Rather than focus on the negatives, as I usually do, why don't we spend the long weekend looking at the rosiest picture I can paint for the Nats 2011 team? OK, it's not exactly the rosiest picture. That would be "Nats sign Cliff Lee and everyone becomes a superstar!!!!", but it's a scenario that features reasonable goals for every player. Sure they all have to happen all at once, but that's why it's the rosiest picture and not an accurate one.
Rest of 2010:
Yuneski Maya shows he's capable of pitching in the majors, while pretty much everyone coming back from injury looks healed. Jordan Zimmermann is of particular interest as he mows down the competition and inspires one or two "Strasburg Who"? headlines (which get the writers fired). In the field, both Espinosa and Ramos hit well enough to think they can hang right now in the majors.
Nats Offseason :
Adam Dunn finds the 2011 off season as unhospitable as the 2009 offseason. He resigns with the Nats, agreeing on a 2 year deal for only slightly more money than he signed for last time.
The Tampa Bay Rays take the World Series which allows Carl Crawford to focus on the money and not the winning. The Nats drive the biggest dump truck full of money to his house and manage to sign him.
The Nats resign most of their decent relief pitchers here on one-year deals.
Nats 2011 :
Willingham returns, shifts to right field, and gives a full season much like the 2010 he put up prior to injury (which includes the downslide... it's still good with that included). Dunn hits like he can and Zimmerman remains a superstar. Crawford has his typical season and the Big 3 become the Big 4.
As for the rest of the lineup, Desmond takes another step foward and hits for a bit more power. Bernadina, playing in center, gives the Nats another average season. Wilson Ramos, first pegged for a part-time gig, hits close to .300 the entire season long and relegates Pudge to back-up duty in May. Danny Espinosa has a season much like Desmond had this year. However, being in the 8th hole, he's able to utilize his patience and get on base at a nice clip.
The Nats are very suddenly an offense with no holes. It's not a league leading offense, because it's batting-average heavy. Outside the Big 3, it's likely only Espinosa will develop notable patience. Desmond, if he takes the next step, might be the only non Big 3 to hit over 20 homers. Still the team hurdles from the bottom of the pack to just outside the good teams, somewhere 5th-8th in the league in scoring.
The relief pitching remains stable. Four out of Slaten, Burnett, Walker, Peralta and Clippard remain capable, while Storen holds down the closing gig with no big issues.
In the rotation Zimmermann has a breakthrough year, almost All-Star worthy. Marquis bounces back with an above average season. Maya, Lannan, and a returning to earth Hernandez fill out the rotation with some average pitching. Detwiler fills in capably when one of these guys goes down to injury for a few weeks, but it's in its surprisingly health where the staff gets it's worth.
Much like the offense this is not a world-beating staff, but day in and day out they keep the Nationals in the game. Again we see a rise from the bottom of the NL to a spot above average.
With a bit of luck in one-run games, the Nationals shock the league by staying in the Wild Card hunt until early September. They fade but only back down to a respectable 84 wins. Questions remain about 2012. Josh Willingham was not offered a multi-year deal and will almost certainly leave. Marquis (by his choice) and Lannan (by the team's) are both likely to do the same and leave a big innings hole in the rotation. Livan, signed to another one-year deal, could easily revert to his pre-2010 numbers. Other teams are worried about the Nats, though. Strasburg looks good in rehab and he and Zimmermann will make a scary 1-2. If Ross Detwiler is as capable as he seems they may not miss a beat in the rotation. Ramos, Espinosa, and Desmond all could step up in 2012 and turn a good offense into a dangerous one, and that's not even considering Bryce Harper who looks right on track for a fall 2012 debut, after capably handling A-ball and adjusting late in the year to AA. Some have already made the Nats a trendy pick for the playoffs in 2012.
Is this going to happen? Probably not, but is there anything crazy here (outside of maybe the Crawford signing)? I don't think so. The Nats have spent the last 5 years bouncing from bad luck to maybe average luck and back again. It's about time they spend a year getting more than their share of the breaks.