You can’t talk about the 2019 outlook for the Washington Nationals without first addressing the elephant on the field – mainly that franchise icon Bryce Harper has departed to Philadelphia thanks to a record-setting, 13-year, $330 million contract. But even without the former MVP at Nats Park, the team is still flush with outstanding talent and has made some of the savviest moves of the offseason.
The team signed Patrick Corbin, the top pitcher on the free agent market, to a six-year, $140 million contract in early December. Coming off a season in which he went 11-7 with a 3.15 ERA, striking out 246 batters in 200 innings pitched, the former Arizona Diamondback immediately made the already formidable rotation arguably the best in baseball.
“I think [the Nationals] have won the most games in regular season baseball in the last five [or] six years,” Corbin says. “And knowing how deep of a team they are, I saw this as a place that I could live for a long time and be part of this rotation. Honestly, I feel like I just stepped right in, and I can’t think of one thing that hasn’t been great. Between all the players, all the things that we’re doing on and off the field together, the coaching staff [and] the training staff, everyone has been awesome. Being a new guy here, it seems like it’s been easy to join and be part of it.”
Staff ace Max Scherzer struck out 300 batters in 220 innings on his way to a league-leading 18 wins and 2.53 ERA. While Stephen Strasburg had some injury concerns last year, he still managed 10 wins and 156 Ks in just 130 innings; he’s looked healthy all spring and should be poised for a top season. The rest of the rotation includes veterans Aníbal Sánchez and Jeremy Hellickson – both recent free agent signees – and 25-year-old Joe Ross, who has been a dependable arm for the Nats since 2015 as insurance against injury.
Sean Doolittle established himself nicely at the closer in 2018, as the lefty recorded 25 saves and an anemic 1.60 ERA. This year, he’s joined in a revamped pen by veteran Trevor Rosenthal, who will serve as his primary setup man, as well as young fireballers Kyle Barraclough, Koda Glover and Justin Miller. The new additions reinforce a bullpen that should improve on its overall 4.05 ERA.
Even without Harper, the Nats shouldn’t have any problems scoring runs. A breakout season by rookie Juan Soto last year is just the tip of the iceberg of what MLB experts expect from the left fielder. Expect plenty of tape measure home runs to go along with an impressive eye at the plate.
Soto’s joined in the outfield this year by Adam Eaton in right and top prospect Victor Robles, whose speed rivals anyone in the game, manning center. Michael A. Taylor injured himself near the end of spring and until he’s fully recovered, power hitter Matt Adams will see some time in the outfield as will veteran Howie Kendrick.
“It’s exciting to know that you’re on a team that wants to win and tries to put the best team on the field,” Corbin says.
Anthony Rendon is the true star of this team to many, and even though he’s entering the final year of his contract, it’s a good bet that he’ll be reupping on a long-term deal sometime soon. The third baseman hit .308 last year, with 24 homers and 92 knocks, and was exceptional as always at manning his position. Longtime Nats first baseman Ryan Zimmerman will try to rebound from another injury-plagued season, and hopefully provide more than the 85 games he played last year. He’s only a year removed from a 36-homer season, though three of the past five seasons, he’s seen action in less than 95 games.
Adams will most likely find some ample time as his backup. Veteran Brian Dozier was signed to play the keystone and forms a new double-play combo with speedster Trea Turner, who led the league with 43 steals in 2018. In fact, speed is going to be a major weapon for the Nats this season.
Between Turner, Robles, Dozier and Eaton, this team can run, and manager Dave Martinez is not afraid to send his guys or call on the hit-and-run. The team brought in two longtime backstops this off-season to handle catching duties, with Yan Gomes coming over in a trade with Cleveland and Kurt Suzuki signing a two-year deal to return to the club after seven years. Both offer solid framing skills and are above average with the bat for the catcher position.
The NL East is expected to be one of the toughest divisions in baseball this year, with the Phillies adding Harper plus four other former all-stars in shortstop Jean Segura, outfielder Andrew McCutchen, catcher J.T. Realmuto and closer David Robertson. The Mets are making a splash adding Edwin Diaz, last year’s AL saves leader, in a deal that also netted them offensive-minded second baseman Robinson Canó, not to mention signing catcher Wilson Ramos and infielder Jed Lowrie. And the Braves brought in former MVP Josh Donaldson to man third for the team that won the division in 2018.
The Nationals seem to have put together a team that is a perfect balance of pitching, offense and defense, and should be able to ride the strength of their arms all the way to the postseason.
“I think we’re as good as any team in baseball from top to bottom,” Corbin says. “Everyone’s goal is to win a World Series. That’s going to be ours. Our job now is to get better each and every day.”
For more information on Corbin and the Nats’ 2019 season, visit www.mlb.com/nationals.
Nationals Park: 1500 South Capitol St. SE, DC; 202-675-6287; www.mlb.com/nationals