Coming off a historic 2019 season filled with exciting games, memorable moments and a World Championship, the Nationals have shifted their focus to the 2020 season. Before free agency started, questions loomed about the Nationals home-grown elite pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, and All Star third baseman, Anthony Rendon. Fans and the organization feared for the worst, knowing that they could potentially lose two of their best players during the offseason.
Mike Rizzo, the Nats’ general manager, is known for building his teams around starting pitching, and it became apparent that his priority was to resign Stephen Strasburg. On December 9, it was announced that the Nationals had come to terms with Strasburg for a seven-year contract worth $245 million (a record-breaking contract)! Although some have questioned the length and value of the contract, Strasburg is still an elite pitcher, who, alongside Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez, will help maintain the Nats’ deadly rotation.
Fast forward to early February and the Nationals look a bit different. Anthony Rendon signed with the Los Angeles Angels, and Rizzo has brought in some new faces to the team, such as 1B Eric Thames, INF Starlin Castro and RHP Will Harris. Additionally, he resigned INF Asdrubal Cabrera, 1B Ryan Zimmerman and INF Howie Kendrick. Now that spring training has started and the Nationals have finished building their 40-man roster for the year, it is about time to start making predictions for the 2020 season.
First, let’s take a look at the NL East Division. The Atlanta Braves, who won the division title last season, are the clear favorites to win the division again. During the offseason, they made additions such as signing RP Will Smith, SP Cole Hamels and power hitting outfielder Marcell Ozuna. Alex Rubinson, an avid baseball fan, believes the Braves should win the division but also sees the race for second will be what really matters. The Phillies and Mets, teams that had high expectations last offseason after the signing of Bryce Harper (PHI) and the trade that brought Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano (NYM) to New York, definitely underperformed. But during the 2019 offseason, both teams made numerous additions to help them make the 2020 postseason, such as hiring Joe Girardi to be the Phillies manager or signing reliever Dellin Betances to strengthen the Mets bullpen. Overall, the Nationals will, once again, have to compete all season long in order to make it back to the 2020 playoffs and try to defend their championship.
Some internal questions have loomed, too, such as who will bat third in the lineup, and if rising star Carter Kieboom will be ready for Opening Day. With the loss of Rendon, the Nationals have a gaping hole in the third spot of their lineup. Manager Dave Martinez has said he is going to experiment with different lineups such as moving Trea Turner to the third spot, while bringing Robles to the second spot. He also said he might consider moving elite hitter Juan Soto to third in the lineup and moving the Howie Kendrick/Eric Thames/Ryan Zimmerman trio to fourth.
Additionally, the Nationals’ top prospect, Carter Kieboom, is on the verge of taking the final step to the Major League level. He has played in the majors before, but has shown flaws in his defense and strikeout rate. Rubinson believes he “is probably ready to make the next jump [to the MLB]” and adds that “he will only get better with experience and reps at the major league level.” Although his struggles may worry fans, he has shown great productivity in Triple-A. In 109 games, Kieboom has 79 RBIs, 125 hits and 68 walks. But right now the question is: Will he be ready to play for the Nats on Opening Day?
The Nationals 2019 was no doubt one of the most historic and fun seasons in franchise history, and it will be impossible to replicate. With the 2020 season just weeks away, Nats fans are hoping for the best with their newly revamped roster. Fans hope to see their World Champions return to the playoffs, but with teams in the NL East getting stronger and competition getting harder, it is not going to be a stroll in the park for the Nats to get back to the postseason. Rubinson believes the Nationals will end up with 88-94 wins this season and will make it to the playoffs through the NL Wild Card, but at this point, it is very hard to see what the Nats odds are to make the playoffs. All DC fans can do right now is hope for another exciting and eventful baseball season.
Rahil Malhotra ’22