The Nationals were far too polite with the bats in 2008; and after visiting spring training twice, I can see where the team should be much more potent and offensive this season.
The addition of Adam Dunn will be huge; Nick Johnson's return will skyrocket the team's on-base percentage; and a healthy Ryan Zimmerman, coupled with outfield competition, will fill things in nicely in what appears to be a solid lineup.
Satchel Paige always said, "Never look back; someone will be gaining on you," but I think we must, to see how much better Washington's offense can be this year. The numbers don't lie about '08:
Batting average: .251 ... tied for 13th in the National League.
641 Runs ... only the Padres scored fewer at 637.
117 Home Runs ... only the Giants hit fewer with 94.
81 Stolen Bases ... so-so, 10th in the league.
1095 Strikeouts ... 8th in the NL.
534 Walks ... the 5th-fewest of the 16 teams.
Combine all this with the NL's 3rd-worst pitching ERA at 4.66, the worst defense and a rash of injuries, and it's easy to see why the Nats went 59-102.
A note on the defense: before Zimmerman was injured and missed 48 games, Washington was #2 in the NL. When he returned, the Nats were 12th. There's no way '09 can be anything but significantly better.
Lastings Milledge will be intriguing at leadoff, and he'll have to make contact and use that great speed of his. I like his goal of 30 stolen bases and think he can get there with room to spare.
Cristian Guzman will be his usual self in the #2 hole, and he's coming off a career-high .316 last year.
Zimmerman, Dunn and Johnson will all feed off each other in the middle, and the Nats will have more left-handed pop than they've ever had since arriving here in '05.
If Manny Acta wants to split up the lefties, he has Elijah Dukes to put between them, or Austin Kearns and Josh Willingham. Most managers like to alternate hitters in the middle, as it makes it tougher on opposing bullpens in late-game situations.
Jesus Flores continues to develop as an outstanding young catcher in the 7-hole; then there's Anderson Hernandez/Ronnie Belliard 8th, guys who can get on base in front of the pitcher.
The bench will be strong, and versatile players like Willie Harris and Cory Casto could be important as LH hitters. Wily Mo Pena's bat needs to boom again, and there appears to be good competition for the backup catcher role with Wil Nieves, Javier Valentin and Josh Bard battling.
Stan Kasten announced on our telecast Wednesday that right field seats will now be open for early batting practice, so bring your gloves (and maybe your helmets!) as Dunn and Nick will be sending long balls your way.
Once 7:05 arrives each night, I think we'll have lots of fun watching this team score runs. I hope the light bulbs on the right-field scoreboard are ready for Adam Dunn; the home runs you see this year will bring back distances we haven't talked about in DC since Frank Howard's monster shots.