The Nationals open their season at home this afternoon as President Barack Obama will mark history by throwing out the first-pitch 100 years after William Taft threw out the first-ever first-pitch for the Senators in 1910.
The Philadelphia Phillies and the Washington Nationals enter the 2010 season on opposite ends of the spectrum. The Phillies (93-69) won the National League pennant last season after cruising to a NL East Division title, edging out the Marlins by 6 games. The Nationals (59-103) on the other hand, enter 2010 after finishing with the worst record in baseball for two consecutive seasons.
Both teams made strides that they feel proud of this offseason, and both have left their fan base feeling they will make the step to the next level in 2010. The Phillies replaced Cliff Lee, an ace in his own right, with Roy Halladay, a man who has arguably been the best pitcher in baseball for the last decade. The club also bolstered their defense by adding Placido Palanco, giving them arguably the best infield in baseball. The Phillies are trying to recapture the World Championship.
The Nationals made moves of their own, bringing in starting pitching and bullpen help. Washington looks to improve the leagues worst pitching staff and defense. The club allowed a league-high 143 errors last season with a league low .977 fielding percentage. The pitching staff struck out a league-low 911 batters while walking a league-high 629. The Nationals are looking to make the move towards respectability.
John Lannan (0-0 -.-ERA) vs. Roy Halladay (0-0, -.-ERA)
Jason Marquis (0-0, -.-ERA) vs. Cole Hamels (0-0, -.-ERA)
Craig Stammen (0-0, -.-ERA) vs. Joe Blanton (0-0, -.-ERA)
Comparing the bats
While the Phillies have arguably the most famous one-two-three punch in Rollins, Utley, and Howard, the Nationals tied them in 2009 with the ninth-best batting average in the National League. Both clubs batted .258, the Nationals slightly edged the Phillies by getting on base at .337 compared to .334, but trailed in slugging as Philadelphia slugged .447 to Washington's .406.
Nationals ace John Lannan made his major league debut in July of 2007 against the Phillies. He lasted five innings before earning the only ejection of his career. Lannan, pitching mostly on nerves, hit Phillies star Chase Utley with an inside fastball in the top of the fifth. The pitch broke Utley's hand forcing him out of the line-up for five weeks and severely hampering their playoff chase (no pun intended). Lannan plunked slugger Ryan Howard on the very next pitch, earning an ejection from home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt.
This series of two pitches automatically made Lannan one of the most hated men in Philadelphia, which is saying something. Philly fans are notorious for their ability to hate, but earning such a distinction in your first ever major league outing, that's saying something. Philly's fans soon organized and to this day still boo John Lannan.
Since the incident Ryan Howard remains hitless in 12 plate appearances vs. the lefty. Howard has struck out four times against Lannan and has reached base only once. Utley on the other hand has been able to earn his revenge. In 11 plate appearances he is batting .500 with two homers and a double vs. Lannan.
Numbers of Note:
The Nationals enter today's game with a seven-game win streak extending from the end of last season, leaving them three shy of their franchise record for consecutive wins.
The Nationals were 2-0 when George W. Bush threw out the first pitch, and Washington baseball is 25-23 overall when a president throws out the first pitch.
What to look for
While the Nationals have stated that Ian Desmond and Willie Harris will be starters this season, pay attention to how Jim Riggleman manages uses both Cristian Guzman and Willy Taveras. Guzman is owed $8 million this season but after losing the competition for the starting shortstop role, it's unclear where he will play and how often.
Taveras is in Washington as a defensive replacement and as part of the platoon in right. With only four outfielders on the opening day roster, he could see a lot of playing time at all of the outfield positions. This time a month ago Nats fans would have been surprised to read that last sentence, but with the cutting of Elijah Dukes things have been shook up for opening day.