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2018 MLB preview: Washington Nationals

2018 Washington Nationals preview

2017: 97-65 (first place in NL East)

Last postseason appearance: 2017

Last World Series title: Never won a World Series title

2017 Recap

Just like in 2016, the Nationals had a fantastic regular season, won the NL East and proceeded to lose in the NLDS. In the NLDS against the Chicago Cubs, Washington hit just .186. Although it was not the outcome they hoped for, there was still a lot to smile about.

First off, the Nats overcame serious adversity, as the injury bug plagued them all season. Adam Eaton, who Washington acquired from the White Sox for Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning, tore his ACL in late-April while running to first base. Trea Turner spent two stints on the DL and played in just 98 games. Turner went on to finish third in steals with 46 and hit .284 with 11 home runs and 75 runs scored.

2018 Washington Nationals preview
Ryan Zimmerman led the Nats in home runs (36) and RBIs (108) in 2017. (Photo from SI.com)

2015 NL MVP, Bryce Harper, suffered a significant bone bruise in August and ultimately played in just 111 games. Harper received the most All-Star votes and most likely would have won his second MVP had he not gotten injured. He finished the season slashing .319/.413/.595 with 29 home runs and 87 RBIs.

For the first time since 2013, Ryan Zimmerman played in at least 140 games, and boy was it a season to remember. In his age-32 season, the lifetime National led the team in home runs (career-high 36) and RBIs (108), which was 10th in the MLB. Zimmerman also set a career high in SLG at .573.

Anthony Rendon finished sixth in NL MVP voting, hitting .301/403/.533 with 25 home runs and 100 RBIs. He ranked 10th in offensive WAR and ninth in OBP.

Daniel Murphy had another fantastic season, hitting .322 (fourth in the MLB) with 23 home runs, 43 doubles (seventh in the MLB) and led the Nationals with 172 hits.

As a team, Washington finished second in SLG and batting average with RISP, fourth in hits, batting average and OPS and fifth in runs, doubles and steals.

The pitching was basically unfair the whole season. Among the top four pitchers in terms of WAR, Washington had three of them. Here is a graph that shows the Nationals big three: Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez.

PLAYERW-L RECORDERA RANKH/9 RANKPITCHING WAR RANKCY YOUNG VOTING
MAX SCHERZER16-63rd1st2nd1st
STEPHEN STRASBURG15-44th4th4th3rd
GIO GONZALEZ15-97th8th3rd6th

Washington’s staff finished fourth in WHIP, fifth in opposing batting average, sixth in ERA and seventh in strikeouts.

2018: Around the Diamond

With Adam Eaton and Trea Turner back at the top of this lineup, Washington is one of the most dangerous teams in the league. Last season, in the 23 games with Eaton and Turner hitting ahead of him, Bryce Harper batted .405 with 25 RBIs. Following these three studs in the lineup will be Rendon, Murphy and Zimmerman. Talk about a lethal start to the order.

To split time with Matt Wieters, Washington signed Miguel Montero as a free agent. They also brought in Matt Adams, who will serve as the DH in interleague play and get some action at first.

Joining Eaton and Harper in the outfield is Michael Taylor. Taylor was drafted by the Nationals in 2009 and hit .271, 19 home runs and stole 17 bases in 2017. Taylor does strike out a bit much, but his speed and sneaky power off-sets it, especially as a seven or eight hitter in the lineup.

On the Bump

Scherzer won the NL Cy Young, but Strasburg is probably the hottest pitcher in baseball going into the 2018 season. In the second half, over 62.2 innings, he posted a 0.86 ERA with 76 strikeouts. Strasburg allowed the fewest HR/9 and finished third in FIP, fifth in WHIP and eighth in K/9.

2018 Washington Nationals preview
Max Scherzer is arguably the best pitcher in the MLB. (Photo from SI.com)

In all likelihood, Gonzalez will not mirror his fantastic 2017, but he should still win a ton of games with the run support that he will receive. He also needs to get his walks down, as he finished second in the MLB in walks issued.

Washington’s No. 4 starter, Tanner Roark, should feel slighted for having not yet been mentioned, but the 31-year-old had a poor 2017. After finishing 10th in NL CY Young voting in 2016, Roark followed that up with a 4.67 ERA, and a career-high 1.335 WHIP.

The only question leading up to 2018 is who will grab the last spot in the rotation. The two young starters, A.J. Cole and Erick Fedde, are the frontrunners, but Washington also has veterans Edwin Jackson and Tommy Milone.

Cole had a rough 2017 season at Triple-A, but pitched well at the big league level. In his last seven appearances, including four as a starter, Cole posted a 2.70 ERA. Barring an epic collapse in the spring, Cole will earn this spot.

Washington’s 2017 bullpen finished 23rd in ERA, but it is full of quality names that have succeeded at the MLB level. Sean Doolittle, after converting 21 of his 22 save opportunities with Washington in 2017, will remain the closer. Ryan Madson, who, in 59 innings, posted a 1.83 ERA and struck out 67, will serve as the setup man. The pen also includes Brandon Kintzler and Joaquin Benoit.

The Future

The Nationals have three prospects, including two in the top-30, cracking MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects list for 2018. Among them is 20-year-old, Victor Robles (No. 6). The young outfielder is regarded as the best defender among all prospects. He made his MLB debut last season, and is on track to be an everyday player at some point in the very near future. In 114 games between A+ and Double-A, Robles hit .300 with a .382 OBP, 10 home runs and 27 steals. He is seen as a future All-Star, and possible MVP candidate.

At No. 29 is another outfielder, 19-year-old Juan Soto. A true lefty, Soto battled injuries last season, but was elite when on the field. Between Rookie and A-Ball, Soto, in 32 games, hit .351/.415/.505. Scouts see him panning out to be a middle of the order type guy, with serious potential to win a batting title.

Checking in at No. 90 is shortstop Carter Kieboom. Kieboom was the team’s first-round pick in 2016 and hit .296 with eight home runs in 48 games at Class-A Hagerstown.

2018 Prediction: 100-62

If everyone stays healthy, this is the year for Washington to win the World Series. The lineup is too deep, and the staff is just too talented. Dave Martinez, who worked under Joe Maddon in both Chicago and Tampa Bay, will bring plenty of wisdom and will avoid the mistakes that Dusty Baker made.

As one of the best all-around teams in baseball, Washington will secure its first World Series title in 2018.

 

Featured image by MLB.com

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