The Nationals had a bit of a disappointing season in 2015, finishing in second place in the division and missing the playoffs after most people had them as the favorites in the NL East heading into the season. But their 83-79 record represented a 13-game dropoff from what they did in 2014. Trying to get back to the playoffs, the Nats traded RP Drew Storen to the Blue Jays in exchange for OF Ben Revere and signed free-agent 2B Daniel Murphy, taking him away from the defending National League champion Mets. They may have added those players but lost SP Doug Fister, who missed much of last season with injuries, to free agency. The disappointing 2015 led to the ousting of manager Matt Williams, replaced by veteran skipper Dusty Baker, who last managed in the majors in 2013 when he was with the Reds.
The team was led last season by NL MVP Bryce Harper, who hit .330 while launching 42 home runs and driving in 99 RBI. Other than Harper, there wasn’t much offense to speak of. Their next best hitter, 3B Yunel Escobar, was traded in the offseason and is gone. Veteran 1B Ryan Zimmerman and OF Jayson Werth both played fewer than 100 games, but they didn’t perform to their usual abilities, hitting .249 and .221, respectively, and hitting 28 home runs between them. In all, the Nationals were in the bottom half of the league with a .251 average, but they were better in run production. They were tied for third in home runs, with 177, and their 665 RBI were also the third most in the league. On the pitching side, SP Max Scherzer led the way with a 2.79 ERA and 276 strikeouts in 228.2 innings. SP Stephen Strasburg put up the worst ERA of his career at 3.46 and was limited to 23 starts after missing some time with injuries. They acquired RP Jonathan Papelbon at the trade deadline and he notched 7 saves with the team amidst controversy, when he choked Harper in the dugout during a game that led to the team suspending him for the final few games of the season.
The Nationals have a good core, with reigning MVP Harper leading the offense and a good top of the rotation with Scherzer and Strasburg. Further down the rotation, SPs Tanner Roark and Joe Ross are young pitchers who have done well in limited time at the major league level. If they can improve as they start the season in the majors, that would give the team even more depth in the rotation to go along with their aces. With an inexperienced bullpen, it could be challenging for the Nationals to get a lead to Papelbon in the ninth inning.The offense looks to get a boost with the addition of Revere in the outfield and, presumably, a healthy Werth if he can bounce back from his .221 average last season. If veterans like Werth and Zimmerman can’t come back after their down years in 2015, the team will have to rely on younger players, like fourth-year 3B Anthony Rendon to pick up some of the slack at the plate.
The Nationals finished in second place last season, and I think they’re still the second-best team in the NL East, behind the Mets. i think they’ll add a couple more wins to their 83 from last year, bringing them up to 85 or 86, and they’ll have a chance to make the playoffs by getting one of the two wild cards in the National League, but I don’t expect them to win the division.