Washington Nationals Intro to Team
Two years removed from the 2019 World Series title, the Nationals are in a rebuilding mode after posting a total record of 91-131 and finishing at the bottom of the National League East the last two seasons. In the Covid-19 truncated 2020 season, the Nationals failed to win more games than they lost for the first time since going 80-81 in 2011.
Washington Nationals Last Season Performance
Following a four-game winning streak on June 30, the Nationals found themselves with a record of 40-38 and just 2.5 games out of first place in the National League East. A month later, after going 8-18 during the month of July, they were in fourth place in the division, eight games behind the leaders.
At that point, the Nationals decided to push the reset button, trading pitcher Max Scherzer and left fielder Kyle Schwerber, content to ride out the rest of the season and posting a record of 17-41 over the final two months of the campaign. It’s difficult to take many positives from last season, one which saw veteran pitcher Stephen Strasburg go down after five starts and undergo neck surgery on July 28th that could impact his return by opening day in 2022.
One of the bright spots was the play of right fielder Juan Soto, who appeared in 151 games and hit .313 with 29 home runs and 95 RBI. He was one of the reasons the Nationals led the National League in hitting with a .258 team average, but that didn’t translate into run production, as they were just ninth in the league in runs scored.
The Nationals also unloaded shortstop Trea Turner to the Dodgers, which pretty much gutted their lineup except for Soto. Turner was hitting .322 with 18 homers and 49 RBI when he was traded away after 96 games. Alcides Escobar stepped in admirably, but his .288 average, and four home runs, and 28 RBI were a downgrade from his predecessor.
The team lacked power following the departure of Schwarber, who had smacked 25 home runs in 72 games, putting him on pace for 56 in a full season of production. For all of 2021, the Nationals were ninth in the league in round-trippers and 12th in stolen bases, making it difficult for them to manufacture runs despite their league-leading batting average.
It was the same story for the pitching staff, with Scherzer the only regular member of the rotation with an ERA less than 4.17, resulting in the Nationals finishing 11th in team ERA and 12th in runs allowed. By the middle of August, it was time for team fans to look ahead to 2022.
Washington Nationals Off-Season Changes
The primary changes within the Nationals organization came in the coaching staff, with four new faces coming on board. Darnell Coles takes over as the hitting coach, Eric Young, Jr. is the new First Base coach, and Gary DiSarcina will serve as the Third Base coach.
Ricky Bones will join the team in the role of Bullpen coach, with Tim Bogar remaining as the Bench coach and Jim Hickey continuing in the role of Pitching coach. There were some other moves among coaches that took on new roles as well.
At the end of the minor league season in September, the Nationals basically cleaned house in their farm system and recently announced new managerial and coaching staffs for their High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A affiliates. This could signal a re-emphasis on developing talent through the draft and the minor leagues, which served the Nationals well in the early 2010s and ultimately led to a World Series title.
Although the Nationals had a number of players from the parent team and their farm system elect to become free agency, they were relatively quiet when it came to activity prior to the lockdown on December 2nd. They re-signed 34-year-old shortstop Alcides Escobar who hit .288 in 75 games in 2021, and 27-year-old outfielder Andrew Stevenson, who played part-time in 109 games last season.
Washington Nationals Key Additions
The only free agent signing the Nationals made before league activity was halted on December 2nd was to acquire 31-year-old second baseman Cesar Hernandez for a one-year deal. Hernandez is a career .270 hitter who spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Philadelphia Phillies but has played for Cleveland and the Chicago White Sox over parts of the past two years.
They also picked up 24-year-old pitcher Francisco Perez off waivers from Cleveland after the prospect made four appearances for the Indians, now Guardians, and posted a 4.05 ERA in 6.2 innings pitched. Infielder Lucius Fox joins the Nationals after spending the 2021 season bouncing around the Kansas City Royals farm, where the 24-year-old hit .245 with five home runs and 24 RBI in 62 games.
Washington Nationals Key Subtractions
Although he is nearing the end of his career, homegrown Ryan Zimmerman elected free agency following the 2021 season. The 36-year-old infielder was drafted by the Nationals out of the University of Virginia with the fourth overall pick in 2005 and made it to the major leagues later that season, hitting .397 in 20 games.
His departure, if it comes to that, will be the end of an era in Washington, although his play has been limited in recent seasons. Zimmerman’s batting average in 110 games was .243 in 2021, with 14 home runs and 46 RBI.
