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Double Play: Will the Washington Nationals Win the National League East?

Hello, fellow seamheads. In addition to my daily blog I Got Five On It, I decided to get a hold of fellow Rant Sports’ MLB writer Mark Hock to write a weekly piece titled Double Play. The purpose of this weekly blog (every Monday) is to recap and debate three topics. Although Mark and I have similar philosophies when it comes to the game of baseball, we don’t agree on everything. Without further ado, here is your first edition of Double Play. We will debate the Washington Nationals, Austin Jackson, and Aroldis Chapman.

Will the Washington Nationals Win the NL East

BL: Before the season started, I was one of the few people that predicted the Washington Nationals would win the National League East. After two weeks into the season, my stance remains the same. While the Washington Nationals haven’t faced their main divisional rivals, they are winning ballgames the way I thought they would – - with their pitching.

The signing of Edwin Jackson is what I thought put the Nationals over the hump, and Jackson help proved my point when he pitched a gem against the Cincinnati Reds. For now, the Nationals are winning in despite missing one of their main sluggers Michael Morse, closer Drew Storen, and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman isn’t hitting yet. Considering the Nationals’ main threat (Philadelphia Phillies) are riddled with injuries, I like their chances.

MH: It’s easy to pick the Washington Nationals as the darkhorse candidate to win the NL East. They currently lead the division, and I wouldn’t blame you for jumping on the bandwagon. But this is a team that while they’ve improved, is fairly flawed.

Mike Morse is expected to miss another 6 weeks. Adam LaRoche has done a great job at first, but with Morse out the outfield consists of Jayson Werth, Mark DeRosa and Roger Bernadina. DeRosa currently sports a 436 OPS, and since 2009 his best OPS is 696. Bernadina owns a career 659 OPS, so we’re not looking at Murderer’s Row here. Ian Desmond is off to a great start, but he should come crashing back down to a 700 OPS.

The Nats pitching will keep them competitive, but with innings limits on Stephen Strasburg and Mike Morse expected to miss a significant amount of time it’s looking like the Nats might struggle to remain on top in the competitive NL East. It’s only a matter of time before the Atlanta Braves or the Philadelphia Phillies get hot.

Austin Jackson Breaking Out?

BL: Detroit Tigers‘ centerfielder Austin Jackson is without a doubt one of the hottest hitters during the first two weeks of the 2012 season, but will it last? After watching Jackson this week against my beloved Chicago White Sox, it’s easy to see that he has improved his game. But it’s still hard for me to buy into a man who strikes out as much as he does. Granted, Jackson has walked more this season, but I have a feeling he won’t walk as much when he eventually starts struggling. A .265/.325/.410 line is what I see out of Jackson by the end of the season .

MH: Recently I argued that Austin Jackson was the Detroit Tigers MVP in the early part of the 2012 season. Heading into Saturday’s game he was hitting 385, with a home run, 9 runs scored, a stolen base, and a 1.154 OPS. Obviously he’s not this good, but there are signs showing that his breakout is legitimate.

Jackson has never been one to take a walk, and in his first 7 games he’s managed an 18.8% walk rate. He’s obviously seeing the ball well, as he’s making fantastic contact and hitting the ball with authority. According to Jason Beck of MLB.com, Jackson got rid of the leg kick which gives some optimism towards him posting a breakout season.

There’s no way Jackson will post an OPS north of 1.000, but I’d bet that by the end of 2012, Jackson will have an OPS significantly higher than his career 728 OPS.

Is Aroldis Chapman Baseball’s Best Reliever?

BL: Absolutely. The Reds’ fireballer is one of baseball’s hottest pitchers thus far in 2012. In five appearances, Chapman has allowed no runs, three hits, no walks, and struck out 15 over eight innings of work. The key statistic listed there is no walks.

Control has been Chapman’s biggest weakness in his young career, but apparently he has found it. His control isn’t a fluke in a short sample size, seeing as he allowed only two walks in Spring Training as well. Non-closers aside, Chapman is baseball’s best arm, mostly because he can pitch multiple innings without consequence. It’s only a matter of time we see Chapman close or start again – but until then – let’s just enjoy the mastery in middle relief.

MH: Pumping fastball after fastball in the triple digit makes Chapman exciting every time he strides to the mound. He’s an exciting pitcher who has struck out over half the batters he’s faced this season. But as far as non-closers go, I’d argue the best reliever has to be Mike Adams.

Between 2009 and 2011 he ranked 2nd in FIP (2.24) and first in ERA (1.42) just ahead of Mariano Rivera (1.82).No doubt that Chapman has the potential to be the best reliever in the game, but he’s nowhere near that point yet.

Hope you enjoyed the first edition of Double Play! We will be back next week to tackle three more topics.

Follow Bryan on Twitter for his daily Blog, I Got Five On It, breaking down baseball’s five most important things that occurred that day.