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N.L. East Preview: Washington Nationals

Washington Nationals

Ladies and gentlemen, your World Series champions, the Washington Nationals. I can not say I saw this coming going into the 2019 season after they lost former MVP, Bryce Harper. From a diehard Mets fan, I have to say congrats, they definitely deserved it. Looking back, I’m glad they beat the cheating Astros. I’ve been optimistic all along and think we will see a shortened baseball season this year, even despite this pandemic. So how will the champs do this year after losing two-time Silver Slugger and MVP candidate, Anthony Rendon?

Replacing Rendon

This is no doubt a huge loss for the Nationals. Rendon was one of the most underrated players not only with his bat but also with his mitt. While the Nationals had Juan Soto to replace Harper, Rendon arguably could be a harder guy to replace. Who will Washington look to fill the cleats of Rendon at 3rd? Nationals have a Top-40 prospect in Carter Kieboom who was tearing it up in Triple-A before being called up last season. However, he did not perform well last season in his short 11-game stint with an average of .128. and a -1 WAR. Not to mention he committed 4 errors in those 11 games. Kieboom is naturally a shortstop and was only filling in for the injured Trea Turner last season. He will need to work on his 3rd base because he committed 3 errors in his 11 games this Spring.

Asdrubal Cabrera will most likely win most of the starts at third. Cabrera was a very solid pickup last year with a slash line of  .323/.404/.565  and 40 RBIs in 38 games for the Nats. The 34-year-old was dumped by the Rangers mid-season and no one seemed to want him, but the Nats took a chance. This chance paid off dividends! He not only turned his second-half around but also had a very solid World Series for the Nats.

New Lineup Additions

 The Nats also lost Brian Dozier this off-season who had a decent season slashing  .238/.340/.430 with 50 RBIs. They brought in Starlin Castro to replace him. Castro is a solid replacement at 2nd. The 30-year-old from the D.R. has a career slash line of .280/.319/.414. He is also moving from a lackluster Marlin lineup into a very good National lineup. He will platoon with Howie Kendrick who had a monstrous season last year. The 36-year-old veteran slashed .344/.395/.572 in the regular season with 62 RBIs. Kendrick was also was one of their MVPs throughout the playoffs with a total of 12 RBIs in 17 games.

The Nationals also signed the ageless Ryan Zimmerman on for another year at first but also brought in Eric Thames to platoon with him. Thames comes in to replace Gerardo Parra, who is off to Japan. Thames also played in East Asia in South Korea, then burst back onto the scene when he returned to the MLB with the Brewers in 2017. He has hit .241/.343/.504 since his return with the Brewers and I think we can expect about the same from him this upcoming season.

Overall, I think the loss of Rendon will not be replaced by their newcomers. We can expect a drop off from last year’s offence for the Nats. They were 6th in Average and Runs Scored last season, I think we will see them around 10th  in both this season. They still have Juan Soto, Trea Turner, Victor Robles, and Adam Eaton, so their offence is still in very good shape.

Starters

The Nationals’ starting rotation had the 2nd best ERA in the league after the Dodgers last year. However, that is just looking at ERA. Their starters had the second most IP in the league last year (second after the Met starters). They also had a better K/9 than the Dodgers, so I think they had the best starting rotation in the league last year. The World Series MVP, Stephen Strasburg, signed again for 7 years, on a contract worth $245 million. So the Nats will be bringing back the same 5 starters this season. Patrick Corbin was their big pick up last year and he was great in the regular season. The postseason was a different story, but he did pitch pretty well in the World Series. Anibal Sanchez was another pickup last off-season who also pitched very well in the regular season. Sanchez was the opposite of Corbin in the playoffs. He pitched well in the NLDS and NLCS, but not so well in the World Series.

Then there is the dynamic duo of Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. Both were in their own rights competing for the Cy Young last season. While Jacob DeGrom ended up winning the CY Young, Scherzer and Strasburg both pitched their team to its first World Series title. Scherzer and Strasburg were lights out during the post-season except for a slight hiccup at the beginning. The main worry for the Nationals going into this year is their age. All their starters, except their weak link, Joe Ross, are in their 30s. They are all coming off a season where they not only pitched the 2nd most innings in the league but also pitched many more innings in October. Strasburg is 31, Scherzer is 35, Corbin is 30 and Sanchez is 36. Also, Strasburg, Scherzer and Corbin all have birthdays coming up in July (fun fact). This delay to the start of the season is huge for the Nationals in my opinion. It gives their starters a much-needed respite and will shorten their workload this season.

Bullpen

You might have watched the Nationals for the first time last season in the playoffs and wondered to yourself: “How come Dave Martinez is bringing his starters in from the bullpen?” Well, the answer to that is he did not have any trust in the bullpen, and for good reason. They were one of the worst in the league. With an ERA of 5.68, they were 29th in the league. This was just ahead of the Orioles, who had the second-worst record in the league. Even normally very good relievers like Hunter Strickland and Sean Doolittle did little… to help them last year.

To combat this problem, the Nationals brought in Will Harris from Houston and Ryne Harper from Minnesota. Will Harris is the big name of the 2 and, in my opinion, is a fantastic acquisition for the Nats. In his 8 years in the bigs, the 35-year-old has an ERA of 2.84. Like the starters, Harris is aging, but he seems to be like a fine wine and is coming off a season where he posted a 1.50 ERA. He did not perform well against the Nats in the World Series last year, but as the saying goes; “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”  Ryne Harper may not make the team, only pitching to a 4.50 ERA in Spring, but pitched reasonably well out of the pen for Minnesota last season, so it could go either way. The Nats also have Daniel Hudson returning, who was a light in the darkness for the Nats’ bullpen last year. Their midseason acquisition, Hunter Strickland, will most likely not be returning after he pitched to an ERA of 5.14 for the Nationals in his 24 games. He cleared waivers on March 16th and became a free agent.

Conclusion

Overall, I think the Nationals will be fighting with the Mets for 2nd and the 2nd  Wildcard spot but will regress a little bit from last season. I expect the age of their starters to start to catch up with them and the loss of Rendon to hurt their lineup and fielding a little bit. However, I think their bullpen will improve.

2019 Win Percentage: .574

2020 Win Percentage Prediction: .543


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