The 2019 World Series champion Washington Nationals are in a weird position heading into this season. After winning it all two years ago, they had an underwhelming 2020 campaign — going 26-34, tied for last in the National League East.
The Nationals need to find a way to get back to the postseason and return to World Series contention. You don’t want to ever be a one-year wonder. Their projected lineup, per FanGraphs:
- Trea Turner, SS
- Juan Soto, RF
- Josh Bell, 1B
- Kyle Schwarber, LF
- Starlin Castro, 2B
- Yan Gomes, C
- Victor Robles, CF
- Carter Kieboom, 3B
After the top 4, there is potentially a huge drop-off. Starlin Castro struggled in both 2019 and 2020 — with a combined 93 OPS+. In addition, Yan Gomes has only two other seasons of above-average wRC+ since 2014, and Victor Robles is also not known for having a great bat, with a career 87 OPS+. Carter Kieboom has the most upside of anyone on the back-half of the Nationals lineup but hasn’t lived up to his potential yet — with a wRC+ of 67 in 2020. The Nationals have a very top-heavy lineup and will need those guys to really carry the offense in 2021.
Now, looking at the starting rotation, it is also top-heavy — but that is actually a lot more OK for the Nationals:
- Max Scherzer, RHP
- Patrick Corbin, LHP
- Stephen Strasburg, RHP
- Jon Lester, LHP
- Joe Ross, RHP
The top three in the rotation can rival anyone in baseball, but Patrick Corbin and Max Scherzer did have down seasons with ERAs of 3.74 and 4.66. Strasburg pitched only 5 innings in 2020, so that’s not something to really factor here.
While we should expect a return to form for these guys, considering their age — especially for Scherzer — it would not be shocking if they continue to get a little worse. Jon Lester had a really rough 2020 season with a 5.16 ERA/5.14 FIP/5.11 xFIP. Not the best numbers … and Joe Ross didn’t really do better, either — with a 5.48 ERA/4.59 FIP/5.09 xFIP.
When we dive into the bullpen, it could be very top-heavy with Brad Hand and Will Harris. After that, there doesn’t seem to be much. Daniel Hudson had a very rough 2020 with a 6.10 ERA/6.29 FIP/5.13 xFIP.
The only other two notable guys in the bullpen are Tanner Rainey and non-roster invitee Jeremy Jeffries. Rainey has actually shown some good promise as a reliever for them the last two seasons and he should be good in 2021. Jeffries had a very good ERA, but a bad FIP and xFIP at 4.09 and 4.69.
Overall, the Nationals look like a very top-heavy team. They will need a lot to go their way if they want to be better than third or fourth in the National League East.