The Washington Nationals have won the NL East three times in the last five years. In most cases, that should translate to some sort of postseason success, but for the Nationals and their fan base it has left them frustrated beyond belief. Despite those three division banners, the Nationals have yet to win a playoff series. They blew a 2-1 series lead last year to the Los Angeles Dodgers, fell in four to the San Francisco Giants in 2014 and in five to the St. Louis Cardinals back in 2012. It's hard to believe a team with such a potent starting rotation and a talented group of core players have yet to get over the hump.
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The Nationals finished last season with a record 95-67, which was good enough for the top spot, eight games better than the second-place New York Mets. Many people believe another division title is on the horizon, but to them I say "not so fast". The Nationals lost two key pieces of the pitching staff in Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, and their two ace pitchers have to prove to me they are completely healthy. Stephen Strasburg is coming off an elbow injury to end last season, and Max Scherzer suffered a stress fracture to his knuckles during the offseason. Both guys will be monitored closely, and it wouldn't surprise me to see them miss a start or two early in the season.
The Nationals kick off the regular season on April 3 with a three-game homestand against the Miami Marlins. Stephen Strasburg is scheduled for the start and he will be opposed by Edinson Volquez. Thanks to their tremendous pitching staff, the Nationals are thought highly of this season and currently sit at +1100 to win the World Series (behind Chicago, Boston, Cleveland and the Dodgers). The Nats are also +500 to win the NL Pennant and -150 to win the NL East. Bryce Harper is currently +300 to win NL MVP honors and +1400 to lead the majors in homers. Considering his batting average and home run totals dropped off a cliff last year, there is absolutely no value in either of those futures. All odds are courtesy of Bovada.
Nationals Projected Lineup
The Nationals lineup will get a big boost this season with the additions of Adam Eaton and Matt Wieters. Eaton came over in a trade for Reynaldo Lopez and should be a solid and viable option not only on defense but also batting in the leadoff position. Last season, Eaton hit for a .284 average with 14 home runs and 59 RBIs. He will be looked upon to hit for a high average to set up the rest of the batting order, and any homers or RBIs he does get will be the icing on the cake. Following Eaton, the batting order sets up very nicely with a lot of speed and power.
Shortstop Trea Turner will bat second, and he is coming off a tremendous half-season in which he hit for a .342 average with 13 home runs and 40 runs batted in - all in limited ABs. This will be his first full season with the big club, and expectations are high. Batting third is Bryce Harper, with Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon behind him. I've already touched on Harper's down year last year (.243 average and 24 home runs), so Nats fans are praying he can return to his MVP form. Having a player like Murphy behind Harper should force pitchers to pitch to Harper and not just put him on base. Murphy had a tremendous season last year, hitting for a .347 average with 25 home runs and 104 RBIs.
To round off the batting order, Jayson Werth will bat sixth, Ryan Zimmerman will bat seventh, and Matt Wieters will likely bat eighth. The Nats will need Zimmerman to have a bounce-back type campaign after struggling mightily last year. Zimmerman hit just 15 home runs and drove in 46 while playing in more than 100 games for the first time since 2013. If you were to look at this batting order as a whole, I am pleased with the talent it possesses. However, an injury to one of the key players like Harper, Turner or Murphy, could potentially derail the season.
Nationals Projected Rotation and Closer
On paper, the Nationals' rotation looks as deep and as fearsome as ever with the likes of Strasburg, Scherzer, Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez, and Joe Ross. However, if you dig a little deeper, you will notice this rotation is held together by duct tape and super glue, and the health of their top two pitchers will be vital for success this season.
Strasburg was as dominant as ever to begin the 2016 season. He owned a 13-0 record through his first 17 starts with a 2.51 ERA and 138 strikeouts. Things began to fall apart for him in late July as he struggled mightily and eventually ended up on the DL. He was diagnosed with a tendon tear in his throwing elbow and was shut down for the season. So far this spring, Strasburg has looked normal - in limited innings - so it will be interesting to see how his elbow holds up over the course of the season.
His teammate and fellow ace pitcher Scherzer suffered a stress fracture injury to his knuckles in the offseason, despite pitching through a similar injury toward the end of last season. Scherzer has electric stuff, and as the reigning NL Cy Young winner he is vital to this team's success. Last season, he pitched himself to a 20-win campaign with a 2.96 ERA in more than 228 innings. He also recorded a career-high 284 Ks.
Behind them, Roark, Gonzalez and Ross lay in wait. Roark should be the one with the most confidence after pitching for team USA in the World Baseball Classic just a few weeks ago. Roark looked solid and will be eager to build off his 16-10 campaign where he posted a 2.83 ERA. The bullpen, which was once a strong point, is very weak this year considering the roster. Koda Glover will be relied upon to close out games while pitchers like Joe Blanton, Blake Treinen and Sammy Solis will be the go to setup men.
Nationals 2017 Season Prediction
FanGraphs projects the Nationals to finish with a record of 91-71, which would be a regression by four games from last season's win total. They are still projected to win the division comfortably (five games) over the second-place New York Mets. The problem I have with the Nationals is their lack of depth both in the batting order and pitching rotation. Their season win total is currently set at 90.5 (-115), which seems a tad low given their consistent dominance of the NL East. Injuries would definitely derail a play on the "over," but I'm going to take a chance and say they s tay healthy and get back to 90+ wins.
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