At this point in Washington Nationals history, it almost seems normal to watch the divisional competition come to a stop while the Nats sprint away from the pack in hot pursuit of yet another 90-plus win season. Despite offseason improvements made by divisional foes Atlanta and Philadelphia, the Nationals, especially Stephen Strasburg, observed as 2017 National League Most Valuable Player, Giancarlo Stanton, who has a career .313 batting average along with three home runs against the Nats pitcher, departs for the New York Yankees as just one of many casualties of the Miami Marlins’ fire sale.
Unlike the Yankees, the Nationals have so far been somewhat quiet this offseason. In lieu of a major free-agent splash, the team has instead opted to bolster the bullpen by re-signing seventh-inning man Brandon Kintzler and to replace bench slugger Adam Lind with a similar type of player in first baseman Matt Adams. World Champion bench coach Dave Martinez (Cubs, 2016) is the new manager following the departure of Dusty Baker.
After a historic season by the Nationals’ top pitchers, Scherzer, Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez, D.C. can take a breath knowing that Scherzer and Strasburg are secured through 2021 and 2024 respectively. However, players like Bryce Harper, 25, and Ryan Zimmerman, 33, could be headed out – Harper via the red-hot 2018 free agent market and Zimmerman due to age and injuries. We already watched 38-year-old Jayson Werth’s career come to a close in a brutal, scrappy, heartbreaking loss (again) in the deciding game of last year’s Divisional Series versus the Cubs.
In the team’s four playoff appearances, three ended in frustrating make-or-break situations; 2012 gave us Drew Storen’s ninth; 2016 and Clayton Kershaw’s bullpen appearance; 2017 with Max Scherzer and the fifth inning of doom. The team, collaboratively, still needs to break through this paper-thin wall before the “World Series window” closes should Harper choose to depart next winter. Gabe Ritter, sophomore, believes the Nats have a great chance at reaching or even winning the league championship if Los Angeles and Chicago both struggle. “The Dodgers will pull a Raiders,” Ritter says, referring to the NFL’s Oakland Raiders who, like this year’s Dodgers, were believed to be Super Bowl contenders at the beginning of their season, while they finished only 6-10 and missed the playoffs.
Good news is that the Nationals have an easy route to the postseason for the foreseeable future, even sans Harper, and the Yankees, whom many believed to be Harper’s top 2018 destination, may have their hands full of expensive contracts attached to Giancarlo Stanton, and possibly Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez in the near future. Things may be looking up for the Nats’ future, but it is also possible that we may be witnessing our last Bryce Harper moonshots during the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby at Nats Park in July.
By Micah Hurewitz ’20