The Washington Nationals entered the 2018 season as heavy favorites to win the NL East for the third straight year. All did not go according to plan however, as the Nationals finished the regular season with a record of 82-80, which resulted in them failing to make the playoffs. This lack of success was much in part to a faulty second half to go along with a lack of chemistry. With a year that featured its fair share of ups and downs, the Nationals knew they needed to go back to the drawing board and start from scratch. The Nats now enter 2019 with a new approach and have the pitching, the young talent and the fortitude to compete for a division title.
During the offseason, the Nationals took a huge blow, as they lost their superstar and face of their franchise, Bryce Harper. Replacing the hole that Harper left is going to be seemingly impossible, as the 26-year-old spent 7 seasons with the Nationals, made 6 all-star game appearances, won Rookie of the Year in 2012 and won the NL MVP in 2015. One player that is going to try to fill the void that Harper has left is rising star, Juan Soto. Soto, a 20-year-old from the Dominican Republic is everything you could possibly ask for in a baseball player. He is quick, has an above average glove, and has an approach at the plate that is uncanny. Soto burst onto the scene in 2018 and finished his rookie campaign batting for a .292 average, hitting 22 home runs, and finished the year with an unfathomable OBP of .406. Soto also finished second in ROY voting and was placed at number 36 on MLB Network’s Top 100 Right Now list. Now, am I sitting here telling you guys Juan Soto is going to be the next Bryce Harper. Of course not. It is way too early in this man’s career to make that sort of speculation. I can tell you however, that Soto is going to be a special player in this league for a long time and the Washington Nationals should be grateful that they have him.
Along with Soto, the Nationals are going to need to rely heavily on the production of their superstar short stop, Trea Turner. Turner, at the young age of just 25, is a star in the making. Along with having the potential as high as Snoop Dogg, Turner is the fastest thing to come out of our nation’s capital since William Henry Harrison’s presidency. Turner is the type of baseball player you could talk about for hours, and not find one negative thing to say. The 25-year-old SS is fast, athletic, extremely disciplined at the plate and has some sneaky pop that could surprise some in 2019. Turner is coming off a successful 2018 campaign in which he hit for a .271 average, collected 180 hits and swiped 43 bags which was good enough for second best in the majors. Turner was also only one of seven guys in the majors to play all 162 in 2018 and was only one of two at the SS position, with the other being Manny Machado. This reliability will be huge for the Nationals in 2019 as having a guy that is dependable, gets sometimes overlooked and underappreciated. The thing that attracts me the most to Turner, is his pop, and how underrated it is. We all know how fast Trea Turner is and we all know that he is very good with his glove, but few know that Turner hit 19 homers in 2018 to go along with 73 RBIs and 27 doubles. Now, are these numbers the type of numbers that will help the Nationals win the division title by themselves? Hell No. But with that being said, Turner’s power numbers have improved every year since being called up to the majors in 2015. I would not be shocked at all if Turner finished the year with 25 homers, 80 RBIs, 100+ runs scored and 30+ doubles. This kid is special and the scary thing is, he is no where close to reaching his full potential. Buckle up DC, cause you have a star in the making.
The final bat I want to talk about before transitioning to one of the best starting rotations in the game, is Anthony Rendon. The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Anthony Rendon, is raw talent. Rendon has a given gift, and that gift has to be used in bunches if the Nationals want to have success in 2019. Rendon has an arm that torques like a Mack truck and a swing that is as violent as a jail house brawl. While Rendon’s defense tends to be overlooked and sometimes overshadowed, he has slowly become one of the more stable and reliable infielders in today’s game. Over the last 3 seasons, Rendon has committed just 22 errors in 436 games played. That averages out to less than 10 errors a season and roughly one error for every 18 games played. Rendon is not only a sensational craftsman at the hot corner, but is also a phenomenal batter. In 2018, Rendon hit for a .308 AVG, slugged 24 HR, drove in 92 runs and hit 44 doubles, which was 7th best in the majors. As a Phillies fan myself, I know all too well that Rendon is as hard of an out as you will find and has killed my team one to many summer nights to count. With Harper now gone, you can expect Rendon to be the main source of offense for the Nationals in 2019. I see him finishing the year hitting anywhere from 22-27 homers to go along with at least 40 doubles. I also see his walks increasing from last season as there is nobody to protect him in the lineup this year, so pitchers may work around him if there is a base open. I feel that due to Harper’s absence, Rendon will make his first all-star game come July, as the added pressure will just put fuel to his fire.
