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Rival Season Preview: Washington Nationals

The Nats will try to capture the World Series trophy for the second year in a row, but will have to do it without All-Star third baseman Anthony Rendon.

In 2020, the Washington Nationals will try to do what has not been achieved in two decades: win back-to-back World Series titles. However, that won’t come easily, as every MLB team should have a chance during a 60-game season. The Nats themselves, for example, had a 27-33 record after their first 60 games last year and they went on to win it all.

Manager Dave Martínez will be challenged to prove his offensive order can stay productive and survive without All-Star third baseman Anthony Rendon, who’s now a member of the Angels. It’s also hard to know how the top arms in Washington’s rotation will hold up physically after being leaned on so heavily during their championship run.

Want to know more about the Nats? Keep reading below...


Initial 60-man player pool

NOTE: RHP Joe Ross and INF Ryan Zimmerman both opted out of the 2020 season on Monday.

New faces:

2B Starlin Castro, 1B Eric Thames, RHP Will Harris, RHP Ryne Harper, RHP Kyle Finnegan, RHP Tyler Eppler, C Welington Castillo*, UT Emilio Bonifacio*, LHP Fernando Abad*, RHP Kevin Quackenbush*

Players with an asterisk are on the 60-man player pool, but not on the 40-man roster.

Players who left:

3B Anthony Rendon (LAA), 2B Brian Dozier (SDP), RHP Greg Holland (KCR), 1B Matt Adams (NYM), RHP Fernando Rodney (free agent), LHP Tony Sipp (free agent), LHP Jonny Venters (free agent)

Pitching

The front office had two ways to go during the offseason: either re-sign righty Stephen Strasburg or Rendon, both of whom entered free agency seeking seven-year contracts. They chose to keep the former. The Nationals are entering 2020 carrying the same enviable trio of starting pitchers: Strasburg, Max Scherzer, and Patrick Corbin, who combined for a 3.18 ERA across 583 13 innings (93 starts).

When you look at the Nats rotation, you won’t find lots of flaws. Behind the three aces, they have a resurgent righty Aníbal Sánchez as the fourth starter. Erick Fedde and Austin Voth will likely be battling for the fifth spot, which would probably have belonged to Joe Ross had he not opted out of the season.

The questions pop out when you look at their bullpen. It was the worst of the National League—with a 5.68 ERA—worst in blown saves (29), and worst in WHIP (1.48). They did make some additions, but didn’t invest as anyone would have expected.

Former Astro Will Harris was brought in to join Daniel Hudson and Sean Doolittle at the top of the staff. RHP Wander Suero and RHP Tanner Rainey will try to rebound after a 2019 in which they had control struggles despite showing great strikeout ratios: 10.2 K/9 and 13.8 K/9, respectively.

Washington will also have Cuban lefty Roenis Elías as an important piece (only appeared in four regular-season games last year for the Nats due to injury, after being acquired from the Mariners) and intriguing minor leaguer Kyle Finnegan (12.8 K/9 in 50 23 frames between Double-A and Triple-A for Oakland).

At least for now, it seems that Martínez will need to get the most out of his starters and try to take them as long as possible on the mound.

Hitting

Washington Nationals v Miami Marlins Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Remember the guy who led the senior circuit in doubles (44) and RBIs (126)? The same that hit 34 bombs, recorded 80 bases on balls, only struck out 86 times, and registered a .319/.412/.598 slash line. Well, that’s gone now. The Nats lost a superstar hitter in Anthony Rendon and they couldn’t add one.

That leaves Juan Soto as the center of the offensive order. Will that make Soto more vulnerable? Probably. The front office signed second baseman Starlin Castro (.270/.300/.436) and first baseman Eric Thames (.247/.346/.505), but received bad news from Ryan Zimmerman, who decided not to play in the 2020 season.

Thanks to the designated hitter in both leagues, the Nats will have opportunities to start Howie Kendrick or Eric Thames every day. Kendrick has been outstanding in the past three seasons, but hasn’t seen 500 plate appearances since 2016. On the other hand, Thames has struck out 400 times in his last 383 games (1,288 PA), though he’s put an .848 OPS in that span. So we’ll see how that turns out.

Back to the Rendon thing...Martínez will delegate third base duties to prospect Carter Kieboom, who’s 22 years old. He’s always been productive in the minors (.303/.409/.493 in 494 PA last year in Triple-A), but struggled in his first taste of the bigs (.128/.209/.282 in only 43 PA).

There are different questions about what could be the 2020 season for the Nationals, especially in the offensive sector. But the one thing Dave Martínez will have to do is not to get the same results he got last year in the first 60 games of the schedule.

Things to know

  • The Marlins won only four of their 19 games against the Nationals in 2019, suffering three series sweeps.
  • Starlin Castro played with the Marlins last year, but is now set to wear Nationals colors thanks to a two-year, $12MM deal.
  • Miguel Rojas and Harold Ramírez combined for a .345 (41-for-119) batting average off the Nats, along with 12 doubles, two home runs, and 11 runs batted in.
  • Sandy Alcántara lost his three outings against Washington (6.48 ERA).
  • Patrick Corbin and Stephen Strasburg matched up for a 7-0 record and a 1.22 ERA (nine outings).