It’s Opening Day!
After a whirlwind spring training, the Washington Nationals have returned to D.C. and are preparing to open the 2019 season against the New York Mets. The Nats went 17-12 in Grapefruit League Play, and defeated the New York Yankees 5-3 in Monday’s exhibition game.
Max Scherzer will take the ball for the Nats, and Yan Gomes is going to catch. After much speculation and debate, manager Davey Martinez announced that outfielder Adam Eaton will be the leadoff hitter and shortstop Trea Turner will hit second. Outfielder Juan Soto is then going to bat third, and third baseman Anthony Rendon will hit cleanup, giving the Nats a strong left-right-left-right combination at the top of the order. Martinez, a Joe Maddon protege in Chicago, is known to have the pitcher hit in the 8th spot, and then put a “second leadoff hitter” in last. Scherzer is a good hitter, but on other days, outfielder Victor Robles might bat 9th.
The Nats have not been without injuries so far, but the 25 man roster is all but set.
Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, and Jermey Hellikson are the five starting pitchers, with Joe Ross and Erick Fedde in AAA and AA, respectively. Gomes will be the primary catcher, with old friend Kurt Suzuki serving as the backup. Spencer Kieboom will start the season at AA. The bullpen has been the hardest to predict, but according to The Washington Post, Sean Doolittle will be the closer and will be joined by lefties Tony Sipp (a recent acquisition), long reliever Matt Grace and righties Trevor Rosenthal, Kyle Barraclough, Justin Miller, and Wander Suero. Koda Glover is still injured and Austen Williams will go to AAA.
With Howie Kendrick still injured, the infield will consist of Ryan Zimmerman at first base, Brian Dozier at second, Turner at shortstop and Rendon at third. If the exhibition lineup is any indication, Soto will start in left field, Robles will be in center and Eaton will play right field. Michael A. Taylor is recovering from hip and knee sprains and Martinez has not given a timetable for his return. Outfielder Andrew Stevenson, infielder Matt Adams, infielder Wilmer Difo and infielder Jake Noll will round out the bench.
The Nats will play three games at home to open the season against the Mets, on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Thursday’s game will feature Scherzer against Mets righty and defending CY Young winner Jacob deGrom. deGrom is one of the few pitchers in baseball who can put up a performance similar to Scherzer, posting a 10-9 record with a 1.70 ERA against Scherzer’s 18-7 record and 2.53 ERA last season. The Mets just extended deGrom with a 5 year, $137.5 million contract.
On April 2, Bryce Harper and the Philadelphia Phillies will come to Nationals Park for two games. It is then off to New York for three games and the Mets home opener on April 4, and then down to Philadelphia for two more games before the Nats see a non NL East opponent, hosting the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants.
This roster is looking strong, and the Nats finished Spring Training on a high note. At this point, we just have to play the games to see how the team looks, but with Scherzer starting the season, and reinforcements of Kendrick and Taylor on the way, the Nats should be able to be competitive in the NL East. In December, and on Tuesday, MLB.com “experts” picked the Nats to win the NL East. These predictions often lead to curses, but who knows, maybe this is the year the Nats win a playoff series.