BY ROB SHAW
It was a lively off-season in the Big Leagues for certain as the best leadoff hitter and two of the best sluggers moved to new teams this winter. While a great deal of the attention turned to the Marlins who unveiled a new logo, new jerseys, a new stadium, and new acquisitions, the quiet Nationals should attract the most attention because of their sudden rise in expectations in the NL East.
The news with the greatest impact coming from the Nationals during the off-season wasn’t the trade for Gio Gonzalez or even the latest news from top phenom Bryce Harper. Instead, the it came at the end of February when the face of the franchise, Ryan Zimmerman, signed on the dotted line to a six-year $100 million deal. The deal sends an important message to the Nationals that they are not just about developing young talent, but keeping that talent around for the years to come to compete with the best in the NL.
The star third baseman told us, “I’ve been here through the not too good years, I wanted to make sure to be here for the good times that are about to come.” Zimmerman added, “They’ve done it the right way, they drafted good, they built out their farm system, kind of made it so that we won’t be good for one or two years, but 10 or 15.”
The fact that Zimmerman opted to stay long-term with the Nationals was met with affirmation from his teammates. Hurler Jordan Zimmerman said, “Yeah he made it clear that he wanted to stay here and stay here for the long haul, and build a team around him. The owners are all for it and I think it is going to be good for the club in the long run.”
There are a lot of household names on the Nationals this season. Jayson Werth did not meet expectations last season, we discussed Zimmerman, Michael Morse is now a star after what he did last year, but one guy who is sneaking under the radar despite the fact that he posted sensational numbers last season was Jordan Zimmerman.
Zimmerman is an ace. Last year, he actually truly was the number one, and maybe that explains why his record is not as impressive as his ERA and his WHIP. On the other hand, this year he will be matching with a lot of number twos and threes since Strasburg is the opening day starter. This is really big for the Nationals, because that gives them an advantage in every game that he pitches. Maybe 15-17 wins is a realistic target for the young hurler.
Zimmerman is optimistic about the team’s chances of clinching the division. “We had some key pickups this year and I think we are going to have a great starting staff and picked up Lidge and a couple of other guys in the bullpen who are going to help out big time. So I am pretty excited to get going this season.”
I see Washington as the favorite in the NL East. The Phillies may have that big three, but there’s a big three in Washington now that is younger and perhaps will end up more durable this season. You look at the offense for the Nationals, they took away Jayson Werth from the Phillies and with the Phillies having injuries to Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, there are some serious concerns there. I think the offense is better for the Nationals, perhaps the numbers won’t reflect that because of the pitcher’s park.
The Braves are a good team. I don’t think they have the rotation that the Nationals have. The Marlins are a good team too. They don’t have the depth in the rotation. Also, the Nationals bullpen ace is Tyler Clippard, one of the best middle relievers in baseball, and when Drew Storen comes back healthy, he could be lights out yet again.
This Nationals team should be the favorite in the NL East. And it’s great because it’s going to surprise a lot of people. So as far as expectations, they should be sky high. Washington fans, you have something to be excited about this season.
BY ROB SHAW
This is very much the start of a new era for the Marlins, as the team moves into a new state-of-the-art ballpark, changes it’s jerseys, as well as it logos and colors. However, the greatest difference that will be felt on the field is the addition of Mets legend Jose Reyes to the top of the Marlins lineup.
The leadoff hitter plays a very important role in baseball as the table setter for a lineup. Reyes is coming off a season in which he led the National League with a .337 average, while reaching base at a .384 OBP. Despite missing 36 games (more than 20% of the season), he still racked up 101 runs. That number should go even higher now that he joins a lineup batting in front of perennial MVP candidate Hanley Ramirez and several other rising sluggers.
There has been much controversy made in the media concerning the addition of Reyes to the Marlins and what this would mean for Ramirez. However, the star shortstop transitioning to third had no such qualms when we asked him about the addition of Reyes: “It’s good, he brings a lot of energy to this team and every morning he is always smiling and that’s good.” Ramirez then added, “I think we need that and obviously he’s a pretty good ballplayer and a pretty good person.”
In truth, the Reyes impact is felt more than just at shortstop. By moving Ramirez to third base, he fills a void at a position that did not get much production last season. Suddenly, the fish have one of the best left-infields in baseball while also enjoying a top leadoff hitter in the lineup.
Despite some frustration that the Mets did not make him an offer, Reyes is excited about his new team. “It’s been unbelievable so far, everybody has welcomed me like I’m home here, and that’s made me feel very comfortable,” said the star shortstop.
With Reyes getting on base before Ramirez and slugger Mike Stanton, the Marlins should have one of the elite offenses in the Big Leagues, while the defense also gets an edge. Now if Josh Johnson can stay healthy they will have a shot at surpassing the Phillies. However, that is a big “if,” as Johnson has only once made 30 starts in a season.
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