Tag:NL East
Posted on: February 27, 2012 10:03 pm
Edited on: February 29, 2012 12:33 pm
 

Spring primer: Washington Nationals



By Matt Snyder


The Washington Nationals have never had a winning record. They finished 81-81 in 2005 but came in last. Then they dipped all the way down to consecutive 59-win seasons before winning 69 in 2010 and going 80-81 last season. So is 2012 the time for the first Nationals winning season -- and possibly more? Unfortunately for the Nats, they play in one of the toughest divisions in baseball. Fortunately for the Nats, they are improved from last season's third-place team.

Danny Knobler's camp report: Harper decision might make all the difference | Likes, dislikes

Major additions: LHP Gio Gonzalez, RHP Edwin Jackson, RHP Brad Lidge
Major departures: OF Layne Nix, RHP Livan Hernandez, RHP Todd Coffey

Probable lineup
1. Ian Desmond, SS
2. Jayson Werth, RF
3. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B
4. Michael Morse, LF
5. Adam LaRoche, 1B
6. Danny Espinosa, 2B
7. Wilson Ramos, C
8. Roger Bernadina, CF

Probable rotation
1. Stephen Strasburg
2. Gio Gonzalez
3. Jordan Zimmerman
4. Edwin Jackson
5. Chien-Ming Wang

John Lannan is also a possibility as the fifth starter, and remember Strasburg is on a 160-inning limit this season.

Back-end bullpen
Closer: Drew Storen
Set-up: Tyler Clippard, Brad Lidge

Important bench players

C Jesus Flores, IF/OF Mark DeRosa, OF Rick Ankiel

Prospect to watch
C'mon. You know who. We've all been watching Bryce Harper since he was about 15, and from everything said in camp it sounds like 2012 is the year we see him in the majors. Will he break camp with the club? Only if they're ready to play him everyday, which means Werth is shoved to center. I believe the Nationals would have to be 100 percent convinced Harper was ready to star right now, otherwise there's no reason to do so -- especially since the defense would suffer as a result. More likely, an injury or underperformance opens the door sometime in May or June. Regardless, scouts collectively believe Harper is an elite-level superstar when he does stick in the majors. Anthony Rendon bears watching as well, but not to the extent of Harper.

Fantasy breakout: Jordan Zimmermann
"One could argue that in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery Zimmermann had already broken out. Last year the 25-year-old posted a 3.18 ERA and 1.15 WHIP and only an innings limit kept him from being a top 40 starting pitcher. This season, Zimmermann won't be curtailed in terms of his workload, and better yet, there is room for him to perform better even on a per-inning basis. He averaged slightly less than seven strikeouts per nine innings in 2011, not meeting the standard he set prior to his surgery but he started to miss a lot more bats over his final 10 starts. Over that span, Zimmermann got to strike three 53 times in 58 2/3 innings. With more innings and a higher K-rate likely this season, look for Zimmermann to emerge as a No. 3 starting pitcher in mixed leagues." - Al Melchior [Full Nationals fantasy team preview]

Fantasy bust Jayson Werth
"Leaving a homer-friendly ballpark in Philadelphia behind, many expected Werth to have a down year in 2011, but the worst may be yet to come. Park factors may have worked against Werth with his move to Washington but even before he signed with the Nationals he was facing a steady decline in his home run per flyball ratio. While Werth's home run power seems to be evaporating the 46 doubles he hit in 2010 was merely an outlier as he has never hit more than 26 in a season barring that one year." - Al Melchior [Full Nationals fantasy team preview]

Optimistic outlook
Every player plays like he's capable and the Nationals don't have a major weakness. The offense has the potential to be strong top-to-bottom, with great starting pitching -- Edwin Jackson proving to be the best No. 4 in the league -- and a lock-down back-end of the bullpen. If everything comes together like it can, the Nationals would make the playoffs. They may not be able to win the toughest division in the National League, but with a possibility of two wild cards on the table -- seriously, Bud, how long until this is decided?!? -- there's certainly no reason to count out the Nats.

