The Nationals were widely considered a disappointment in 2013 after preseason projections pegged them as the top dog in the NL East. Many even had the Nats representing the NL in the World Series. However, things didn't go as planned and they scrapped their way to a 86-76 record, 10 gems behind the Braves. Again, many are pegging them as the favorites for the division, returning much of their core and a sizable addition in Doug Fister. So, will we see a repeat of last season, or will the Nats again hold the division crown?
C Jose Lobaton (traded from Rays)
OF Nate McClouth (2 yrs, $10.75MM)
RHP Doug Fister (traded from Tigers)
RHP Luis Ayala (1 yr, $1MM)
LHP Mike Gonzalez (1 yr, $1.5MM)
LHP Jerry Belvins (traded from Athletics)
At this point in time, the Nationals look to head into the season relatively healthy. Must be nice. There was a slight concern that came up with Doug Fister's elbow, but all signs point to him being ready for opening day. Ross Ohlendorf and Ryan Mattheus also had injuries to their back and hand, respectively. Ohlendorf has already been optioned to Triple-A while Mattheus doesn't appear to be ready for opening day.
State of the Squad
Washington will return a very solid core of infielders that includes Ian Desmond who has posted back to back 5 win seasons. Desmond is one of the top short stops in the game, creating above average value both on offense and defense, with the threat of a third straight 20-20 season. Anthony Rendon, 23, will return as his partner up the middle and looks to tap into his offensive potential in his second go-round at the MLB level. Old friend Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman will return to the corners. Due to his inability to throw across the diamond, there is a possibility of Zimmerman taking over at first if LaRoche struggles out of the gates. Wilson Ramos, who has posted a career 109 wRC+, returns as the clubs backstop.
In the outfield, they'll also return the trio of Bryce Harper, Denard Span and Jason Werth. If healthy, this group could very easily be one of the best in the game. Playing in his age 21-season this year, Harper is expected to lead the charge and could very well be in the MVP discussion by seasons end. Span and Werth are no slouches themselves; each carrying the ability to post another 3-4 win season.
The scary part with the Nats is their already good rotation got even better this offseason. They now trout out four top of the rotation starters with the addition of Doug Fister. According to ZiPS, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Fister all project to have 4-win seasons and ERA- under 90. That is really good. This is also the main reason many are again so optimistic again. The fifth spot is currently up for grabs between Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan. Roark was super impressive over 53.2 innings last season posting a 1.51 ERA and 3.14 xFIP, but his ceiling still projects to be more of a fifth starter type. Expect a slight edge to Jordan to nab the final spot.
Ohh, the bullpen does;t looks to be any sort of weakness either. Closer Rafael Soriano again posted solid numbers in 68 games last season. Righties Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Craig Stammen should again be seen as a formidable trio late in games, setting up Soriano. The addition of Jerry Belvins does add a left handed threat that was noticeably lacking last season, but he isn't exactly unhittable against same handed batters. Last season fifth starter Ross Detwiler will be another lefty presence in the pen, however he too doesn't strike to much fear into lefties as a 3.96 xFIP would suggest.
It is again the trendy pick to ride with the Nationals and their first year manager Matt Williams. ZiPS currently projects the Nats as the second best team in the NL, giving them around a 73% chance of winning the division. They, like the Braves, return much of their core from last season with Harper and Strasburg who look to be in the MVP and CY Young mix. Opinions will obviously vary on this site, and across the national baseball spectrum, but the Nats appear to be neck-and-neck, if not a step ahead of the Braves at this point in time. I think it would fair to project a 92-96 win season for the club, duking it out with the Braves all season long for the division title.