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Tuesday, April 16, 2013
SweetSpot TV: Are Nationals overrated?

By David Schoenfield


In the latest SweetSpot TV, Eric and I rank our top five teams. (I like the Red Sox, especially with David Ortiz coming back, but Eric isn't so sure.)

Early rankings of this type are always difficult; how much do you factor in your preseason projection and how much the first two weeks of play? The Washington Nationals were my preseason No. 1 team and while they're 8-5, it's an unimpressive 8-5. They're 4-0 against the Marlins and 4-5 against everyone else (including 1-5 against the Reds and Braves) and have been outscored by 23 runs in those nine games.

My point isn't that I no longer like the Nationals, but that it's possible they have some potential issues. Five things to watch:

1. Dan Haren hasn't looked good in two starts (9 IP, 19 H, 4 HR). Haren was mediocre enough last year that his early struggles go beyond "it's only two starts" status. Haren escaped with a win against the White Sox in his last start and he starts tonight against the pathetic Marlins, so that won't be much of an indicator.

2. Ryan Zimmerman may have the "yips." Zimmerman's throws from third are an issue; an error last Friday ended up costing them the game. Once an elite fielder (+22 Defensive Runs Saved in 2009), Zimmerman's shoulder issues have obviously affected his defense -- and his release point in particular -- and he's at -3 DRS early on.

3. The bullpen hasn't been lights out. Rafael Soriano has one blown save and another game where he picked up save despite allowing two runs. Tyler Clippard, Craig Stammen and Ryan Mattheus have combined for 11 walks in 16.2 innings and the bullpen has a 5.90 ERA.

4. Jordan Zimmermann isn't striking anybody out. He's 3-0 with a 2.45 ERA but has just 11 K's in 22 innings. Remember, two of his starts have come against the Marlins, who have averaged fewer than two runs per game.

5. How good are Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond? Both were very good last year, especially Desmond, but Espinosa is off to a slow start (.175/.233/.350), and while he's striking out less he's also walking less. Desmond is hitting .320 with nine extra-base hits, but can he keep up that line with his aggressive approach at the plate? (A 12-1 strikeout-walk ratio at the plate.) He's also made four errors at shortstop.

Am I concerned? Not really. Bryce Harper looks awesome, Denard Span is getting on base, Adam LaRoche will start to hit and the rotation should be one of the best in baseball. I still think there's potentially a 100-win club here. But the Nationals haven't played like one yet.