Okay, let’s now talk about the topic that us on everyone’s mind, the Nationals starting pitching staff. We can talk for years about the Nationals offense, but you and me both know the main key on whether or not the Nats will be successfully in 2019, will be the production we see from their pitching staff. In my opinion, the Nats have the scariest and most dominant 1-2-3 punch in the majors. The three-headed beast is made up of 3-time Cy Young winner, Max Scherzer, 3-time all-star, Stephen Strasburg and newly acquired sensation, Patrick Corbin. Now of course, if you are going to talk about this Nationals starting pitching staff, you have to start with the best pitcher in the game, Max Scherzer. Scherzer, who is now entering his 12th season in Major League Baseball, has cemented himself as one of the all time greats. Year after year, “Mad Max” continues to amaze and he continues to show the world that age is just a number. What Scherzer has been able to do for this Nationals team since joining them in 2015, is seemingly unbelievable and his stats back it up. During his time with the Nationals thus far, Scherzer has earned 2 Cy Young awards (2016-2017) has made four all-star game appearances, has tossed 2 no-hitters, has hurled a 20 strike out game, and has finished in the top ten of MVP voting each of the last 3 seasons. Scherzer has become almost a formality at this point to make it to the HOF and the question now becomes when, rather than if. I am looking forward to seeing what the mad scientist can dish out in 2019, as he has been one of my favorite players in the league, for quite some time.
Now let’s talk about Scherzer’s apprentice, and the new guy. Starting with Stephen Strasburg, it has been clear for quite some time, that Strasburg was going to be special. Taken with the 1st pick of the 2009 MLB Draft and being compared to names like Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson, Strasburg had quite the expectations to live up to. Strasburg made his ML debut on June 8, 2010 against the Pittsburgh Pirates. I remember watching the game with dad and being absolutely blown away. The crowd was on their feet the entire night, Strasburg was consistently pumping 100 on the black and it was like nothing I had ever seen before. He finished his debut with 14 strikeouts and was immediately the talk of baseball. Over the next few seasons, Strasburg experienced his fair share of ups and down. When he was healthy, he was as dominant a starting pitcher as you could find. However, Strasburg was plagued with an ordain amount of injuries and was even forced to get Tommy John surgery, sidelining him for quite some time. In 2018, Strasburg recording a somewhat of an up and down season that featured a dominating second half. If Strasburg can carry this momentum with him into the 2019 season, the Nats will be sitting pretty come late September.
One key piece that has given Nats fan a glimmer of hope coming into the 2019 season, is the offseason acquisition of Patrick Corbin. Corbin, a 29-year-old from Clay, New York, is somewhat of a comeback story. For the first five years of his career, Corbin was nothing more than an average player. He showed some promise, but never showed anything that put him at an elite level. Then, in 2018, Corbin had his break out season that he had so desperately wanted. He finished the season with a 11-7 record, had accumulated 200 innings pitched and finished fifth in all of baseball in strike outs with 246. This break out year put Corbin as a hot commodity coming into free agency and the Nationals won the lottery, signing him for a 6-year, $140 million contract. The question that now looms is just how much of an impact will Corbin have on this Nationals team? If I am being honest, I think he will have a tremendous impact. I feel that he is just starting to hit his prime and the fact that the Nationals now have two pitchers who finished last season in the top 5 of strikeouts, is flat-out scary. I expect Corbin to have a huge debut season with his new team and feel that all three members of the three-headed beast will be represented in this year’s mid-summer classic.
So where should you expect the Nationals to finish at the 2019 season? Well I feel that they are going to do a couple of things. I feel that they will first, compete for a division title and may even take it into the final weekend of the season. I also feel that they will bring home multiple awards come season’s end as they have just too much talent to go unnoticed. When all is said and done however, I have the Nationals finishing the 2019 regular season with a 88-74 record and have them finishing second in the NL East. I also feel that because the NL wild card is going to be so stacked with talent this year, they will fall just short of making the postseason for the second season in a row. Although some Nats fans may be bitter that their team was unable to re-sign Bryce Harper during the offseason, they have much to look forward to this season and it should be a fun summer.