Top 5 Reasons for Nats Fans to be Optimistic

Posted by KilgoreTroutIII

If there is a God, He – or She – must have created baseball to teach the vast majority of Americans to learn how to cope with year-in-year-out disappointment and still live with hope. Red Sox fans kept hope alive and eventually cast off their curse. The Cubs always have next year. And Washington has … 1924.

Yankees fans don’t have to worry. They only have to wait a few years from time to time before they’re able to buy the World Series again. But God is only toying with them because they’re all going to Hell anyway.

But hope springs eternal, so we give you the Top 5 Reasons for Nats Fans to be Optimistic.

5. It can’t get worse than 2009.

In fact, the second half of the season wasn’t so bad by comparison. Under Manny Acta, the Nats were 26-61, .299. Since Jim Riggleman took over they have soared to a 24-34 record, .414. Previously on pace to lose 114 games, if they continue on the Riggles .414 pace, they’ll only lose 105. Wooooo Hoooo.

4. Ian Desmond

Look for Desmond to get plenty of playing time after starting his major league career with three straight multiple-hit games, the first player in franchise history to do that. Don’t bet your kid’s college fund on Desmond’s current .588 batting average and his 1.611 OPS continuing into next year, but  he has already turned in great plays at shortstop and second base … and did I mention he can hit?

3. Nyjer Morgan Will be Back

The Pirates did their best to catch the Nats in the Bryce Harper Sweepstakes Race by GIVING us Nyjer. Before his season-ending injury this is how NatsTown, the official Nats blog summed up his early days with the team:

In Morgan’s first month, he set the Nationals (2005-present) record for hits in July (40) and stolen bases in a month (14). Morgan is batting .387 (43-for-111) with six doubles, a triple, a homer, seven RBI, an MLB-best 14 stolen bases and 20 runs scored in 28 games with the Nationals.

When he went on the DL, he had played 49 games for the Nats, hitting .351 with 24 stolen bases and 35 runs scored. In centerfield, Morgan looks like he could cover from foul line to foul line and he runs the basepaths with abandon. And to top it all off, Pirates fans are pissed. Gotta love that.

2. Stephen Strasburg (and other young pitching talent)

Widely believed to be the best young pitching prospect in a generation, Strasburg actually signed with the Nats and seems happy to be coming to DC. And it’s not just his 100+ mph fast ball that tantalizes; it’s the fact that he has control and can hit spots on demand. That kind of speed with great control at 21?

And don’t forget the Nats second first-round pick this year. Drew Storen has already shown he’s a professional in the early stages of his minor league career. Picked number 10 overall, he missed all the hoopla surrounding the Strasburg signing. Storen signed the day after the draft. For a piddling $1.6 million, poor kid. Here’s how he did in his first couple of months, starting at low Class A Hagerstown then moving to high Class A Potomac a month later and to Class AA Harrisburg three weeks later:

[As of late August] Storen is 1-1 with eight saves and a 2.20 ERA in 24 appearances. He’s allowed just seven walks compared with 43 strikeouts, and eight earned runs on 20 hits. He’s holding opposing batters to a .172 average and his WHIP is a stellar 0.83.

John Lannan can be a solid starter and Jordan Zimmermann is expected to recover from Tommy John surgery and be completely ready for the spring of 2011, still only 23. In addition, Garrett Mock, J.D. Martin, and Craig Stammen have all shown the potential to be in the starting rotation.

The bullpen, none of whom was on the Opening Day roster, has been fairly good in the second half of the season and will be better when Storen joins them.

1. Bryce Harper

Dubbed “the chosen one” by Sports Illustrated and called “the LeBron James of baseball,” this phenom has a lot of scouts saying he’s the best 16 year old player they’ve ever scouted. As in EVER.

So good and so young is Bryce Harper, however, that he explodes baseball convention. He has hit the longest home run in the history of Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays, and he did so in January, at age 16, with a blast that would have flown farther than the measured 502 feet had it not smashed off the back wall of the dome. Still only 16, Harper stands 6’3″, weighs 205 pounds, has faster bat speed than Mark McGwire in his prime and runs so fast that he scored on wild pitches six times this season from second base. As a catcher he picks off runners from his knees, and when he pitches, he throws a fastball that has been clocked at 96 mph. He also does volunteer work, holds down a 3.5 grade point average and attends religious education classes nearly every morning before school.

His parents have allowed him to skip his junior and senior years in high school to jump to junior college, where he plans to play baseball for one season and then be eligible for the major league draft.

The Nats still have a commanding lead in the Bryce Harper Sweepstakes Race over the same Pirates they stole Nyjer Morgan from. Harper isn’t the immediate answer to turning the Nats around, but he could be the natural they need to go with Zimmerman, Strasburg, Morgan, Desmond, Dunn, and ZimmermanN.

While they won’t challenge for the pennant in 2010, your Washington Nationals could be a very good young team in 2011.

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