Regardless of how talented the rest of the roster is, there’s no disguising or getting around the defending-champion Nationals’ biggest offseason loss – World Series hero Anthony Rendon. The MVP finalist will now ply his trade out west for the Angels. Washington will look to the likes of the promising Carter Kieboom and veteran Asdrubal Cabrera to try and fill his shoes at the hot corner. There’s more certainty elsewhere, however. Victor Robles, Adam Eaton, Trea Turner and Juan Soto offer a tantalizing mix of youth, power, speed and contact hitting over the top half of the order.
Washington should also benefit from the offseason acquisition of Eric Thames. The veteran slugger bounced back from a down year in 2018 with a 25-homer effort for the Brewers in 2019. With 72 homers over the last three seasons, Thames helps to make up for some of the power that left town with Rendon. The universal implementation of the designated hitter in 2020 also opens the door for Howie Kendrick’s elite bat to get into the lineup on a daily basis. Meanwhile, the signing of Starlin Castro to replace the departed Brian Dozier at the keystone could be a net positive for the Nats. Dozier was only so-so with a .238/.340/.430 slash and 20 homers for the champs last season. In turn, Castro made the most of a dire situation by posting a .270/.300/.436 line and compiling a career-high 22 round-trippers and 86 RBI for a 105-loss Marlins team.
Any starting rotation headed up by Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin is going to help generate plenty of wins if at full health. A shortened season should help all three veterans keep plenty of life in their arms throughout. Meanwhile, teams could do a lot worse for a No. 4 starter than Anibal Sanchez. The right-hander turned around his career after some lean years and went 11-8 with a respectable 3.85 ERA in his 2019 Nationals debut campaign. Veteran Joe Ross’ decision to sit out the 2020 season leaves Austin Voth and Erick Fedde to battle it out for the No. 5 role. At closer, manager Dave Martinez could have the option of turning either to Sean Doolittle or Daniel Hudson. Will Harris (4-1, 1.50 ERA, 26 holds in ’19) also ranks as one of the best eighth-inning assets in all of baseball.
The Nats appear to have the bats and arms to once again go neck and neck with the Braves. Nevertheless, they still carry longer division, pennant and World Series odds than Atlanta. Washington will also be subject to the proverbial target on the backs of all defending champions. Furthermore, the scheduling quirks of 2020 will force them into playing half their games against the Braves and improving division mates Philadelphia and New York.
An example of how a wager on the Nationals winning the NL East would pay out at the current odds listed is as follows:
Wager amount: $10.00
Division winner odds: (DraftKings Sportsbook): +250
Payout: $35.00: ($25.00 + original $10.00 bet amount)
Nationals odds: Futures
Nationals betting breakdown
2019 Record: 93-69 (NL wild card)
Key losses: 1B Matt Adams, 2B Brian Dozier, RHP Jeremy Hellickson, 3B Anthony Rendon, RHP Fernando Rodney, LHP Tony Sipp
Injured: RHP Joe Ross (sitting out due to COVID-19 precautions)
Key additions: 2B Starlin Castro, RHP Will Harris, RHP Ryne Harper, 1B Eric Thames
- SS Trea Turner (R)
- RF Adam Eaton (L)
- 2B Starlin Castro (R)
- LF Juan Soto (L)
- DH Howie Kendrick (R)
- 1B Eric Thames (S)
- C Yan Gomes (R)/Kurt Suzuki (R)
- 3B Carter Kieboom (R)
- CF Victor Robles (R)
Projected rotation: RHP Max Scherzer, RHP Stephen Strasburg, LHP Patrick Corbin, RHP Anibal Sanchez, RHP Erick Fedde or RHP Austin Voth
Projected closer: LHP Sean Doolittle
Bullpen strengths: After an All-Star season in 2018, Sean Doolittle took a slight step back in 2019 with a 4.05 ERA. However, he still recorded 29 saves, an MLB-high 55 games finished and 66 SO in 60.0 innings. Newcomer Will Harris is coming off a career season with a 1.50 ERA and 62 strikeouts across 60 innings over 68 appearances. The Nats also re-signed veteran Daniel Hudson after trading for him during 2019. Following his arrival from Toronto, Hudson posted a 1.44 ERA, 3-0 record and 23 strikeouts across 25 innings over 24 games (14 games finished).
Bullpen weaknesses: Despite the names at the top of the bullpen, the staff is not very deep. RHP Tanner Rainey will likely get a lot of usage despite having a modest big-league tenure (3.91 ERA in 48.1 IP). RHP Wander Suero has two seasons of majors experience and is coming off a 2019 season in which he posted a 4.54 ERA.
Key stats from 2019
- In just his second season the 21-year-old Juan Soto hit .282/.401/.548 with 34 HRs and 110 RBIs.
- Carter Kieboom is likely to start at third despite having only 11 games of major-league experience, all at shortstop. Kieboom only slashed .128/.209/.282 in those 11 games.
- The Nationals starting rotation led MLB with a 14.7 bWAR in 2019.
- From June 1 until the end of the season, the Nats tied the Astros in winning percentage .
- The Nationals were 5-0 in elimination games in the 2019 Postseason. They trailed at one point in all five games.
- The Nats surpassed their 2018 numbers by 102 runs, 40 Homers and 43 points of OPS .