann–19

Survey Results
Stephen Strasburg — 15
Gio Gonzalez — 8
Jordan Zimmermann — 6
Dan Haren — 1

A handful of folks had the stoic righty from Wisconsin as the surprise leader of the staff this season. Except for a few starts after the All-Star break, Zimmermann was consistently excellent. As with Desmond, he’s quickly earning a big payday himself.

My pick was Zimmermann.

5) Who will lead the Nats in bullpen appearances?  Tyler Clippard–72

Tyler Clippard — 20
Craig Stammen — 8
Drew Storen — 1
Rafael Soriano — 1

Tyler Clippard has been the workhorse of the Nats bullpen for three years now. He just finds a way to continue to pump high fastballs and wicked changeups past everyone, lefty or righty. I’ve stopped worrying about overuse, so next year is when he finally gets hurt, right?

My pick was Craig Stammen.

6) Who will lead the Nats in catching at bats?  Wilson Ramos–303

Survey Results
Wilson Ramos — 18
Kurt Suzuki — 13

Ramos narrowly beat out Suzuki due to his hamstring injuries robbing him of two months. His return, coupled with Werth’s, were the catalysts to the Nats second half offensive surge.

My pick was Ramos.

7) Which minor leaguer are you most interested in watching this season?

Anthony Rendon — 13
Matt Purke — 6
Nathan Karns — 3
Lucas Giolito — 3
Matt Skole — 1
A.J. Cole — 1
Eury Perez — 1

Rendon debuted in the bigs much earlier than anyone expected. Nate Karns got a brief tryout. Giolito was terrific in Rookie and Low-A. Purke continues to come back from shoulder problems. Skole missed the entire season after requiring Tommy John for his catching arm. Cole will be on everyone’s top prospect lists next year. Perez had a decent year in AAA but is losing the luster off his prospect shine.

My pick was Purke.

8) What will be the date of Anthony Rendon’s MLB debut?  April 21

Survey Results
Sept. 1 — 9
July 19 — 2
June 1, June 14, June 24, July 1, July 8, July 27, Aug. 1, Aug. 15, Sept. 2, Sept. 3, Sept. 5, Sept. 9, Sept. 13, Apr. 1, 2014 — 1

No one came close. Rendon made his debut in April and was back for good in early June when the Nats finally gave up on Danny Espinosa. Rendon finished his rookie year .265/.329/.396 with seven homers and 35 RBIs in 394 plate appearances.

My guess was June 1. But I did state the reason would be Danny Espinosa’s inability due to injury.

9) How many All-Stars will the Nats have? Who?  2—Jordan Zimmermann & Bryce Harper

Survey Results
4 — 13
5 — 6
3 — 8
6 — 2

Stephen Strasburg — 27
Bryce Harper — 24
Ryan Zimmerman — 20
Ian Desmond — 18
Rafael Soriano — 8
Gio Gonzalez — 7
Jordan Zimmermann — 7
Tyler Clippard — 3
Adam LaRoche — 3
Danny Espinosa — 1
Denard Span — 1

Everyone thought Strasburg was going to dominate, but he struggled some in the first half. He didn’t look dominant, had trouble with unearned runs and visibly showed frustration with things out of his control. Something triggered as some point and he was a much tougher pitcher down the stretch.

My picks were Jordan Zimmermann, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman. Like Meatloaf said, two out of three ain’t bad.

10) Number of wins and finish in the division?  86, second

98 — 6
94 — 4
99 — 4
101 — 3
100 — 2
95 — 2
92 — 2
97 — 2
96 — 1
93 — 1
90 — 1
89 — 1
86 — 1

First — 26
Second — 4

Congratulation to Steven Biel, the artist formerly known as FJB. He correctly predicted 86 wins and second place in the division. He had the lowest prediction of any Nats blogger, or pro for that matter. Remind me to consult FJB when picking lottery tickets next time.

My guess was 98 wins and first place.

Essay: What is the most important development for the Nationals this season?

