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Washington Nationals 2019: Scouting, Projected Lineup, Season Prediction

Washington Nationals: Max Scherzer

Washington Nationals: Max Scherzer

The Nationals thought they needed big changes after their 97–65 first-place finish in 2017, firing manager Dusty Baker following the NLDS flameout and replacing him with Dave Martinez. But after the Nats finished 15 games worse in 2018 and lost their stranglehold on the NL East, we can definitively say the manager wasn’t the problem.

This offseason was focused on a central question, with a corollary: Could the Nationals afford to keep Bryce Harper? And did they really want him? Even as those questions were playing out, GM Mike Rizzo continued building a roster meant to contend again in 2019, with or without Harper. And with a rotation headed by Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and newcomer Patrick Corbin, they’re a good bet to do so. 

Opposing Scouts Size Up the Nationals

“You see this team on paper and wonder how they don’t win 100 games every year. They’ve got stars everywhere. I mean, Juan Soto — wow. The at-bats he takes, at 19 years old, blew my mind. Anthony Rendon is a borderline MVP candidate every year, a tremendous defender who takes consistently quality at-bats. Trea Turner is your classic table-setter with speed, a guy who should be an All-Star every year, and the catching tandem of Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki is a big upgrade. The pitching is phenomenal, of course — Max Scherzer has the best stuff in the game, and he’s the best competitor, too. Stephen Strasburg looks like he can strike out 17 every time he takes the mound. Patrick Corbin’s slider is elite, and Anibal Sanchez is an ideal No. 4 who keeps you in the game. They got hard-throwing setup guys like Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough, and Sean Doolittle is one of the best at the back end — a deceptive lefty who pounds the zone with fastballs that are hard for guys to barrel up.”

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Beyond the Box Score

Holding Harper The Nationals had opportunities to trade Bryce Harper last summer, including a proposed deal with the Astros in July and one with the Dodgers in August, but they held onto him. In the latter scenario, the Dodgers, after making a waiver claim on Harper, reportedly would have sent outfielder Yasiel Puig to Washington; the Nationals, however, refused to make the deal unless the Dodgers also sent one of their catching prospects.
Tax and spend The Nats were one of only two teams, along with the Red Sox, to exceed the luxury tax threshold of $197 million in 2018, but their overage resulted in a tax payment of only $2.4 million. The Nationals’ owners, however, have made it clear they want to get under the 2019 threshold of $206 million, because as a three-time offender, their tax rate would go up to at least 50 percent.

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Lock Him Down

Re-signing third baseman Anthony Rendon to a long-term deal is a major priority for the Nats, one they say is independent of the Harper situation. But Rendon, who shares the same agent (Scott Boras) as Harper, may not be any easier to lock down. If there is a gleam of hope, it is that Boras negotiated an extension in Washington for yet another of his clients, pitcher Stephen Strasburg, in 2016 before he hit free agency.

Trading Tanners While the December trade of Tanner Roark to Cincinnati was curious, given the Nats’ lack of rotation depth and Roark’s consistent workhorse attributes, it did bring them an intriguing bullpen prospect. Righthander Tanner Rainey was the Reds’ 23rd-rated prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, and has averaged 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings as a minor leaguer. His issue is command — a career rate of 5.3 walks per nine innings.

Max Production After winning the NL Cy Young Award in both 2016 and 2017, Max Scherzer produced arguably the best season of his decorated career in 2018, setting career highs in strikeouts (300), FIP (2.65) and WAR (8.8) — yet failed to win another Cy Young. Scherzer finished second in voting to Mets ace Jacob deGrom, but it was his sixth straight top-five finish, the last four of them in a Nationals uniform.

Addition By Subtraction While the Nats appear to have lost some power from their lineup, compared to the one that started 2018, they have gained some athleticism. Losing second baseman Daniel Murphy, a defensive liability, and catcher Matt Wieters, a poor pitch framer, should contribute to the team’s run-prevention efforts and assist in their baserunning.

Loaded Front End The addition of Patrick Corbin was a highlight of the offseason, and the top of the rotation is among the most feared in the game. But there is some risk in investing more than $500 million in three pitchers — Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Corbin. With Corbin, who had Tommy John surgery in 2014, other teams were hesitant to offer the sixth year that ultimately sealed the deal with the Nats.

Projected Lineup


RF  Adam Eaton (L)
SS  Trea Turner (R)
3B  Anthony Rendon (R)
LF  Juan Soto (L)
1B  Ryan Zimmerman (R)

2B  Brian Dozier (R)
CF  Victor Robles (R)
C    Yan Gomes (R)


INF  Wilmer Difo (S)

INF  Howie Kendrick (R)
1B   Matt Adams (L)
OF   Michael A. Taylor (R)
C     Kurt Suzuki (R)


RHP  Max Scherzer
RHP  Stephen Strasburg
LHP  Patrick Corbin
RHP  Anibal Sanchez
RHP  Jeremy Hellickson


LHP  Sean Doolittle (C)
RHP  Trevor Rosenthal
RHP  Kyle Barraclough
RHP  Justin Miller
LHP  Matt Grace
RHP  Koda Glover
LHP  Sammy Solis


1st NL East