Infielder Jordy Mercer, catcher Alex Avila, and outfielder Gerardo Parra also entered the free-agent market, although they only combined to make 133 appearances in 2021, and none of them contributed significantly to the Nationals’ offensive production.
Relief pitchers Wander Suero and Ryne Harper are free agents as well, with Suero posting a 2-3 record in 2021 with 44 strikeouts in 42.2 innings over 45 appearance and compiling an ERA of 6.33. Harper had a respectable ERA of 4.05 with a record of 0-2 with 35.2 innings pitched in 34 outings.
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Washington Nationals Head Coach Analysis
Dave Martinez has been the manager of the Nationals for four seasons and delivered the first World Series title to the city of Washington for the first time since 1924 in just his second year with the franchise in 2019. However, the case could be made that his predecessors in the position set the stage for his success and how he handles this rebuilding process will determine his ultimate legacy as a manager.
He inherited a team that had been led by Dusty Baker for the previous two seasons that posted records of 95-67 and 97-65 in winning the National League East title, but bowed out in the first round of the playoffs. In his first season at the helm, the Nationals went 82-80 but improved to 93-69 the following season and had to make it through the wild card round after finishing second in the NL East.
The message sent by the front office in replacing half of the bench coaches on his staff is that another last place season will likely result in the departure of Martinez from the organization. Of course, that brings into question how much impact a manager has on the performance of a team that relies primarily on individual performances, but nonetheless, Martinez will be the scapegoat for the continued demise of the team.
Martinez has shown he can successfully lead a team to a title, but the challenge he’s facing for 2022 is daunting, even for someone that has been able to bring a championship to the franchise. As recently as last season, he had the Nationals within striking distance midway through the season until the front office decided to abruptly change direction.
Washington Nationals Injured Players at the beginning of the season
Stephen Strasburg’s return date is probably the most important unknown facing the Nationals for the upcoming season, as well as his effectiveness upon his return. At 32, the oft-injured star might be nearing the end of his career, but the Nationals could very much benefit from another season of quality starts from the player who has started just seven games in the last two years.
Otherwise, the National don’t have many injury concerns, primarily because they have so many players that opted for free agency. It’s unlikely that they’ll make a run at players that are in danger of missing Opening Day, so other than Strasburg, they should be healthy entering spring training after the lockout is resolved.
Washington Nationals Prediction for 2022 Season
Until the Nationals’ front office retools the team, either through free agency or with promotions from their farm system, the offensive load will be on the shoulders of Juan Soto. It may even remain that way throughout the remaining offseason when it resumes following the lockout. His stat line could be difficult to improve upon, but the organization is hopeful it can put some productive pieces around him for 2022.
The Nationals find themselves at the bottom of the NL East and looking up at a number of teams, the New York Mets in particular, that made significant moves prior to the December 2nd lockout. If Washington is going to contend in 2022, they’ll need to find some players who can contribute right away if they wish to avoid a repeat of the second half of last season.
Pitching Coach Jim Hickey will have his hands full juggling a staff that without Scherzer was unable to keep most teams from crossing the plate at least five times a game. General Manager Mike Rizzo will need to find some arms to stem the scoring tide of their opponents, or it will be another long season for the Nationals.
Overall, the prospect for the Nationals in 2022 looks fairly bleak, especially if opposing teams have the opportunity to pitch around Soto. Other than the Marlins, the NL East is solid, with the Braves looking to back up their World Series title, the Mets making strong moves to challenge for the division title and Most Valuable Player award winner Bryce Harper anchoring a strong lineup in Philadelphia.
One ray of hope is the potential return of a healthy Stephen Strasburg, who has a history of injury issues. However, at his age, it’s still questionable if he can be a productive enough member of the pitching staff to anchor what will probably be a much different rotation than the Nationals put on the field in 2021.
It’s difficult to see the Nationals getting too far out of the division basement in 2022, but they could challenge for third place if they bring in some free agent talent prior to the start of the season. Even though the Phillies will likely finish in the top three of the division, they haven’t yet made many moves that would indicate that they can make another serious run at the NL East crown.
There should be a frenzy of activity when the lockout ends and if the Nationals are a part of it, their hopes for 2022 MLB odds, could change dramatically. If not, it will indicate that the team is prepared to undergo a lengthy rebuilding effort, probably taking two or three years to complete, resulting in a very long and painful road back to the top of the baseball world. Check out their MLB Lines for the season.
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