Health for starting pitchers — 5
Managing high expectations — 3
Forgetting how last season ended — 2
Bullpen health — 2
Starters pitching more innings/deeper in games — 2
Getting younger in the minors
Draft without a first round pick
200 innings pitched for Strasburg
Managing the running game/pitchers holding runners
Overall defensive improvement
Continuing the development from 2012
Addition of Rafael Soriano to end of bullpen
Addition of center fielder/ lead-off hitter

Now that we can look back, the most important development for the Nats this season was health from their everyday players. Of the opening day lineup, Werth, Harper, Ramos, Espinosa and Zimmerman all suffered from injury or adjustments following surgery.

My answer was health in the starting rotation. The “Big Three” were all solid, but Detwiler missed four months and Haren spent two weeks on the D.L. as a rescue from being released.

Washington Capitals 2013-14 Preseason Roundtable Part 2

Opening night of the 2013-14 season for the Washington Capitals is finally upon us! With that in mind, the District Sports Page Caps staff and contributors will take a look at several key areas that will affect the Caps season as they get ready to start play in the newly-formed Metropolitan Division.

The first half of our roundtable posted Friday.

Also, for your enjoyment, here are links to out position previews:

Left Wings
Right Wings
Centers
Defensemen
Goalies

Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page; Katie Brown, Caps Staff Writer for DSP; Abram Fox, former Caps Page Editor at DSP, Erika Schnure, RinkRebel.com and DSP contributor; Ted Starkey, Caps author and contributor to DSP; Sky Kerstein, 106.7 The Fan and DSP contributor; and Harry Hawkings, RocktheRed.com.


5) Where will Brooks Laich spend the majority of his time this season (wing, center, second line, third line, infirmary, whatever)? [Read more…]

Washington Capitals 2013 Preview: The Predictions

Everybody has ‘em. Pre-season predictions sure to be wrong. Our interpid District Sports Page staff is no different. Dave Nichols, Abram Fox, Ted Starkey, Sky Kerstein, Andrew Tomlinson, Leslie Silvey, Erika Schnure and Cheryl Nichols go out on a ledge to answer the following six questions about the upcoming Washington Capitals season, which kicks off Satruday night in Tampa.

1)  Final regular season record in points, finish in division, finish in conference, finish in playoffs:
Dave:  59 points, 1st in SE, 4th in East (No. 3 seed), lose in second round.
Abram:  56 points, 2nd in SE, 5th in East, lose in first round.
Ted:  56 points, 1st in SE, 5th in East (No. 3 seed), lose in second round.
Sky:  52 points, 3rd in SE, 8th in East, lose to Rangers in first round.
Andrew:  56 points, 3rd in SE, 6th in East, lose in first round.
Leslie: 1st in SE, lose in second round.
Erika:  48 points, 2nd in SE, 5th in East, lose in second round.
Cheryl:  58 points, 1st in SE, 4th in East (No. 3 seed), Stanley Cup Champs.

2)  Goals for Ovechkin?
Dave:  25
Abram:  26
Ted:  30
Sky:  22
Andrew:  25
Leslie:  35
Erika:  27
Cheryl:  28

3)  Points for Johansson?
Dave:  32
Abram:  27 (8 g, 19 a)
Ted:  35
Sky:  30
Andrew:  40
Leslie:  30
Erika:  25
Cheryl:  30

4)  Which goalie plays more games?
Dave:  Neuvirth
Abram:  Holtby
Ted:  Holtby
Sky:  Holtby
Andrew:  Holtby
Leslie:  Holtby
Erika:  Holtby
Cheryl:  Holtby

5)  Who has more goals, Fehr or Wolski?
Dave:  Fehr
Abram:  Wolski (9)
Ted:  Fehr
Sky:  Wolski
Andrew:  Fehr
Leslie:  Fehr
Erika:  Fehr
Cheryl:  Fehr

6)  Over/under on games played for Green 41 1/2?
Dave:  Over
Abram:  Under
Ted:  Under
Sky:  Over
Andrew:  Under
Leslie: Under
Erika:  Over
Cheryl:  Under

Our official predictions and projections for the 2012 Washington Nationals

Everyone’s got ‘em.

What self-respecting blogger or independent journalist isn’t going to do a predictions post? We certainly aren’t going to let the opportunity to make fools of ourselves pass without jumping right in. So, with no further ado, here are District Sports Page’s official predictions and projections for the 2012 season.  Feel free to rip us in the comments, but please refrain from vulgarity.

