Posted on March 21, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine

Washington Nationals

Image via ftw.usatoday.com

The Washington Nationals have enjoyed sustained success at the top of the NL East, winning the division title in four of the last six years. However, the Nats have no playoff series wins to show for it. With several key players, most notably Bryce Harper, set for free agency after the season, time could be running out for the Nationals to win a championship. Is this finally the year that Washington reaches the World Series or will they fall short once again?

Rotation

Washington’s rotation was one of the best in baseball last year, and the Nationals still have their three aces to lead them in Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez. Scherzer is a safe bet to be a Cy Young contender. However, the Nationals do have to worry about Strasburg’s health, which has been an issue at times despite having his best season in 2017. Gonzalez also started to see his performance dip before a spectacular 2017 campaign. There’s no guarantee he’ll be able to replicate the 200 innings and 15 wins he gave Washington last year.

The back end of Washington’s rotation also has some question marks. Tanner Roark is capable of pitching like a top-of-the-rotation starter. However, he has been inconsistent from one year to the next. The Nationals are also counting on A.J. Cole to round out their rotation, although he is yet to distinguish himself in the majors. Finally, depth could be an issue for the Nationals if they have injuries to their rotation. Outside of prospect Erick Fedde, Washington doesn’t have a lot of competent starting pitchers waiting in the wings.

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Bullpen

The Washington bullpen was a problem for most of last season, but it’s possible they have enough bodies back there to put together a competent bullpen. Sean Doolittle is in line to be the team’s closer after finishing the 2017 season in that role. The Nationals also have Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler, two pitchers with closing experience, in line to be the team’s primary setup men.

The trio of Doolittle, Kintzler, and Madson should help the Nationals avoid putting too much on the plate of the inexperienced Koda Glover or the injury-prone Shawn Kelley. Meanwhile, Enny Romero and Sammy Solis should give the Nationals a couple of reliable options from the left side. Washington has also taken a chance on 40-year old Joaquin Benoit to provide some experience for a bullpen that looks solid on paper heading into the season.

Lineup

The Nationals were one of the most efficient offensive teams in baseball last year, and there’s little reason to expect anything to be different this year. Daniel Murphy is coming back from injury, but he, Harper, and Anthony Rendon should still give Washington a formidable middle of the order. The Nationals should also be able to count on Trea Turner providing a spark at the top of the order.

Of course, there are still a few x-factors in Washington’s lineup. For starters, Ryan Zimmerman was outstanding last season, but his productivity had fallen off the rails previously, so he may not be a sure thing. The Nationals are also relying on Adam Eaton to come back strong after missing most of last year with an injury and assuming Michael Taylor will continue to be productive after a breakout season in 2017.

Of course, the Nationals were strong offensively last year without getting much from catcher Matt Wieters. If he can have a bounce-back season, it would give the Nationals another run producer in the middle of the order. The presence of players like Matt Adams, Howie Kendrick, and Brian Goodwin also provide the Nationals with quality depth just in case they need it.

Prediction

To be fair, the Nationals have a couple question marks heading into the 2017 season. But a lot would have to go wrong for the Nationals to not win the NL East. After winning 97 games last year, expect the Nationals to finish 2018 with a 94-68 record. That will be good enough to get them back to the playoffs, but postseason success is far from a guarantee.

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