Pessimistic outlook
While there are good hitters in the lineup, the lack of an elite slugger in addition to a hole in center field holds the offense back. Werth's struggles bleed into 2012, Zimmerman again can't stay healthy and the pitching staff is plagued by Gonzalez's control issues and Jackson's inconsistency -- not to mention Strasburg's inning limit. Playing in the mighty NL East, the Nationals come in fourth or even last, with the Mets surprising and jumping over them.

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Posted on: February 27, 2012 11:21 am
Edited on: February 27, 2012 12:06 pm
 

Class A team to celebrate Titanic anniversary

By C. Trent Rosecrans

There's nothing like minor-league promotions, and the Potomac Nationals will have an interesting one on April 15 -- the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.

To commemorate the anniversary, the team will allow women and children into the ballpark first -- a full 15 minutes before the men.

I was thinking maybe they should have specials on icees or a dunk tank -- too soon?

No matter what else they do, I'm sure plenty of people will make "I'm the king of the world" jokes and think they're the first one to do so. They'll be wrong.

Hat-tip: Washington Post's D.C. Sports Bog

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Posted on: February 26, 2012 7:14 pm
 

Johan Santana throws 72 pitches from mound

By Matt Snyder

As he continues his recovery from surgery on a torn anterior capsule in his throwing shoulder, Mets ace Johan Santana took his most significant step forward Sunday. The left-hander threw his fourth bullpen session of the spring, but this time he threw 72 pitches off the mound, simulating a game.

Justin Turner stood in the batter's box for a bit of the session and was impressed.

“The ball looked like it was coming out of his hand good,” Turner said (ESPN New York). “It had late movement. The biggest thing for me was how excited he looked on the mound after throwing every pitch and how he was bouncing around. Obviously he felt pretty good about it too. And from standing in the box, from my angle, it looked pretty good as well.”

According to the ESPN New York report -- assuming no setbacks, of course -- Santana will long toss Wednesday, throw batting practice Friday and then pitch March 6 in a spring training game against the Cardinals.

Santana, who turns 33 in March, didn't pitch at all for the Mets in 2011. In 2010, he was 11-9 with a 2.98 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 144 strikeouts in 199 innings. The four-time All-Star and two-time Cy Young winner was obviously one of baseball's best prior to his arm issues.

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Category: MLB
Posted on: February 26, 2012 6:13 pm
 

Hanson suits up for first time since concussion

By Matt Snyder

Braves starting pitcher Tommy Hanson returned to the field Sunday in Florida, marking the first time he's suited up since suffering a concussion in a car accident Monday. Hanson ran and played catch (AJC.com), but what he did wasn't near as important as the next step.

Either Monday or Tuesday, Hanson will take an ImPact concussion test, and if he passes it, the Braves are targeting Thursday to get Hanson back on the mound. Hanson took the ImPact test Thursday, but his results reportedly weren't all the way back to normal, so he hasn't been able to get back on the hill yet.

The right-hander, who may very well be the Braves opening-day starter if he's ready, says he isn't worried about falling behind.

“After I start throwing for a couple of days, I think I’ll be back where I would have been last week," he said (AJC.com). "Most of the time at the end of spring training, that last week is kind of extra anyway. So I don’t think it’ll be a problem. I feel like I’ll be ready.”

Hanson, 25, was 11-7 with a 3.60 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 142 strikeouts in 130 innings last season. A balky shoulder prevented him from making a start after August 6.

The Braves need Hanson to get well soon. With Tim Hudson set to miss about a month of the season, only Jair Jurrjens, Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor are completely healthy from the planned starting rotation. Kris Medlan along with prospects Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado would be in the mix to pick up any slack needed.

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Category: MLB
Posted on: February 26, 2012 9:24 am
Edited on: February 26, 2012 4:11 pm
 

Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals agree on extension



By Matt Snyder


The Washington Nationals have agreed to sign third baseman Ryan Zimmerman to a six-year, $100 million contract extension, CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman has confirmed. Zimmerman's current five-year, $45 million deal doesn't expire until after the 2013 season, so this extension takes him through the 2019 season, and there's a $24 million club option for the 2020 season. Zimmerman also agreed to have $10 million deferred as a personal services fee, meaning the amount won't count toward the Nationals payroll -- there is no salary cap, but there's a luxury tax. The contract also contains a full no-trade clause, the inclusion of which had previously been a sticking point for Zimmerman.

