MLB.com Nationals beat reporter Bill Ladson participated in a live web chat with fans on Monday. During the chat, he answered questions about many topics, including Michael Morse's injury, who will be the Opening Day center fielder and if the team can make the playoffs.
natsrgr8t: Do you think there is any chance that the Nats can make the playoffs in 2012?
Bill Ladson: Good morning to everyone. ... There is a good chance as long as they can improve their offense, which is a big question mark. The key is the top of the batting order. Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa must step up. Center field is also a question mark. Roger Bernadina and Rick Ankiel have not been able to hit on a consistent basis. Manager Davey Johnson loves Brett Carroll, but Carroll has never been able to hit Major League pitching. Jayson Werth also needs to make a strong comeback, while Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche must stay healthy for a full season.
natsrgr8t: Even without the hitting, do you think they have a playoff-caliber pitching rotation in the National League East?
Bill Ladson: No question about it. I think Washington's rotation can challenge any rotation in the National League. I think it's two notches below the Phillies. I still have concerns about Edwin Jackson and Chien-Ming Wang. Look out for Ross Detwiler. I think he has a chance to become a quality pitcher this year.
natsrgr8t: Do you think they can pull off what the Giants did in 2010 with the team they have?
Bill Ladson: Maybe. I have to say it again. The offense is the key. If the Nationals can score runs, they can win more than 85 games. Right now, I have them winning no more than 85 because of the offense.
thepwa1: I think if people are thinking World Series this year, there will be a lot of disappointment. I think more realistically it is being in the conversation for the Wild Card up until the last few weeks of the season. What do you think Bill?
Bill Ladson: I agree with you. I think they are good enough for a Wild Card spot, but the Phillies are the team to beat. I think the Marlins have a good team. Right now, I'm picking the Nationals to finish in third place in the East.
Natz: Bill, every year this team seems snake-bitten with injuries, and this season is looking like no exception. What is the possibility that we lose Michael Morse for an extended period of time with this "lat strain" issue?
Bill Ladson: It's too early to tell. Let's give it a week and then see what happens. Morse told me yesterday that he is not allowed to do any baseball activities for a week. If he is not doing anything by then, I'll be worried.
sammyd926: What are the chances Stephen Strasburg starts the second game in Chicago, so that he will be on track to start the home opener on April 12?
Bill Ladson: Doing the math, I have Jordan Zimmermann starting the second game and Strasburg starting the third one. I'm sure you know I have Gio Gonzalez making the Opening Day start. I'm hoping Davey Johnson makes the official announcement sometime this week.
thepwa1: Since the Nationals did not renew their agreement with Low Class A Hagerstown, has there been any discussion about working out something with the Loudoun Hounds franchise?
Bill Ladson: I'm not sure. I have not heard anything on that topic.
Natz: Bill, thanks for the update on Morse. What about Rick Ankiel? How is he coming along with his injury? I'm guessing he will be the Opening Day center fielder?
Bill Ladson: Ankiel will play starting Tuesday against the Mets. Davey Johnson announced he will get a chance to become the starting center fielder. I believe he is the leading candidate to get the job.
FAN333: After the 2012 season, will the Nationals move Morse to first? What will they do about center?
Bill Ladson: I thought about this yesterday. I believe Tyler Moore will get a chance to be the everyday first baseman provided that he continues to be productive. He hit a combined 62 home runs the last two years, and he looked impressive during Spring Training. So I don't think it's a given that Morse will be the first baseman next year.
I think the Nats' center fielder will come in-house. I don't think they will be able to trade for a quality center fielder.
IrishRed82: Who do you feel will be the Opening Day starter for the Nationals in Chicago?
Bill Ladson Right now, I have to say Gio Gonzalez. If you do the math, his day to pitch falls on April 5.
That's it for now. Take care.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.