Miami Marlins @ Washington Nationals Opening Series Preview: Chat with Michael Natelli of Around the Hill

After a long and what seemed like a never ending offseason for the Miami Marlins, Opening Day 2013 is finally here. The Miami Marlins will take on the Washington Nationals today at 1 PM EST. Stephen Strasburg will take the mound against Ricky Nolasco.

If you want more details on all the pitching matchups and some analysis, along with predictions for the series, please check out the series preview I posted earlier today.

To further preview the opening series of the season, I had an email chat with Michael Natelli, the editor of All over the Hill. All over the Hill is the Fansided site for all Washington sports related news. You can find the best Nationals content on there, or you can check out District on Deck. Both sites are great for Washington Nationals coverage.

Without any further ado, here is a look at the chat I had with Michael:

March 22, 2013; Viera, FL, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg (37) delivers a pitch against the Detroit Tigers during the spring training game at Space Coast Stadium. Detroit defeated Washington 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

Ehsan Kassim: After being shutdown last season, what are your expectations for Stephen Strasburg this season?

Michael Natelli: Well we’ve never seen him go this deep into a season before, but based on last season I expect that he’ll pick up where he left of. That final game last season against the Marlins was absolutely atrocious  and he started to deteriorate down the stretch, but I think that was more mental than physical. I believe he lost that drive as he knew his season was coming to a close, which only made it more difficult to work through a tough stretch. This year, having that peace of mind knowing he has nothing stopping him from being great will be huge, and while my gut tells me he won’t win a Cy Young, he’ll certainly be one of the elite pitchers in baseball. Strasburg won 15 games on last year’s team in a short season, so look for him to go after 17 or 18 this season.

EK: Bryce Harper developed a bad rep last season, but I love seeing him play. What kind of numbers do you see him having this season?

MN: You always fear the sophomore slump when your team has one of those breakout rookies, but Harper looks poised to build on last year’s success. I don’t think he’ll be one of these 35-40 home run players yet, but he’s added some muscle this offseason and his bat speed looked absolutely violent in Spring Training. One of Harper’s most underrated talents is his ability to identify pitches that are just out of the strike zone, and I think that’s because it comes and goes. If Harper can work on being more consistent in identifying quality strikes, I see no reason he can’t hit at least .280 this year with an improved walk rate. The power will still be there, probably in the 25-30 home run range, and the additions of Denard Span and (hopefully) a full season of a healthy Ryan Zimmerman should create some RBI opportunities regardless of where he ends up in the lineup.

EK: Besides Strasburg, which Nationals pitcher do you think will impress the most?

MN: Aside from Strasburg, I think Gio Gonzalez will have the best season statistically speaking. But people already know about Gio, and I think most casual fans haven’t heard nearly as much about Jordan Zimmermann, who is due for a breakout year. Zimmermann went 12-8 with a 2.94 ERA last year, and would probably be a #1 or #2 in 95% of big league rotations this year. I think that as the media-favorite Nats get more national attention (no pun intended) this year, Zimmermann will continue to impress as he has for his fan base, and be recognized as an elite pitcher amongst the national fanbase.

March 18, 2013; Viera, FL, USA; Washington Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper (34) at bat against the Detroit Tigers during the spring training game at Space Coast Stadium. Detroit beat Washington 5-1. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

EK: The Nationals are pegged by many to win the WS this season, do you see any major weaknesses for this season that could become their Achilles heel?

MN: When you look at the depth chart, there’s no clear weaknesses when you’re talking about the caliber of the players at each positions. The durability of each player, however, is certainly in question. Danny Espinosa is the Opening Day second baseman, but he will play through a torn rotator cuff this year. He looked good in spring, so it doesn’t appear to be a concern, but it’ll be worth watching whether he can hit and play defense at the level he’s capable of for a full season on that shoulder. Ryan Zimmerman’s right shoulder has always been somewhat of an issue as well, Christian Garcia enters the year battling some small injuries, and obviously Dan Haren has health concerns surrounding him. He pitched through a back injury last season, and the Red Sox refrained from signing him due to concerns about his velocity and the health of his hip.

The Nationals have the potential to be something really special, and Mike Rizzo and company have done an outstanding job with their depth signings to account for the injury risk on this roster. The Nats’ bench and their Triple A roster both have the pieces to get Washington through an injury or two, and their farm system has the pieces that would allow them to make a trade in July if necessary. So, they have the medicine if they’re sick with the injury bug, but that’d be the only foreseeable bump in the road.

EK: What are your predictions for this series? Is it fair to expect a perfect game opening day?

MN: Just by looking at each game individually, it’s hard to see the Nationals losing this series. When Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann take the mound in three straight games, you generally walk out the victor in at least two of them. Frankly, I think the Nationals get the brooms out on Thursday and take the series 3-0, but no, I don’t see there being no-hitters. Giancarlo Stanton is in the lineup, and Juan Pierre and Donavan Solano are quality contact hitters. While the Marlins are certainly no playoff contender, their lineup is not as much of a joke as people make it to be. Placido Polanco can put up a decent batting average if he can stay healthy, Casey Kotchman is a year removed from hitting .336 with the Tampa Bay Rays and Justin Ruggiano hit .313 last season. Pitching, along with the overwhelming caliber of the other teams in the NL East, will be the reason the Marlins struggle this season. But the lineup is hardly as bad as ownership.

EK: Bonus Question- How many home runs will Giancarlo Stanton hit this series?

MN: If Stanton hits one in three games, that’s as big an accomplishment as a series sweep in the eyes of the Washington Nationals.

 

A big thank you to Michael for taking his timeout to talk to us. We at Marlin Maniac wish all Nationals fans the best of luck in the upcoming series.

Topics: Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton, Gio Gonzalez, Miami Marlins, Ricky Nolasco, Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg

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