Running down the rosters: Washington Nationals

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The Nationals may have disappointed some by failing to make a big run at the top three free agents, but a vastly improved rotation could make them surprise contenders in the NL East.

Rotation
Gio Gonzalez – L
Edwin Jackson – R
Jordan Zimmermann – R
John Lannan – L
Stephen Strasburg – R

Bullpen
Drew Storen – R
Tyler Clippard – R
Sean Burnett – L
Henry Rodriguez – R
Brad Lidge – R
Tom Gorzelanny – L
Ross Detwiler – L

Disabled list: Chien-Ming Wang (R)
SP next in line: Detwiler, Craig Stammen (R), Yunesky Maya (R), Chad Durbin (R)
RP next in line: Ryan Perry (R), Stammen (R), Jeff Fulchino (R), Ryan Mattheus (R)

The additions of Gonzalez and Jackson give the Nationals arguably the game’s deepest rotation. Now they just have to figure out how to make it work. That Detwiler is out of options complicates things; the Nationals aren’t going to try sending him down. A Lannan trade remains a real possibility. The Nationals also have the option of sending Lannan down to Triple-A, though that wouldn’t go over very well. As for me, I’m stashing Wang on the disabled list to help with the logjam. He’s already experiencing some shoulder soreness this spring anyway.

The bullpen should be very strong at the end of games and still pretty good before that. I don’t think the Lidge addition was necessary, but the price was right. A Gorzelanny trade to open up a spot for Perry wouldn’t come as a surprise.

Lineup
SS Ian Desmond – R
RF Jayson Werth – R
3B Ryan Zimmerman – R
LF Michael Morse – R
1B Adam LaRoche – L
2B Danny Espinosa – S
C Wilson Ramos – R
CF Rick Ankiel – L

Bench
C Jesus Flores – R
INF Steve Lombardozzi – S
INF-OF Mark DeRosa – R
OF Roger Bernadina – L
OF Brett Carroll – R

Disabled list: 1B Chris Marrero (R)
Next in line: C Carlos Maldonado (R), 1B-3B Chad Tracy (L), INF Andres Blanco (S), INF Jarrett Hoffpauir (R), INF Carlos Rivero (R), 3B-OF Mark Teahen (L), OF Bryce Harper (L), OF Jason Michaels (R), OF Xavier Paul (L)

While the pitching looks very strong, the lineup is still something of a mess. Werth and Zimmerman should be better this year, but there aren’t any traditional No. 1 or No. 2 hitters to put ahead of them. The team badly needs Desmond to step up.

I decided not to include Harper, even though I had him in my original projected lineup last month. It makes so much more financial sense to send him down for at least a month to start the season, and as good as Harper is likely to be someday, he’s hardly guaranteed to be an upgrade on Ankiel and Bernadina right away this year.

So, I’m sticking Ankiel in center field for now. The Nationals just lost their best stopgap option when Mike Cameron retired. I favor Ankiel over Bernadina, but Davey Johnson will probably just play the hot hand of the two. By July 1 at the latest, I think we’ll see Werth in center field and Harper in right.

My guess is that while the pitching will be strong, the Nationals won’t score enough runs to win 90 games this year. This is a better team, one that’s going to be more enjoyable to watch than anything else the Nationals have put on the field in their brief history. But it’s probably a year away.

Astros extend winning streak to 11 games

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The Astros rallied late to keep their winning streak alive, extending it to 11 games with a 7-4 victory over the Royals on Sunday afternoon. The club is now 48-25, leading the Mariners by a full game in the AL West.

The Royals took a 4-2 lead after three innings, but Brian McCann knocked in a run with a single in the top of the fourth to cut the deficit to one run. Carlos Correa hit a game-tying solo home run in the eighth. The Astros kept their foot on the gas, scoring two more runs on RBI singles from Evan Gattis and Marwin Gonzalez in the top of the eighth and another in the top of the ninth on Correa’s sacrifice fly.

Starter Lance McCullers allowed four runs (two earned) on six hits and two walks with nine strikeouts over six innings. Tony Sipp worked a scoreless seventh. Ken Giles did the same in the eighth. Hector Rondon finished off the win in the ninth, working around a one-out walk with a game-ending double play.

After winning all 10 games on their road trip against the Rangers, Athletics, and Royals, the Astros will head home for a nine-game homestand against the Rays, Royals, and Blue Jays. Each club is below .500.