Status: Looking to bounce back
The Nationals had a disappointing 2018, falling short of the postseason as injuries hit them hard. Optimism is high ahead of the 2019 campaign, however.
Whilst the headlines focused on the likely landing place of a certain outgoing Nationals outfielder, the front office were busy making some very sensible deals.
Patrick Corbin was the pick of the starters signed, arriving as a free agent from the Diamondbacks. Anibal Sanchez is a shrewd free agent pick up as well though, the veteran right-hander coming off an impressive season with the Braves, after striking out nearly 9 hitters per 9 innings and posting a very respectable 1.08 WHIP over 136 innings.
Brian Dozier arrived to play second base and will be looking to put a largely underwhelming stint with the Dodgers behind him.
What to watch
After a year overshadowed by the uncertainty surrounding Bryce Harper, there is a sense of freshness around the Nationals, and all the hope and excitement that comes with a new beginning.
No individual embodies that hope than the organisation’s top prospect Victor Robles, who will prove a defensive upgrade to Harper at the very least, and who will be looking to kick on with the bat after injury halted his 2018 season after just 66 plate appearances.
If Robles can come close to emulating Juan Soto’s debut season then he will have had a very good year – Soto’s .923 OPS in 2018 was the best ever for a teenager. The challenge for Soto will be consolidating his highly impressive start, and replicating the output from last year over something in the region of 650 plate appearances.
Michael Taylor could be an interesting one to watch in 2019 after both his walk rate and strikeout rate improved last year for the third year in a row.
Worth a mention here as well is Anthony Rendon, if for no other reason than he must be one of the most underrated players in the game. His 140 WRC+ over the last two seasons ranks him 15th amongst qualified hitters and he provides elite defensive cover at third base. He will feature prominently in any Nationals success in 2019.
After bringing in manager Dave Martinez last season with the implicit goal of performing better in the postseason, barely breaking even and not making the playoffs can only be seen as a significant disappointment.
Lessons will have been learned, and much more will be needed this time out, especially given the likely improvement of all but one of their division rivals. There will be added fuel to the fire, were it needed, with Bryce Harper opting for Philadelphia, and one of the most interesting division races in recent history could be on the cards.
A very solid lineup with some breakout potential, and a reliable pitching staff bolstered by some neat additions should see them in the hunt for division title right to the end of the season.