Now that all the confetti has fallen, all the celebrations have ended, and spring is upon us, it is time to start thinking about what the 2020 Washington Nationals will look like. This winter brought in many new faces, but said goodbye to some key pieces, most notably 3B Anthony Rendon. The Nationals will have to find a way to replace his production and try to compete in a really good National League East.
The strength that propelled the Nationals last fall was their starting pitching. Led by aces Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals will look to see Cy Young- like numbers from both of these horses. Scherzer is still the ace, and therefore barring any injury concerns should be the Nationals No. 1.
Although, if you are manager Dave Martinez, you cannot go wrong with either of these options at the front of the rotation. Patrick Corbin was dominant last year pitching over 200 innings and finishing the year with an Earned Run Average (ERA) of 3.25. Corbin should be a reliable third starter and give the Nationals a lot of quality innings, and keep them in a lot of games this year.
Anibal Sanchez will be back as the Nationals fourth starter. Sanchez’s unpredictability and his ability to keep hitters off-balance will come into play this year. The Nationals fifth and final starter will be decided this spring. There will be plenty of options to choose from, but the spot will probably go to Joe Ross or Erik Fedde.
Both pitchers showed promise, with Fedde pitching well in spot starts throughout the year, while Ross started Game 5 of the World Series. Both pitchers should have a chance to start the year, but I would give the spot to Ross who has shown his ability to be effective in the past. However, Fedde showed he was a viable option out of the bullpen last year.
With the loss of Anthony Rendon, third base will be a weakness on this Nationals team. At first base, the Nationals return veteran Ryan Zimmerman, but also signed a strong left-handed bat in Eric Thames from the Milwaukee Brewers. Thames can provide a lot of power and help to balance out the lineup.
At second base, the Nationals will probably platoon between Howie Kendrick, who had a career year last year and was one of the best hitters for the Nationals in the playoffs. He will be working with Starlin Castro, who has shown the ability to hit for power recently and will be better than Brian Dozier last year.
Starting at shortstop will be Trea Turner. The Nationals will likely lean on Turner to increase production. Turner has shown the ability to hit for power, while also being one of the fastest players on the basepaths in the game. With his finger getting fully healed this year, expect a monster year from the Nationals shortstop. At third base, it will be a battle between Asdrubal Cabrera, who came back with the Nationals last year and hit the ball well from both sides. He will be challenged by rookie Carter Keiboom, who hit well in the Minor Leagues, struggled when he was brought up to the Major Leagues for 11 games last year.
This year’s outfield should be a really strong part of this Nationals team. The Nationals return all three starting outfielders from last year. This group is led by Juan Soto. Soto, who looks to be an MVP candidate this year will be the center point of the Nationals offense. He will provide a lot of power from the left side of the plate, as well as day to day production.
Center field will be manned by Victor Robles. Robles finished last year with a .255 batting average. For the Nationals to compete, they will need him to get on base more, use his speed consistently as well as hit for at least 20 home runs. He’s already been a help on defense; his electrifying speed and accurate arm showed up in the box score, with 12 runners thrown out last year. If he can figure out his offensive skills, he’ll be a major asset for this young team.
In right will be veteran Adam Eaton. Eaton will have to continue to be a good hitter at the top of the order for the Nationals and get on base for people like Soto. Eaton hit .279 and was successful at getting on base and using his speed to steal 15 bases. The outfield of Soto, Robles, and Eaton should be a strength on this team.
Just like last year, the Nationals will platoon between Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki. Both catchers will get plenty of opportunities to play, and the Nationals will look for similar production from last year. Between the two catchers, they had 106 runs batted in. Similar production will be needed in a lineup looking for extra offense anywhere they can get it.
As most Nationals fans know, the bullpen was a major weakness last year. Over the winter, Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo made many moves to bolster the bullpen. He signed veteran Will Harris, and re-signed Daniel Hudson, who will join Sean Doolittle in the back of the bullpen. The Nationals will look to Tanner Rainey and Wander Suero to improve from last year because they have shown the ability to get outs. But the bullpen as a whole will also need to take a step forward from last year.Projected Opening Day Lineup
- Eaton, RF
- Robles, CF
- Turner, SS
- Soto, LF
- Kendrick, 2B
- Thames, 1B
- Suzuki, C
- Kieboom, 3B
- Scherzer, P
Some things you may notice about the lineup is Turner hitting third. Yes, I do believe Robles will be moved up in the order, but this will be dependent on how often he gets on base. The top seven in the Nationals order should also pose matchup problems due to the left-right combination. This will make it hard for managers to pitch around someone, because of the three-batter minimum rule which forces every pitcher to face at least three batters before being able to be taken out.
I also expect Kieboom to get the start at third. This is not a knock on Cabrera, but he can come off of the bench, and it is a better long term decision by giving Kieboom the starting spot which allows him to prove himself Strasburg or Scherzer is almost a toss-up at this point, and I believe Thames will get the starting spot over Zimmerman once the season starts. This Nationals team will need a strong lineup, and have the starters pitch just as well if not even better than last year.
With a new and improved bullpen, the Nationals should win a lot of games and once again compete for a playoff spot. The Nationals will have to utilize their depth correctly and give Kendrick, Suzuki, and Zimmerman, who have been injury-prone in the past, plenty of rest. Although the lineup will have a different feel than last year’s, Nationals fans should be excited; they should be able to compete in a really good National League this year.