Washington Nationals 2016 Opening Day Outlook

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The Nationals played well last season only to bow down in the National League Championship Series (NLCS) to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the eventual World Series champions. Many critics predicted that Washington will just go back to the drawing board and make some minor adjustments. That wasn’t the case in the off-season.

The hot stove was burning in the capitol as we saw changes in the organization. From signing of a new general manager, hiring and firing of coaches and managers, inking of several free agents, to acquiring players through trades.

New general manager Patrick Garde was busy completing trades as soon as he got the position.

“There’s no time to waste,” Garde said. “We traded away 45 players and got 29. Honestly, I’m starting to like our chances as I try to mold this team to be a championship caliber club.”

Based on Wins Above Replacement (WAR) gained in the off-season, Washington is 2nd in all of MLB with 10.2 WAR gained, only behind the Toronto Blue Jays (12.1).

Garde believes he acquired enough talent to get the team over the hump.

With many new faces in the roster, the Nationals need to have good chemistry. Also, they need to stay healthy as there are questionable depth in some positions.

“I don’t think we’ll have a problem with chemistry as I brought guys who will bring positive atmosphere in the clubhouse,” Garde said.

BATTING ORDER

Manny Machado, 3B (acquired via trade with BAL)

With Machado leading off, there’s a chance that he’ll again lead the league in at-bats. In 2013, he finished 1st with 667 ABs. He is not an easy out and has stellar glove in the hot corner.

Robinson Cano, 2B (acquired via trade with SEA)

Although Cano is already 33 years old, Washington still traded for this veteran to fill their need at second base. He may be expensive with a salary of $24 Million per year but he’s still producing. Last year, he hit .290/.351/.448 with 20 HRs and 90 RBIs for the Mariners and won both the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards at 2B in the AL.

Matt Kemp, RF (acquired via trade with SD)

When healthy, Kemp is definitely one of the best sluggers on the team. He is expected to be better this year coming off from injuries where he missed more than two months. He’ll likely enjoy the benefit of hitting behind Cano and ahead of Bryce Harper.

Bryce Harper, LF

Many expect Harper to be the Nationals’ biggest run producer. It could become a reality this season as he’s now protected by the reigning National League (NL) MVP, Troy Tulowitzki.

Troy Tulowitzki (acquired via trade with COL)

This year will be the first time Tulo will wear a different uniform. This former Rockies shortstop, who won the Silver Slugger award at SS, is very vocal and already a team leader in the clubhouse. However, do not expect him to replicate his 36 HRs and 109 RBIs production as he now moves away from Coors Field.

Ryan Zimmerman, 1B

Zimmerman is consistent day in and day out. We’ll see if he can produce the same numbers from last year (.274/.347/.487 with 25 HRs and 102 RBIs).

Yadier Molina, C (acquired via trade with STL)

This is the first season for Molina to be away from St. Louis. He is leader behind the plate although his bat was cold last year (.238/.295/.317 with 8 HRs and 63 RBIs). This Gold Glove award winner at catcher will likely help the pitchers to be more successful on the mound.

A.J. Pollock, CF (acquired via trade with ARI)

The outfielder had a decent line of .268/.316/.419 with 11 HRs and 41 RBIs last season, thanks primarily to Chase Field. Even though his bat will likely cool off, he is one of the better defensive players on the team.

BENCH

Alex Avila, C (free agent signing)

Mark Reynolds, 1B/3B (acquired via trade with STL)

Tyler Moore, 1B/LF

Matt Den Dekker, OF

Jordy Mercer, 2B/SS (free agent signing)

The Nationals’ bench is a mixed bunch. If you need a walk, Avila’s eye can get it done. If you need a homerun, Reynolds’ power (32 HRs last year) can do wonders. If you need someone to hit versus lefties, Moore hit southpaws well. If you need good defense in the outfield, Den Dekker’s glove is enough. Lastly, Mercer will provide depth in the middle.

ROTATION

Stephen Strasburg, RHP

The ace of the staff. He led the league last year with 28 quality starts and tied for most games started (35). With an improved offense behind him, Strasburg could win big this season and top his 15 wins in 2015.

Jordan Zimmermann, RHP

This righty is a control freak. Led all of MLB last season with .818 winning percentage (18-4), innings pitched (244.1), batters faced (968), WHIP (1.02), K/BB (9.78), RA/9 (9.25) and BB/9 (0.66).

Max Scherzer, RHP

Scherzer was involved in trade discussions in the off-season. He was supposed to be a Mariner after being traded to Felix Hernandez. Unfortunately, Hernandez exercised his 10-5 rights and vetoed the trade. Garde praised Scherzer for the way he handled the trade professionally. The team is still open in trading Scherzer for the right deal as budgetary concerns will kick in in 2019 when he’ll command $42 Million salary per annum.

Wei-Yin Chen, LHP

The only lefty in the rotation. Chen had a rough season in 2015 (6-14, 4.40 ERA, 1.32 WHIP) but the management believes he’ll be more productive in Washington.

Chase Anderson, RHP

Surprises hitters with his off-speed pitches especially his changeup. Moving to a more neutral park will also help him shine. Anderson is looking to win more games than last year (9).

BULLPEN

Could be considered as one of Nationals’ strengths. If the starters can pitch a quality start, the bullpen could close the door. Detroit Tigers’ former closer, Al Alburquerque, will close for Washington. The organization believes he will pitch better this year. His FIP last season was 2.96 as compared to his ERA of 5.16. Pedro Strop, closer of the Chicago Cubs in 2015, and David Carpenter will be the setup men. Both relievers could also close assuming Alburquerque fails to hold down the spot. Brandon Brach and Erik Cordier were great additions to the pen. Mark Rzepczynski was signed for one year as well as Joe Thatcher, who’s still injured for a few more months, to be a couple of lefties out of the pen.

BURNING QUESTION

Can the rotation be healthy again? Strasburg, Zimmermann and Scherzer combined for 103 starts last year. Assuming one of the three goes down, the team has questionable depth in AAA. Taylor Hill and Jordan Lyles could be called upon but it may not be a permanent solution.

ON THE RECORD

I think we’re a better team this year compared to last. The work ethic of our guys in our lineup is high and I believe it will rub off on every player. Also, our pitchers are intelligent and know how to play this game. Our dugout will run smoothly with the leadership of new guys like Tulo, Yadi, Alex Avila and Erik Cordier.” – Garde’s prediction on the team’s chances

Image courtesy of Keith Allison on Flickr.

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