I admit, I'm overdue for some positive thinking. Here's my list of things to root for this spring.
Athletes working themselves back into playing shape are always at risk of injury. And baseball players even moreso. There's nothing the Nationals could do this spring that would help win more games than to simply make it to Opening Day with no more significant injuries.
A breakthrough (or two) on the pitching staff
Remember when Joel Hanrahan struck out eight out of nine Braves in a row in March 2008? No? OK, he did, and it was an impressive sign of good things to come for him. This is a guy who flailed for almost seven years in the Dodgers organization and showed no signs of turning his career around when 2007 ended. Then, he just took a step forward on command, and he's been a serviceable reliever ever since. Guys to watch who could take "the Hanrahan leap" this year: Garrett Mock, Luis Atilano, Collin Balester, Atahualpa Severino, Logan Kensing, and Victor Garate.
Elijah Dukes' strike zone command
The conventional wisdom is that Dukes needs "learn how to hit a curve." The reality is that good big league curve balls are really hard to hit--most hitters can't do it. The good news is that most pitchers can't consistently throw good curveballs for strikes either. So what good hitters do is they take when they can, work the count, force the pitcher to throw a get-me-over pitch, and pound fat fastballs. Dukes's problem last year was that for the first time since he was a teenager he started chasing. He needs to get back to what made him such a good young hitter in the first place: eye-popping power and excellent plate discipline.
Fast starts from possible tradable veterans, like Josh Willingham, Adam Dunn, Jason Marquis, and Chien-Ming Wang
As long as these five guys are playing well, the Nationals will get some decent offers for them at the trade deadline. But too many GMs still get distracted by very small sample sizes, so the last thing you want is a prolonged early slump.