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Q and A: Ian Koski of NationalsDailyNews

Tomahawk Talk recently had the opportunity to run a series of Braves, Nationals, and MLB related questions by Ian Koski of NationalsDailyNews.com (a GREAT Washington Nationals fansite!), and with the Braves and Nationals all set to play a three-game series in Atlanta, the timing couldn’t be better!

Here’s a look at what Ian had to say in response to our recent questions:

Tomahawk Talk: The Nationals have had a series of tough seasons in recent years, but are clearly a much-improved team this season. How do you think the Nats will wind up doing this year?

Ian Koski: The Nationals played surprisingly well for the first month and a half, but they have been in a free-fall ever since. I think people in the organization are trying to keep upbeat about it and pretend it’s just a slump, but if you split the season to date in half, you’ll find the Nationals played about .520 ball in their first 38 games and have played about .330 ball since.

And it’s not just a slump – the Nationals are starting to find their level. They’re not as bad as they’re currently playing, but their record is starting to balance out a bit.

I remember sitting in the pressbox after a particularly difficult loss and asking one of the beat writers which Nationals team was the more accurate predictor of the season and we agreed the right answer was probably somewhere in the middle and I still believe that.

They’re currently projected to win 70 games, but I suspect the Nats will rally a bit and finish with around 76 wins.

Tomahawk Talk: What do you like best about the 2010 edition of the Nationals?

Ian Koski: It has to be the arrival of Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen. The Nationals’ top two picks have brought some new life to the ballclub and, for the first time, some truly sought-after talent.

Their arrivals have gotten people in this town excited about this team, and the other players are feeling that.

The bottom line is that the 2010 Nationals have one thing that no other Nats team has had – hope.

Tomahawk Talk: What are your primary concerns about this year’s Nationals team?

Ian Koski: Pitching is giving Nationals fans the most concern. The Nationals’ starters simply aren’t going deep enough into ballgames, so not only are the middle relievers forced to try to stop the bleeding on a near-daily basis, but they’re accumulating innings way too quickly and pitching on less rest.

The Nats have already sent down two of the starters from the rotation with which they started the season – John Lannan and Craig Stammen – and have a third back in Florida rehabbing – Scott Olsen. And Jason Marquis, who was supposed to bring credibility and stability to the rotation, imploded on the field before team doctors discovered “floating bodies” in his pitching elbow.

It’s hard to win ballgames when struggling pitching is paired with thoroughly unreliable hitting. Add into the mix a four-error game like they had against the Orioles on Friday night, and you really start to make fans nervous.

Tomahawk Talk: Do you expect the Nationals to make any major player moves at (or before) the trade deadline? And what (if anything) would you like to see the Nationals      do to improve the team?

Ian Koski: GM Mike Rizzo has said that the Nationals should be considered buyers and sellers, and that sounds about right.

My guess is that only Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen, and Ryan Zimmerman are off the table. Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham, and Tyler Clippard could all make immediate impacts on contending teams.

The Nationals will get pitchers Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler back from injuries this summer, and Chien-Ming Wang will pitch in DC at some point.

Personally, I’m eager to see Zimmermann pitch again. He’s an enormous talent and will really help strengthen the Nationals’ rotation. He’s a gamer.

Tomahawk Talk: Gotta ask about Stephen Strasburg. He’s been sensational thus far. What kind of numbers do you see him posting this year?

Ian Koski: Strasburg can bring it. Had the Nationals been able to score two runs against the Royals on Wednesday, we’d be talking about a rookie pitcher who is 3-0 rather than 2-1. He’s already struck out 41 batters in just four starts and has a 1.78 ERA.

If he had pitched a full season, he would be on track for about 350 strikeouts, so 175 or more strikeouts isn’t out of the question.

The way the Nationals have been hitting and fielding lately, I won’t even hazard a guess as to what his final won/loss record will be.

Tomahawk Talk: How do you see the NL East race playing out this year? What’s your projected order-of-finish for the NL East?

Ian Koski: Personally, I think the Braves will win the division this year, but not without a fight. The Phillies and Mets will be in it right to the end.

Tomahawk Talk: And what about the rest of MLB? What teams do you see as division champions and wild-card winners this year?

Ian Koski: Having been raised a Mets fan in New York, it pains me to say it, but I think the Yankees will win the AL East. I think the Twins will win the AL Central and the Rangers should hold on to win the AL West. The Wild Card will come out of the AL East – whichever team loses less frequently to the Yankees down the stretch.

In the NL, I think the Braves will win the NL East and the Cardinals will probably take the NL Central. I love what’s going on in the NL West and I’d love to see the Padres win the division, but they don’t have the bats. My money’s on Los Angeles there. The Wild Card will probably come from the NL East, though it’s clearly up for grabs at this point.

Tomahawk Talk: Great stuff, Ian. Thanks for doing the Q and A!