About two and a half months ago, I wrote an article about how I thought the Nats could win the World Series this year. If I’m being completely honest, the Nationals themselves do not look too much different than they did back in January, when I wrote that piece, save for a few injuries (I’ll talk about those a little later). However, the season outlook, and the Nationals’ chances at taking home a division crown, have been altered pretty dramatically.
This is not intended to be an division-wide NL East preview, so I’ll make this quick, but there are some additions made by the Nats’ division rivals that could have an immense impact on their ability to make the postseason. The additions of OF Bryce Harper through free agency and C JT Realmuto through trade with Miami turn the NL East into a likely three-team race, with the Mets still a year or two from serious contention, and the Marlins a loooong way away. With the Braves not making any huge waves like the Phillies have, many are looking at the NL East as likely coming down to Washington and Philadelphia. While the Phillies made huge bounds in terms of personnel, the Nationals also made some good acquisitions to fix areas of need.
General Manager Mike Rizzo made some noise early in free agency by scooping up former D-Backs hurler Patrick Corbin (246 K, 4.6 bWAR in 200 IP)* to bolster an already impressive rotation featuring three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer and three-time All-Star Stephen Strasburg. Rounding out the rotation will be another newcomer, Anibal Sanchez (7-6, 2.38 ERA with Atlanta) and the newly re-signed Jeremy Hellickson (3.45 ERA in 19 starts).
The bullpen has long been a source of stress for Nats fans, but could this finally be the year that ends? I think the answer is yes. Kyle Barraclough, Tony Sipp, and Trevor Rosenthal are new acquisitions that will look to make an immediate impact in the pitcher’s room. Combined with All-Star closer Sean Doolittle, along with stud relievers Matt Grace (2.87 ERA in 59.2 IP) and Justin Miller (60 K in 52.1 IP), the Nationals finally appear to have an above-average bullpen.
2018 AL All-Star Yan Gomes and free-agent signing Kurt Suzuki will split time behind the plate. The two combined for 28 home runs and 98 RBI last season, a significant improvement from the platoon work of Matt Wieters, Spencer Kieboom, and Pedro Severino, who combined for 12 HR and 58 HR last year, adding an extra dimension to an already high-powered Washington offense.
The starting infield will be an important source of offensive catalysts for Washington. Third baseman Anthony Rendon (24 HR, 92 RBI, 4.2 bWAR) and shortstop Trea Turner (.344 OBP, 43 SB) will be vital to the success of the team, and new second baseman Brian Dozier (21 HR, 72 RBI with MIN and LAD) and first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who played fewer than 100 games due to injury in 2018, will look to contribute offensively like they have in recent years, as well as being important veteran presences in a young clubhouse.
This youth is especially evident in the Nats’ outfield, with 20 year-old Juan Soto (22 HR, 70 RBI, .923 OPS) and 21 year-old rookie Victor Robles leading the charge. Adam Eaton, if he stays healthy, can provide significant production at the top of the order, as well as another source of experienced leadership.
1B/PH Matt Adams (18 HR, 48 RBI in 94 games with WAS) will lead a young Nationals bench. 2B Wilmer Difo will look to provide some speed in spot starts and late game situations, and IF Jake Noll, a surprise inclusion on the Opening Day roster, will try to make an immediate impact in his first year in the majors. Andrew Stevenson will serve as outfield depth until the return of Michael A. Taylor (22 2B, 24 SB in 134 games) from a knee injury, and Noll will likely be sent down to Triple-A Fresno upon the return of Howie Kendrick (hamstring).
All-Stars: Yan Gomes, Anthony Rendon, Max Scherzer, Juan Soto
Top-5 Award Finishes: Max Scherzer, NL Cy Young; Juan Soto, NL MVP; Anthony Rendon, NL MVP; Victor Robles, NL ROY
Record: 90-72, 1st NL East
If the Nats can play up to their full potential, they may finally be able to get that long-coveted first postseason series win. Standing in their way is the dreaded injury bug that has hit them pretty hard in recent years, as well as their perennial choking in the playoffs. All of this being said however, I stand by my January article. I think the Washington Nationals can win the World Series, and I think they could do it this year.
*All parenthetical statistics are for the 2018 season unless otherwise noted
All statistics via BaseballReference
Featured Photo via Rudi Riet/flickr