General projections and 2012 Record:

It’s a lot easier to go from sub-70 wins to 80 than it is to go from 80 to 90-plus. It helps if you field average Major League players at every position, something the Washington Nationals had trouble with the first few years after moving from Montreal. The Nats have made remarkable progress though in this regard, going from 59 to 69 to 80 wins in the last three seasons. Many pundits and national publications expect the Nats to make another leap this season, making them a darling wild-card pick. I don’t think they’re quite ready for that yet, but they are getting closer. And if most thing breaks right for them (and they get/stay healthy), it’s not entirely out of the question.

If the Nats are going to make gains in the win column this season, especially enough to contend, it will have to come from the offensive side of the ball. They scored 624 runs last season and allowed 643, so the Nats’ real-life results of 80 wins outperformed their Pythagorean expectation by a couple of games. The Nats were 11th in the league in runs per game and 13th in the league in total baserunners, while finishing seventh in runs allowed. So the pitching, while not elite, was still pretty good.

(***For comparison, the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals were first in the league in runs scored, with 762 and ninth in runs allowed, with 692, and finished the regular season with a 90-72 record and the N.L. Wild Card.)

The Nats big off-season moves were all to the pitching staff, though. I don’t think the pitching gains will be quite as dramatic as some do, so the incremental gains this year’s staff will make over last year’s will need to be coupled by a dramatic increase in scoring if the Nationals are to pick up another 8-10 wins and truly contend for a playoff spot. The Nats did not make any significant additions to the offense over the winter, so any increase will have to come from within.

With the rash of injuries the Nats have already sustained, making solid projections for playing time is very difficult, especially for the players we know will miss the beginning of the season. Michael Morse (lat), Rick Ankiel (quad), Drew Storen (biceps/triceps) and Chien-Ming Wang (ankle/hamstring) all begin 2012 on the D.L.

The player the Nats can least afford to lose for an extended period of time in Morse, the team’s clean-up hitter. Most people will not be surprised to learn that I’m not particularly bullish on Morse repeating his stellar numbers from last season even if he was perfectly healthy. The power is real, but his OBP has been fueled by his hit rate and as that normalizes, his OBP and average will as well. I don’t expect a collapse, but something along the lines of .280/.325/.475. Of course, if the lat issue lingers deeper into the season than the reported expectation, all bets are off.

If Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche can stay healthy for a full season and put up numbers that resemble their career averages, that will be a boost. We can be more confident projecting Zimmerman, as his injuries of the last few seasons have been of an acute nature, and not chronic. Plus, at age 27, he’s just entering the prime of his career. 

With LaRoche, we didn’t really get a chance to see during the spring if his shoulder is 100 percent, as he missed quite a bit of time nursing a foot injury. I’m skeptical his power will return fully with the surgically repaired shoulder, and I expect him to be better in the second half of the season as he gets stronger.

As for the rest, a return to career norms from Jayson Werth would be nice. He seems to think last season was a blip and we’ll see what he’s capable of this season. Last season, his contact rate, isolated power, and success against lefties all crashed, while his ground ball percentage spiked. That’s a recipe for disaster, and we saw that in his stats. Is this a case of skills eroding or “just a bad year”? We’ll all find out together. I’ve got him for a modest bounce back, along the lines of .265/.340/.415.

But the Nats won’t score more runs unless they get more baserunners, and that — for better or worse — will be the jobs of Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa. Neither Desmond nor Espinosa are classic top-of-the-order hitters. Desmond career walk rate of 5.5 percent is atrocious for a lead-off hitter and his contact rate fell in his second full big league season as pitchers took full advantage of his free-swinging ways. Espinosa is more of a slugger in the mold of a No. 6 or 7 hitter, a risk/reward guy who will homer or strike out. His walk rate is N.L. average, so if his contact rate rebounds he could still become a very valuable hitter.

Even if Bryce Harper debuts earlier this season than later, the best we can hope for out of a 19-year old isn’t going to make enough of a difference to sway projections all that much. But he will be exciting once he gets here.

