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Jordan Zimmermann's breakthrough was a key development of the season.
OK, back to baseball. The Nationals got swept in Cincinnati over the weekend, three disheartening losses that featured plenty of frustrating moments. They're off today, spending their time in Atlanta before opening a three-game series against the Braves tomorrow night.
What I'd like to do with this off-day posting is pose a couple of questions to all of you: 1) What has been the most significant development of the 2011 season to date? and 2) What remains the most significant development that could play out over the next month?
Let's start with the most significant development to date. To me, there are no shortage of candidates. You've got Jordan Zimmermann's full return from Tommy John surgery and ascension to front-line starter. You've got Michael Morse's breakthrough as one of the most-potent (and consistent) offensive forces in the National League. You've got Drew Storen's arrival as a legit, big-league closer (yesterday's blown save notwithstanding). You've got solid rookie campaigns by both Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos (though their second-half regressions have put some damper on things). And, in the negative category, you've got Jayson Werth's disappointing year after signing his mammoth contract, plus Ian Desmond's struggles at the plate (and occasionally in the field).
What do you think stands out the most from that list? Or, if you've got another development that I didn't include, what is it? Personally, I think Zimmermann's development trumps the rest of the pack. He set himself up to be a really solid No. 2 starter behind Strasburg next season and beyond, a crucial development for a franchise trying to take the next step.
Now, let's run through what still needs to be seen over the season's final month. Again, there are no shortage of choices. Strasburg's pending return (almost certainly Sept. 6 or 7 against the Dodgers) is right up there. So is Chien-Ming Wang's continued progression as the Nats decide whether to attempt to re-sign him over the winter. Ross Detwiler's remaining starts will be closely scrutinized, as well. The manner in which Espinosa and Ramos finish out their rookie seasons -- and Desmond finishes out his second full season -- could have long-term implications. And we're going to get a good look at Chris Marrero and (probably) Steve Lombardozzi, Tom Milone and Brad Peacock.
So, what's your choice for the most significant development that remains to play out over the next month? While Strasburg's return may seem like the no-brainer choice, I'm actually going to go with Wang instead. Not that Strasburg's September isn't going to be important; I just believe he's already established that he's 100 percent healthy and ready to go all-out in 2012. The five or so starts he makes up here the rest of this season will only be the tune-up for his full return next year. Wang, on the other hand, still has a lot left to prove. There's no understating his potential significance to this franchise moving forward. If he continues to progress the way he has since returning from the DL, he absolutely looks like a strong No. 3 starter behind Strasburg and Zimmermann. If he regresses at all, or has trouble remaining consistent through the finish line, you have to question whether it's worth bringing him back.
There you have it. You've got my opinion. Now, I'll put both questions to all of you: What has been the most significant development of the season to date? And what remains the most significant development that could play out over the next month?