Pitchers and catchers - and "The Kid"

With spring training upon us, complete with the anticipation of a new season, it's a time to look ahead to what should be an exciting 2012 season, and to look back at a great character from our organization's past, even though he never wore the Nationals uniform. More on Gary Carter in a moment.

If pitching is the basis for great teams, the foundation of this ballclub appears to be rock solid, and could stay that way for many years to come. Mike Rizzo's brilliant pickups of Gio Gonzalez (at a steep cost, of course) and Edwin Jackson give the Nats four potentially outstanding starters. Whereas in the past we headed to Viera with several starting spots up for grabs, there appears to be just one available now.

Really good teams don't have more than a spot or two available this time of year.

Back this crew up with a reliable and potentially great bullpen, and we have a basis to excite, win and contend this year. I'm not going to put the Nats in the playoffs just yet; after all, there are still some offensive issues to be addressed. But if your pitching staff keeps you in the game every night, you don't have to be dominant offensively to win.

With the bats, I do expect Jayson Werth to far exceed his 2011 production, Danny Espinosa to hit way better than the .230s, Ryan Zimmerman to have a healthy 2012 (knock on wood), Ian Desmond to be able to get on base, Adam LaRoche to fit and produce while playing that smooth first base, and Wilson Ramos to really come into his own as a major leaguer. If those things happen, and Michael Morse keeps doing what he showed us last year, Rick Eckstein's crew should be at least middle to top half of the league.

The defense looks solid, and who has a better center fielder than Rick Ankiel to put in late-game situations? Veterans on the bench solidify a good ballclub, and Davey Johnson knows how to handle the extra men to get them their at-bats.

I know you fans have high expectations. I have high hopes, and there's a difference. The National League East isn't going to lay down for Washington; it will be quite a battle, but won't it be great to stare the Phillies and Braves and Marlins square in the eye, and know we can contend with them?

Our first MASN telecast is March 4 and I can't wait!

* Baseball lost a great one Thursday when Gary Carter finally succumbed to his courageous battle against brain cancer. He was a great Expo and Met and a deserving Hall of Famer. He was one of the outstanding players that gave Montreal something to cheer about in those early days, and we should claim him as one of our own. I know some Nats fans want little or nothing to do with Montreal, but we need to welcome Carter, Andre Dawson and other Expos so that they will always have a home to visit.

Carter joined us in the MASN booth two years ago and he was a delight. He never shied away from the cameras or the microphone as a player, and it was hilarious as I asked him maybe two questions the entire half-inning, and he filled in the rest of the time. He loved God, loved life and I'm sure he's in a better place after the agony of his final year on this earth.

Yes, he was a great one from our organization, never to be forgotten - "Kid" Carter, an Expo that any Nats fan can be proud of!