As for the pitching, 160 innings of Stephen Strasburg will be very enjoyable, but he’ll have some rocky times, just as Jordan Zimmermann did last season. Tommy John recovery is a 12-18 month-long process, so the first half of the season Strasburg will (hopefully) be regaining his pinpoint command and control. Just like Zimmermann last year, as soon as Strasburg feels like he’s fully “back”, the Nats will shut him down around Sept. 1.

Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson both walk too many hitters, and their adjustments in that regard will be the difference between being splashy off-season moves and real difference-makers in the rotation. It’s critical for Gonzalez, whom the Nats traded four of their top 15 prospects for in the off-season, then gave him a multi-year contract extension.

The bullpen should be a strength, even accounting for Drew Storen missing time. If Storen’s injury turns out to be more severe than is being advertised, the Nats are actually fairly well prepared to mitigate the damage it would do to their plans in the pen. There’s no shortage of candidates to take the ball in the ninth inning.

Where does that leave us, numbers-wise, at the end of the season? I’m of the opinion this team will be closer to true playoff contention than any time in their history since the move, but I don’t think they’re there just yet. I can’t confidently project enough offense to get the runs scored high enough to elevate the Nats much higher than .500.

I’ve got them at 83 wins. Morse missing more than two weeks would be bad.

Biggest pleasant surprise? Jesus Flores. I think the strength has fully returned to his surgically repaired shoulder and Zeus will put up enough offense for the Nats to play him twice a week and keep Wilson Ramos fresh all season long, perhaps earning enough recognition to be an enticing piece on the trade market later in the season for a full-time job of his own. The Nats catching tandem is the least of their worries this season.

Biggest disappointment? I got ripped here last year for saying Michael Morse, but he performed about as I predicted, albeit in much more playing time than I projected, which accounted for better counting numbers. Please remember, this is relative to expectations.

This year I’ll go with Stephen Strasburg. I know, BLASPHEMY!!! But hear me out. Most casual fans are going to expect the 14-strikeout, no walk dominance of his debut, and I just think that pitcher doesn’t exist right now. He’s throwing hard and getting his Ks during spring training, but he also missed his spots a lot and the frustration showed, at least in the two games I saw him pitch in person. He’ll need most of his alloted 160 innings this season to regain his command and control, and I expect it to be bumpy sometimes. I’m not projecting bust — far from it — but he’ll be much better next season than this one. Once the restrictions are lifted, look out.

Best off-season move?  I wasn’t a fan of it at the beginning, but I’ve come around. Brad Lidge looks healthy, is being feisty taunting the Philly media, and could be a critical component of the bullpen if Storen misses significant time. Plus, he came cheap so if the injury bug rears its ugly head again, nothing lost, really.

Worst off-season move? It’s hard to argue with anything GM Mike Rizzo did this off-season, so we’ll take him to task for something he didn’t do: Acquire a lead-off hitter. This team is poor generating base-runners, especially at the top of the order, and Rizzo was unable to address that during the off-season. There’s no real lead-off candidate in the organization, though I think Anthony Rendon will be a perfect fit in the two-hole eventually. Can Rizzo pull something off at the deadline? Will he wait until the off-season to bite on Michael Bourn? Unless Ian Desmond does something dramatic this season, the Nats will continue to be OBP challenged at the top.

When will we see Bryce Harper debut? Tuesday, June 19 against the Tampa Bay Rays. The urge will be there two weeks earlier for a three-game set against the Mets, then have him for the interleague road trip before facing the Yankees at Nats Park. And you know Harper would love to be on the roster for that. But I’ll say he’s activated for the mid-week series against the Rays, then goes out on the long 10-game road trip to end the month of June.

What’s the most important development for 2012? Watching the draft class of 2011. Anthony Rendon, Alex Meyer, Brian Goodwin and Matt Purke all have the talent to be game-changers for this franchise. Their development, especially Rendon and Goodwin, will be critical for this franchise in the coming years because they — and not Michael Morse, Adam LaRoche or maybe even Jayson Werth — should be Bryce Harper’s teammates when this team should be competing for the playoffs and perhaps even World Series glory.

So there you have it. I’d love to hear your feeback in the comments. Either way, it’s great to have the game back with a young team still on the rise.

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