Nationals spring training
The deal is the second-largest in MLB history for a third baseman, after Alex Rodriguez's current contract (A-Rod's first megadeal came when he was a shortstop). Zimmerman is now one of just six players signed through 2019, joining Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Braun and Matt Kemp.

"All along, all I've wanted is to be able to stay with the Nationals, which I consider my hometown team, and help the franchise become a winner while also being compensated fairly," Zimmerman said Saturday night, before the extension was complete. "While nothing is finalized, I am confident that we can reach an agreement that will accompish all those things. I'm from Virginia, I was drafted by the Nationals and I've seen this organization make great progress since I signed here. I want to see it through to the ultimate goal of winning a World Series."

More from Zimmerman on being from the area: "That was the whole point of this thing from the beginning," he said (MASNSports.com). "I love playing here and I love the organization, but it's always been like this from day one when I started playing here - how I'm lucky to be in this position to be so close to my family, to kind of be in the area where I grew up, where I went to school. I enjoy playing here."

He also added that signing the extension was a "relief."

Zimmerman, 27, was the Nationals' first-round draft pick in 2005 -- the club's first year in Washington -- out of the University of Virginia and made his big-league debut late that season. He then finished second in the 2006 NL Rookie of the Year voting and has since been an All-Star while winning both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger. He hit .289/.355/.443 with 12 homers and 49 RBI in 101 games in 2011, as he was hampered by an abdominal injury. The previous season, he hit .307/.388/.510 with 25 homers and in 2009 he had 33 homers, 106 RBI and 110 runs scored.

The Nationals now have a young core of players locked up for several years, including Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Bryce Harper, Drew Storen, Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos.

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Posted on: February 25, 2012 11:26 pm
 

Zimmerman, Nats inch closer to extension

Ryan Zimmerman

By C. Trent Rosecrans


Ryan Zimmerman's 10 a.m. deadline passed with a contract extension with the Nationals and it appears his Saturday deadline will, as well. But that doesn't mean the two sides won't get a deal done.

Saturday night, Zimmerman's agent, Brodie Van Wagenen, said the two sides were close to a deal. Zimmerman is expected to sign an extension worth approximately $18 million per year -- but that was never the sticking point. Instead of money, Zimmerman wanted a no-trade clause that would keep the 27-year-old Virginia native in Washington.

"We have made significant progress on an extension for Ryan that would ensure he plays for the Nationals for a long time, which has always been Ryan's goal," Van Wagenen said. "We are working on a structure that will allow the team to continue to add talent and establish a winner, which is another goal of Ryan's.

"While there are still important aspects to work through, we bridged multiple important gaps on many major parts of a contract. Nothing is done until it is done, but both sides are optimistic than an agreement can be reached and Ryan can focus his energies on preparing with his teammates for the season."

Zimmerman has said he didn't want the extension -- which at one point this offseason Nats GM Mike Rizzo said was the team's top offseason priority -- to interfere with the team's preparation for the season. The team held its first full-squad workout on Saturday.

"All along, all I've wanted is to be able to stay with the Nationals, which I consider my hometown team, and help the franchise become a winner while also being compensated fairly," Zimmerman said. "While nothing is finalized, I am confident that we can reach an agreement that will accompish all those things. I'm from Virginia, I was drafted by the Nationals and I've seen this organization make great progress since I signed here. I want to see it through to the ultimate goal of winning a World Series."

Zimmerman was adamant that he receive a no-trade clause since he was willing to give the hometown discount. Jayson Werth received a no-trade clause in his monster deal last winter, while Mark Buehrle and Prince Fielder were reportedly offered no-trade clauses as part of the offers made to those free agents this winter.

