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Washington Nationals 2021: Scouting, Projected Lineup, Season Prediction

Washington Nationals 2021: Scouting, Projected Lineup, Season Prediction

Washington Nationals 2021: Scouting, Projected Lineup, Season Prediction

Like so many defending World Series champions before them, the 2020 Nationals found tough sledding in the Year After. The reasons may sound familiar: the failure to adequately replace a departed free agent (Anthony Rendon), a lack of progress for key youngsters (Carter Kieboom, Victor Robles), and a series of setbacks and injuries to a veteran-heavy pitching staff that was overtaxed the prior fall. The Nats' resulting fourth-place finish (tied with the Mets at 26–34) — coupled with a quiet winter, a dearth of top-end prospects, and the steady progress of some division rivals — is enough to make one wonder if the team's championship window, open for the better part of the last decade, is now closing.

Opposing Scouts Size Up the Nationals

"They're the third-best team in the division, clearly, behind the Braves and the Mets, and this is their last shot for a while. If it doesn't work this year, it's going to be dark. A lot of it will be predicated on the bounce-back of some of the starters. Does Stephen Strasburg look like the version we saw in 2019? He should be healthy — he was throwing pretty regularly in the winter — so my guess is yes. Patrick Corbin's velocity was down. Is that a start of a decline? With Max Scherzer, he just needs to be healthy; nobody worries about him. He's done a tremendous job in this contract, but this is the last year. Joe Ross has a chance after a year out. Juan Soto is worth the price of admission on his own, one of the few people who belongs in the same sentence with Mike Trout. And even though shortstop is one of the deepest positions in baseball, Trea Turner belongs in the conversation as one of the best. Other than Soto and Turner, though, the offense is really two star players and a bunch of significant holes. It's a stars-and-scrubs offense."

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Beyond the Box Score

Maxed out? As he enters the final year of his seven-year, $210 million contract, Max Scherzer has been worth every penny for the Nats, racking up five All-Star appearances, three strikeout titles, two Cy Youngs, and a 2019 World Series title. But his performance slipped in 2020, with a 3.74 ERA and 1.381 WHIP, and at age 36, he is facing an uncertain future heading into 2021. The Nats would love to keep him, but his performance will go a long way toward dictating the price.

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2021 Athlon Sports Baseball Preview

Cupboard is bare

Following the ascensions of Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia to the majors over the past two seasons, the top shelf of the Nationals' farm system is getting thin. MLB Pipeline's most recent top 100 prospects list did not include a single representative of the Nats, and Baseball America ranked them 28th in their 2020 organizational talent rankings.

Power outage The Nationals' paltry power numbers in 2020 demonstrated the need for another big bat or two in their 2021 lineup. They finished 21st in the majors in homers (66), 17th in isolated power (.170), and 25th in Statcast's exit velocity (87.7 mph).

Turner's turn After Scherzer, Trea Turner will be the next major part of the Nationals' core to reach free agency — following the 2022 season. The team's recent track record of retaining its superstar position players is grim, with both Bryce Harper (after 2018) and Rendon (2019) moving on. If there is a reason to be optimistic about Turner staying, it is that, unlike both Harper and Rendon, he isn't represented by Scott Boras, but instead by CAA.

Comeback to come? The Nationals made re-signing Stephen Strasburg the core mission of their 2019-20 offseason, and they ultimately inked him to a seven-year $245 million deal — only to see him last just two starts in 2020. Eventually, he was diagnosed with carpal tunnel neuritis (likely exacerbated by the stop-and-start nature of the pandemic-shortened season) and had season-ending surgery in August. The Nationals, however, consider him a "full-go" for 2021 spring training and are hopeful he will regain his 2019 form.

In the zone Tanner Rainey has one of the best fastballs in the Nats' bullpen, but it was improved command that led to his 2020 breakthrough and put him on a closer track. While dropping only about 1 mph in average fastball velocity (from 97.9 mph in 2019 to 97.0 in 2020, per Pitch Info), he cut his walk rate almost in half, from 17.8 percent in 2019 to 9.3 percent in 2020. He also began using his slider more frequently and posted a whiff rate of 72.9 percent with that pitch, among the best in MLB.

Projected Lineup

LINEUP

SS     Trea Turner (R)

LF     Kyle Schwarber (L)

RF     Juan Soto (L)

1B     Josh Bell (S)

2B     Starlin Castro (R)

C      Yan Gomes (R)

CF    Victor Robles (R)

3B     Carter Kieboom (R)

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BENCH

1B    Ryan Zimmerman (R)

C      Alex Avila (L)

2B    Luis Garcia (L)

UT    Josh Harrison (R)

OF    Andrew Stevenson (R)

ROTATION

RHP     Max Scherzer

RHP     Stephen Strasburg

LHP     Patrick Corbin

LHP     Jon Lester

RHP     Joe Ross

BULLPEN

LHP     Brad Hand (C)

RHP     Daniel Hudson

RHP     Tanner Rainey

RHP     Will Harris

RHP     Wander Suero

RHP     Kyle Finnegan

RHP     Kyle McGowin

LHP     Luis Avilan

2021 Prediction: 3rd in NL East

(Juan Soto photo courtesy of @Nationals)