Saturday, April 8, 2017

2017 Pre-Season Profile: Washington Nationals


The Washington Nationals have been on the brink of winning a pennant for years now.  Will 2017 finally be the year the franchise makes its first World Series?

My 2016 Predictions
2nd in NL East
Stephen Strasburg will be traded before the end of the season.

2016 Results
95-67, 1st in NL East, lost in NLDS
The Nationals had a better season than I anticipated.  Despite Bryce Harper having a sub-par season compared to his MVP 2015 season, the Nats were able to win the division behind their elite pitching.  The addition of Dusty Baker as manager seemed to have more of an impact than many expected.  With all that said, the Nationals still came up short, not even winning a series in the playoffs before being ousted once again.  As for my Fearless Prediction, I said the team had a choice to make: either sign Strasburg long term or trade him.  I simply chose the wrong option as Strasburg will be a Nat for the foreseeable future.

Additions / Subtractions
The Nationals were active this offseason.  They also made several of the more scrutinized moves of the offseason.  Leaving the team were catcher Wilson Ramos, rented closer Mark Melancon, ad shortstop Danny Espinosa.  The Nats were a leading candidate this offseason for ace Chris Sale.  When they lost the bid to the Red Sox, they immediately turned around and traded multiple top prospects for outfielder Adam Eaton.  Many have argued, although the advanced analytics say Eaton was worth the trade, the Nationals overpaid for him.  Late in free agency, they brought in catcher Matt Wieters to replace the departed Ramos.  The other questionable move involves a move they didn't make.  After losing Melancon to free agency, the Nats left themselves without an elite, or even a proven, closer.  They could have acquired guys like David Robertson from Chicago or Alex Colome from Tampa Bay.  Instead, they chose to fill this role from within, even though they had no one on their roster with big league closing experience.

Most Important Hitter
Adam Eaton
With the amount the Nationals gave up for Adam Eaton, he needs to show that he was worth it.  Eaton is a really good defensive player with a decent bat and a knack for getting on base and causing havoc once he is there.  With the sluggers the Nats have in the middle of their order, they felt their urgent need was a table setter to get on base in front of guys like Harper, Murphy, and Zimmerman.  Not only is Eaton being counted on to be that guy, he has to be that guy not only for the Nationals to succeed this season, but also to justify the big trade made for him.

Most Important Pitcher
Tanner Roark
To make a deep postseason run, a team usually needs three great starters to dominate a series.  After the Nationals lost the Chris Sale sweepstakes, they will be counting on Tanner Roark to be that #3 starter behind Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.  Recently, Roark has shown he can be that guy.  After being the odd man out a few years ago when the "Super Rotation" came to DC, Roark worked his way back into the rotation full time in 2016, winning 16 games with a 2.83 ERA in 210 innings.  He followed that up with a successful run in the WBC this spring.  If he pitches how he is capable of pitching, the Nationals may have their third ace without making a move.

Player to Watch
Koda Glover
At the end of the 2016 season, the Nationals had a farm system stocked full of talent poised to burst on the scene in 2017.  After the Adam Eaton trade, most of that talent is gone.  However, one player that is worth paying attention to is Koda Glover.  Glover, who played a little in the big leagues last season, is a live arm starting the season in the Nats' bullpen.  Under ideal circumstances, Glover becomes the reason why the Nationals didn't trade for a closer this offseason as he takes the job and runs with it.

2017 Prediction
1st in NL East, lose in World Series
I think this is the year the Nationals finally do it!  Their lineup rivals the Cubs in talent and depth.  Their top three starting pitchers can rival the Mets.  The moves they made this offseason, especially the Adam Eaton trade, not only show a commitment to winning now, but also will greatly help the team be better this season.  However, the X factor for the Nationals is their manager.  This team has found the perfect balance of analytic, sabermetric front office with an old school, clubhouse manager in Dusty Baker.  Baker in DC is a perfect fit, and last year's success proves my point.  This team is strong and has the experience across the board to make the deep run in the postseason the city, and the league, has been waiting for.

Fearless Prediction
Trea Turner will start the All Star Game at shortstop.
In 2016, Trea Turner showed that he is a star in the making.  He finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting, only losing to Corey Seager.  That was while only playing half a season (73 games) and playing out of position (centerfield instead of his original shortstop).  Yet he had a .342 average, 13 homers, 40 RBI's, and 33 steals.  Now he is the Opening Day shortstop and leadoff hitter.  By the end of the season, Trea Turner will be considered one of the best young shortstops in the game with names like Lindor, Correa, Diaz, Story, and Seager.

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