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Posted on: February 25, 2012 9:51 pm
Edited on: February 26, 2012 10:23 pm
 

Spring primer: Atlanta Braves

Chipper Jones

By C. Trent Rosecrans

Thanks to the Red Sox collapse, the Braves' September disappearing act seems to have been forgotten by everyone outside of Atlanta and St. Louis. Atlanta led the wild card race by as many as 8 1/2 games in September before conceding the final NL playoff spot to the Cardinals, going 9-18 over the last month of the season, losing their last five and 13 of their last 18. While there were rumors of big changes in the offseason, none of that materialized and the Braves head into 2012 with the same team that appeared to be headed to the playoffs before the final month of the season.

Danny Knobler's camp report: After epic collapse, inaction brings optimism | Likes, dislikes

Major additions: None
Major departures: RHP Derek Lowe, SS Alex Gonzalez, OF Nate McLouth, RHP Scott Linebrink, LHP George Sherrill

Probable lineup
1. Michael Bourn CF
2. Martin Prado LF
3. Chipper Jones 3B
4. Brian McCann C
5. Dan Uggla 2B
6. Freddie Freeman 1B
7. Jason Heyward RF
8. Tyler Pastornicky SS

Probable rotation
1. Tim Hudson
2. Tommy Hanson
3. Jair Jurrjens
4. Brandon Beachy
5. Mike Minor

Hudson's status for the beginning of the season is in doubt, which would make room for right-hander Randall Delgado

Back-end bullpen
Closer: Craig Kimbrel
Set-up: Jonny Venters, Eric O'Flaherty, Kris Medlen

Important bench players
OF Jose Constanza, 1B/OF Eric Hinske, OF Matt Diaz

Prospect to watch
In three starts and two relief appearances, Julio Teheran went 1-1 with a 5.03 ERA and only struck out 10 batters in 19 2/3 innings, while walking eight batters. But it should also be noted he was just 20. Teheran will likely start 2012 back in Triple-A, where he went 15-3 with a 2.55 ERA. The right-hander has four pitches, including a fastball in the mid-90s. He may not be an ace right away, but few pitchers in the minors have his potential.

Fantasy sleeper: Mike Minor
"His strikeout and walk rates showed he has the skills to become a top-of-the-rotation-type pitcher, and with Derek Lowe banished to Cleveland, he suddenly has a rotation spot to refine them. The Braves' decision to clear that spot for Minor this offseason should give the 24-year-old a renewed sense of purpose entering spring training. If his performance during his final nine starts last year, when he posted a 3.83 ERA with more than a strikeout per inning, was a sneak peak at what he can do with a defined role, he'll be a late-round find on Draft Day." -- Scott White [Full Braves team fantasy preview]

Fantasy bounce-back player: Jason Heyward
"He developed numbness in his shoulder in spring training and, in an effort to play through the injury, altered his mechanics. His popout rate was through the roof, which is a clear sign his swing wasn't right. With an offseason of rest and the fresh perspective of new hitting coach Greg Walker, Heyward should be in for a bounce-back season. Expecting other-worldly numbers from him would, of course, not be prudent, but even a return to his rookie form would make him a top-25 outfielder." -- Scott White [Full Braves team fantasy preview]

Optimistic outlook
Everything that went wrong last year -- Uggla's early-season struggles, Heyward's sophomore slump, manager Fredi Gonzalez's overuse of the bullpen -- goes right this year, while the young pitching studs are as advertised. If all that happens, the Braves could win the NL East. Then with their starters and relievers, the Braves would be a tough out in any series.

Pessimistic outlook
Uggla plays the entire season like he did last May (.160/.241/.260 with two home runs), Heyward's 2012 is a repeat of 2011 and Hudson, Hanson and Jurrjens have a large chunk of time on the disabled list with varying injuries. Meanwhile, the rookies the team is counting on to perform -- Pastornicky and Minor -- struggle and the veteran Jones can't hold up for an entire season at 40. There's plenty that can go wrong and with the improvements made by the Marlins, the growth of the Nationals and the Phillies' pitching, the Braves could battle with the Mets for the bottom of the division rather than searching to avenge 2011's collapse.

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Posted on: February 25, 2012 8:24 pm
 

Mets to honor Carter with patch

By C. Trent Rosecrans

The Mets will wear this patch on their uniform this season to honor the late Gary Carter, the team announced on Twitter:



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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com