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Washington Nationals

2010: 63-93, last place.

Manager: Jim Riggleman (2nd full season).

He’s Here: OF Jayson Werth, 1B Adam LaRoche, LHP Tom Gorzelanny, RHP Todd Coffey, OF Rick Ankiel, INF-OF Jerry Hairston Jr., INF Alex Cora, PH Matt Stairs.

He’s Outta There: 1B Adam Dunn, OF Josh Willingham, 2B Adam Kennedy, INF-OF Willie Harris, C Wil Nieves, OF Justin Maxwell, RHP Miguel Batista, LHP Scott Olsen, RHP Tyler Walker.

Projected Lineup: SS Ian Desmond (.269, 10, 65, 17 SBs), CF Rick Ankiel (.232, 6, 24 in 211 ABs with Kansas City and Atlanta) or Nyjer Morgan (.253, 0, 24, 34 SBs), RF Jayson Werth (.296, 27, 85, NL-high 46 doubles with Philadelphia), 3B Ryan Zimmerman (.307, 25, 85), 1B Adam LaRoche (.261, 25, 100 with Arizona), LF Mike Morse (.289, 15, 41), C Ivan Rodriguez (.266, 4, 49) or Wilson Ramos (.278, 1, 5 in 79 ABs with Minnesota and Nationals), 2B Danny Espinosa (.214, 6, 15 in 103 ABs).

Rotation: RH Livan Hernandez (10-12, 3.66 ERA, 211 2-3 IP in 33 starts), LH John Lannan 8-8, 4.65), RH Jason Marquis (2-9, 6.60), RH Jordan Zimmermann (1-2, 4.94), LH Tom Gorzelanny (7-9, 4.09 with Cubs).

Key Relievers: LH Sean Burnett (1-7, 2.14 ERA, 73 games), RH Tyler Clippard (11-8, 3.07, 78 games, 112 Ks), RH Drew Storen (4-4, 3.58, 54 games), RH Chad Gaudin (1-4, 5.65, 42 games with Oakland and Yankees), RH Collin Balester (0-1, 2.57, 17 games).

Hot Spots: Starting rotation, CF, offense without Dunn. The Nationals figure they can keep sending Hernandez out to the mound, and he’ll eat up innings and keep them in games, no matter how old he is. And that’s pretty much the only given in the rotation. Otherwise, Lannan and Gorzelanny are coming off up-and-down seasons, and Zimmermann and Marquis are coming back from operations. Stephen Strasburg, of course, is working his way back from reconstructive elbow surgery and might only make a few appearances in September _ if he pitches at all in 2011. Ankiel, Morgan and Roger Bernadina have been competing to start in center, and Jerry Hairston Jr. appears set to play there against lefties. None is an ideal solution, and while the Nationals would like Morgan to lead off, it’s not clear they think he’s ready to look again like the player he was in the second half of 2009. Replacing Dunn’s year-in, year-out production of 38 homers and 100 RBIs won’t be easy, but the Nationals hope to be better baserunners and go first-to-third more, helping manufacture runs.

Outlook: After consecutive 100-plus-loss seasons, the Nationals made a 10-win improvement last year and they assume they can’t help but keep getting better, thanks to cornerstone Zimmerman, $126 million man Werth and LaRoche’s significant help on defense. They still have to wait on two big pieces of the future, though: Strasburg and the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 amateur draft, OF Bryce Harper, who looked superb in spring training and is expected to start the season in Class A. GM Mike Rizzo says he’s entered “Phase 2” of improving the perennially last-place Nationals, but there are still plenty of unknowns, including: How will the young middle-infield duo of Desmond (majors-worst 34 errors) and Espinosa (offseason hand surgery) progress?

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CENTRAL

Cincinnati Reds

2010: 91-71, first place, lost in divisional round.

Story Continues →