By SEAN KINSLOW
It is that time of year once again, and the MLB Opening Day is right around the corner. The Washington Nationals get their 2017 season under wayMonday, April 3 when they host National League Eastern Division rival Miami Marlins. The District is buzzing with high hopes for the Nationals in the 2017 season. Washington is coming off a year in which they won the NL East, but the roster looks a little different this year, leaving the Nats with a whole new set of obstacles to overcome.
To be successful the Nationals will try to overcome the loss of last year’s starting catcher, Wilson Ramos, who recently signed with Tampa Bay. Ramos was a valuable member of the Nats lineup. He had a big bat and handled the Nationals pitching staff well. Former Baltimore Oriole Matt Wieters will take over as the Nationals newest starting backstop. Wieters has big shoes to fill but if he can perform close to his career averages than the Nationals will be in good a good place when it comes to catcher.
Another area of concern is the back end of the Nationals rotation. The loss of last year’s All-Star closer Mark Melancon who signed with San Francisco, will make it more difficult for the Nationals to hold on to leads in the 9th inning. Veterans Shawn Kelley, Blake Treinen and youngster Koda Glover will all get cracks at locking down the role of closer. Many experts believe that the team may need to trade for a closer at some point in the season if none of the three emerge as a dominant late-inning arm.
One last major area of concern is the depth of the starting pitching ranks, especially in the minors. The Nationals’ starting rotation, if healthy, can be one of the best in Major League. There are reasons to believe the Nats’ rotation won’t live up to those expectations though. Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, the team’s two best pitchers, are coming off of injuries and will need to be monitored. Joe Ross also went through an injury-plagued season last year. If any of these pitchers get hurt for an extended period of time, the Nats may be in trouble. The team traded away two of their top young arms, who would have been called upon to start if an injury occurred in Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. The so-called “sixth” starter right now would likely be AJ Cole, who at this point in his career is not impressing anyone. The health of the Nationals five starting pitchers will be a big indication on how this team does this season.
The biggest addition the Nationals made this offseason was the acquisition of Center Fielder Adam Eaton from the White Sox in exchange for Giolito and Lopez. Eaton will either lead off or hit in the two hole for the Nationals. Eaton brings speed, a good on base percentage, and decent fielding prowess to the team. Eaton plays with a lot of energy and is likely to quickly become a fan favorite.
The Nationals will likely be in a two-team race for the NL East crown with the New York Mets. The Mets have a world class starting rotation with a decent bullpen and lineup to support it. The Nats will likely need to win at least 90 out of their 162 games in order to win the division and possibly more. In order to do this, Washington will need to successfully navigate the three areas of concern listed above. A bounce back year from Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman could go a long way towards helping covering up those concerns. Even with the concerns stated, the Nationals have an outstanding roster headlined by MVP candidate Harper. This team has the talent to overcome at least one of those areas of concern. The Nationals will suffer if more than one of the concerns happen to become a lingering problem. It’s a good time to be a Nationals fans and Washingtonians should be optimistic headed into the 2017 season. Play Ball!v