It’s pretty clear that nobody has any idea who will win this year’s World Series. The Angels are a trendy pick. Ditto with the Mets and Red Sox. Of course the Yankees are always a contender. But, as last season taught us, you just never know.
Fortunately, it’s much easier to predict who the worst team in the league will be. This year, the choice is almost unanimous: the Washington Nationals.
How bad will the Nats be? That’s debatable. Buster Olney reported recently that some scouts think the Nats could lose as many as 130 games. That would be impressive.
Recently, fellow Umpbumper Nick, who is currently on a whirlwind tour of the Grapefruit League, said that he thought the Nationals opening day lineup was one of the worst in history.
But not everybody is so down on the Nats. From today’s Washington Post:
With less than a week before Opening Day, the Nats don’t look as lousy in Florida as they might prefer. “That No. 1 overall draft pick may be gone already,” laughed a Nats exec. “How about No. 3?”
Shawn Hill has a 0.96 ERA in five starts. Rookie lefty Matt Chico is ahead of schedule for a rotation spot. Jerome Williams (3.38 ERA) always had a fine arm. John Patterson hasn’t fallen into a manhole yet. The bullpen’s deep. Cristian Guzman, still only 29, is 16 for 36. Was the shoulder injury that cost him the ’06 season part of the reason he hit .219 in ’05? If so, did the Nats just rediscover the shortstop from three Twins playoff teams? It’s only exhibitions, but versatile Kory Casto, shortstop Josh Wilson, outfielder Chris Snelling and catcher Jesus Flores (Rule 5) all look like big league hitters. And solid utilityman Ronnie Belliard fell into the Nats’ hands. That’s a lot of positives for one spring training. “Hysteria was premature,” Kasten said.
Is it possible that the Nationals are going to be better than we thought? Could the Nats be this year’s Cinderella team, the way the Marlins were in 2006?
It seems like a stretch. Last year’s Marlins team was based around a core of young, talented players. It was a youth movement. This year’s Nats team looks like the cast from Major League. It’s a group of mostly veteran castoffs, with the exception of the young and extremely talented Ryan Zimmerman.
Still, if you want a reason to believe, just look to the bright lights of Las Vegas:
Las Vegas has noticed. Scouts were recently quoted as saying the Nats were so bad they could lose 130. Talk’s cheap. The smart money disagrees. The over-under for the Nats is 68-94 — just three more loses than last year.
Only three more losses than last year, after losing Alfonso Soriano, Jose Vidro, and Nick Johnson for at least half the season, would be a major moral victory. But don’t hold your breath. It’s likely this team will be more like the 2006 Royals than the 2006 Marlins. And they might be even worse than that.