Yet again, the Washington Nationals won the NL East and then lost in the NLDS. This time, the Chicago Cubs had their number and won the series 3-2. The Nationals needed an offensive surge from their top hitters and plummeted. Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Trea Turner, and Daniel Murphy struggled at the dish. After the series was kaput, the front office decided not to retain Dusty Baker and went shopping for a new manager.
The Nationals chose Dave Martinez as their new manager. Martinez previously served as a bench coach for the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cubs. In 2016, he helped the Cubs win their first World Series championship since 1908.
Martinez wasn’t the only change that the Nationals made throughout the offseason, though. The Nationals signed Jeremy Hellickson and Miguel Montero to minor league deals. They made a trade with the Mets, acquiring infielder Matt Reynolds for cash. More importantly, they singed Joaquin Benoit, Howie Kendrick, Matt Adams, and Brandon Kintzler to major league contracts.
Last season, the bullpen was a major issue for the Nationals. Several of their relievers had a high ERA and WHIP. Kintzler truly stood out after the Nationals brought him to DC at last year’s trade deadline, sending Tyler Watson to the Minnesota Twins in the deal. After the trade, he appeared in 27 games and pitched very well, with a 3.46 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP.
Benoit enjoyed success for several seasons before last year, dating back to 2014, but he finished the 2017 season with a 4.65 ERA in 50 games with both the Philadelphia Phillies and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Adams essentially replaces Adam Lind but should help the Nationals. He provides depth at first base, and he split his time last season with the St. Louis Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves. In 367 plate appearances, he hit .274/.319/.522 and 20 home runs. Steamer projects a .266/.320/.474 line from Adams in 182 plate appearances this year.
The Nats begin the year with one significant injured player: former Met Daniel Murphy, who had microfracture knee surgery and is not ready for Opening Day. They’ll have Adam Eaton in their lineup from the start of the season after he missed the vast majority of the 2017 season, which should mitigate Murphy’s absence a bit offensively. And the team’s starting rotation is healthy, with a couple of ace-caliber pitchers atop it in Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. What the team gets out of Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark, and A.J. Cole is more of an open question.
While the Nationals didn’t spend a ton of money in the offseason, they added some solid arms and bench bats. They’ll be the biggest divisional challenge for the Mets this season and are the consensus pick to win the division. Given their new additions, their continued employment of Bryce Harper and the rest of the Nationals’ starting rotation, that’s a warranted pick. The Nationals won’t be impossible for the Mets to overtake, but they are a formidable foe.