Only a fool makes positive predictions about the Nationals upcoming season, and Post columnist Thomas Boswell is no fool: He’s been consistently hard on the team in the off-season, and even his more generous pronouncements are heavily seasoned with mays and coulds and mights. Still, the warm sun of Viera, Fla., seems to have made him more generous toward the Nationals’ starting pitching—-or lack thereof. Here’s Boswell, dagger deployed, on Jan. 26:

Right now, the Nats’ rotation is John Patterson plus Nobody Else. That is, unless you consider Shawn Hill, Jason Bergmann, Beltran Perez, Billy Traber and Mike O’Connor a staff. They won 10 games combined last year. If the often-injured Patterson can’t stay healthy—-and he’s never won more than nine games—-there’s almost no limit to how bad this team could be.

On Feb. 13, when pitchers and catchers reported to Viera, Boswell was still more than a little skeptical:

Of course, the larger and more worrisome question is whether any of the 36 pitchers not named Patterson can win even nine games. Okay, do we hear eight? Manny Acta might settle for a couple of live bodies who can match the 9-12 of Tony Armas.

Today, though, Boswell got religion on the Nats’ pitching:

Go on and laugh at the Nats’ starting pitchers now while you still have time. Get it out of your system. The surprise of camp so far is the growing realization that the mocked Washington rotation will be better than it was last year. In fact, the case for a better rotation in ’07 is so obvious after a real analysis that it’s actually closer to a promise than a prediction.

Boswell isn’t making a grand statement—-calling the Nats’ rotation an improvement over last year is saying so little as to practically say nothing. And Boswell confesses as much in the column. Still, journalism requires that he present some evidence, and what he offers (after a few grafs of snark and VORP chatter) is pretty threadbare: Perez, who Boswell wrote off in January, “showed poise” late last season, and a couple of Nats like Shawn Hill’s sinker. That’s it. The remainder of the column boils down to mere rhetoric: Hey, these guys may not suck! Sports columns have been constructed out of weaker material, but not many.

So does Boswell have a valid point, even if he didn’t defend it? Are there any good reasons to believe that the Nats will field a strong (or even stronger) pitching staff in ’07?