By NICCO BARATTO
About five months ago, the MLB offseason began after the Kansas City Royals defeated the New York Mets in the 2015 World Series. One month earlier, the Nationals fired manager Matt Williams along with their bench coach, pitching coach, hitting coach, third base coach, first base coach and bullpen coach.
Nevertheless, it was a disappointing season for them. A few days after the World Series, the Nationals hired a new manager, Dusty Baker. Baker, a manager since 1993, brings a lot of experience to Washington. He led the San Francisco Giants to the World Series in 2002, but lost in Game 7 to Troy Glaus and the Anaheim Angels.
On January 6, the Nationals agreed to terms with second baseman Daniel Murphy on a three-year contract. Murphy set a major league record with home runs in six straight postseason games in the 2015 postseason. At 31 years old, Murphy is primed for a successful season.
A few days later, the Nationals were able to get a quality leadoff hitter and centerfielder by acquiring outfielder Ben Revere from the Toronto Blue Jays for right-handed pitcher Drew Storen. At 27 years old, he’s also coming off one of his best seasons. He will play between Jayson Werth and the reigning National League MVP, Bryce Harper, in the outfield.
Harper, who had the best season of his career, hit 42 home runs and had a .330 batting average. Although they finished second in the NL East, the Nationals fell short of making the playoffs due to the frequent absence of starters including Jayson Werth, Denard Span and Ryan Zimmerman due to injuries, as well as inconsistencies in the bullpen.
Another smart move was keeping Anthony Rendon for another year. Rendon, who only played in 80 games last season, could once again prove to be a valuable player to his team as he was in 2014 when he finished in fifth place for National League Most Valuable Player award.
Mike Maddux, the new pitching coach, also brings a lot of experience and is prepared to work with manager Dusty Baker and the pitching staff. The starting rotation made a change due to Jordan Zimmermann agreeing to a five-year, $110 million contract with the Detroit Tigers. The rotation is still headlined by Max Scherzer, who threw two no-hitters last season. He pitched his career high 17 strikeouts in his second.
Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg will also look to pick up where they left off. Stephen Strasburg struggled in the beginning of last season due to a neck injury, but he was one of the best pitchers in the league over the second half of the year.
Everyone should enjoy watching him play this season, as it could be his last in a Nationals uniform when he becomes a free agent in the offseason. Tanner Roark and Joe Ross will take the two remaining spots on the starting pitcher rotation.
Baseball fans can rejoice. The 2016 season is just days away. The Nationals’ 182-game season begins on Monday in Atlanta where they will take on the Braves twice and then come home and play the Marlins in their home opener. You can catch a game on TV almost every night on MASN.