The good news for the Washington Nationals is they are the reigning World Series champions. Of course, the bad news is that they have nowhere to go but down. It’s been exactly 20 years since the last repeat World Series champion, so the odds are not in Washington’s favor.
That being said, the Nationals should be viewed as a legitimate contender. After all, a year ago, many doubted whether they could survive without star outfielder Bryce Harper, and the Nationals went out and won without him.
The pitching staff remains intact, giving the Nationals a legitimate chance to repeat, especially in a 60-game season, when anything can happen.
However, what will a sportsbook say about their regular-season win totals and World Series odds? Is a repeat in the cards, or is the competition in the NL East and the rest of the National League too fierce for the Nationals to have a chance? Let’s take a closer look at the 2020 Washington Nationals.
Washington Nationals 2019 Results
In retrospect, it’s almost unbelievable that the Nationals won the 2019 World Series. If the season had ended after 60 games like the 2020 season will, Washington would have been miles from a playoff spot.
The club struggled to find any kind of consistency during the first two months. By the end of May, the Nationals were nine games under .500.
Alas, the Nationals woke up in June, putting together an 18-8 record to climb above .500 by the end of the month. The turnaround continued during a 15-10 July.
Then in August, the Nationals made their big move, winning 15 of their final 18 games. However, Washington cooled down considerably in September, only to win their last eight games of the regular season to secure a playoff spot.
After 162 games, Washington was 93-69, four games behind the Braves in the NL East but earning the top Wild-Card spot. The Wild-Card Game lived up to its name, as the Nationals erased an early 3-0 deficit to beat Milwaukee 4-3 thanks to three runs in the bottom of the eighth.
In the NLDS, the Nationals took on the favored Dodgers but managed to erase a 2-1 series deficit to win in five games. The NLCS proved to be much easier, as Washington’s pitching staff dominated the offensively challenged Cardinals.
The Nationals swept the series in four games, outscoring St. Louis 20-6. That set up a memorable World Series in which the road team won all seven games for the first time in baseball history.
Once again, Washington’s pitching was the difference, holding the Astros to four runs in Games 6 and 7 and enabling the Nationals to erase a 3-2 series deficit and be crowned world champions.
Washington Nationals Key Additions
The biggest addition the Nationals made was retaining starter Stephen Strasburg. After winning World Series MVP honors, Strasburg opted out of his contract and became a free agent.
A seven-year, $245 million contract was enough to keep Strasburg back in Washington and keep the club’s vaunted starting rotation intact.
Outside of re-signing Strasburg, the Nationals didn’t make a lot of big waves. Instead, they made several modest additions, which included re-signing catcher Yan Gomes, infielder Asdrubal Cabrera, and utility man Howie Kendrick. All three were important contributors during Washington’s run to the World Series.
The Nationals also signed first baseman Eric Thames, who spent the last three seasons with the Brewers. Thames hit 25 home runs and produced an OPS of .852 after an injury-plagued 2018 campaign.
Initially, Thames was expected to platoon with Ryan Zimmerman at first base. But with Zimmerman deciding to sit out the season because of the coronavirus pandemic, Thames is set to be Washington’s primary first baseman.
Washington also signed second baseman Starlin Castro, who spent the last two seasons in relative obscurity with the Marlins. While Cabrera and Kendrick are also options at the keystone, Castro is the leading candidate to be Washington’s everyday second baseman.
Meanwhile, the Nationals made two signings to their pitching staff. First, they signed reliever Will Harris to a three-year deal. Harris had been an important member of the Houston bullpen for many years.
The Nationals also re-signed Daniel Hudson to a two-year deal. Hudson was a big addition to the bullpen last summer and one of their most reliable relievers during the postseason, making it critical for Washington to bring him back in 2020.
Washington Nationals Big Losses
While the Nationals took out their checkbook to re-sign Strasburg, they didn’t have enough money left to do the same for third baseman Anthony Rendon. After posting MVP-caliber numbers, Rendon was arguably the best hitter on the free-agent market. He ended up signing with the Angels.
As mentioned, the Nationals will also be without Zimmerman. Complementary players like Brian Dozier, Gerardo Parra, and Matt Adams have also left the Nationals.
Among pitchers, Joe Ross also decided to sit out the 2020 season because of concerns about the pandemic. He was unspectacular in 2019 but would have given the Nationals more rotation depth.
Relief pitchers Matt Grace, Fernando Rodney, Kyle Barraclough, and Jeremy Hellickson have also left.
Washington Nationals Pitching
Washington’s 2020 rotation is going to look a lot like it did in 2019. With Strasburg re-signing with the Nationals, the trio of Strasburg, Max Scherzer, and Patrick Corbin remains intact.
The only caveat is the age and health of Scherzer, who pushed through back trouble late last season and was limited to 27 stars. Strasburg also has a lengthy injury history, although he gave the Nationals 33 starts and was brilliant in the postseason.
The delayed start may actually work in Washington’s favor. Under normal conditions, the innings logged by Scherzer and Strasburg in October could put them at risk. However, they’ve had more than enough rest since the end of last season.
Plus, no starter will be asked to start more than 12 games in a 60-game season, which could benefit the Nationals.
Veteran Anibal Sanchez will help fill out the rotation after starting 30 games. He was surprisingly consistent, posting a 3.85 ERA. His track record has some ups and downs, but the Nationals would gladly sign up for anything close to what Sanchez gave.
Finally, youngsters Erick Fedde and Austin Voth will battle for the No. 5 spot in the rotation and provide viable depth in case of injury.
Meanwhile, the Washington bullpen could be an important X-factor for the team. A part of the team that was a weakness for most of the 2019 campaign turned into a strength during the postseason because starters took turns in relief.
On paper, things look a lot better than they did a year ago. Retaining Hudson and adding Harris gives the Nationals two capable setup men for closer Sean Doolittle. The delay in the season should also be beneficial to Doolittle, who battled through injuries last season but can be a top-notch closer when healthy.
Outside of that trio, the Nationals should have a fair amount of depth in the bullpen. Flamethrower Tanner Rainey started to come around last season. Wander Suero and Roenis Elias are also capable veterans who should be solid middle relievers for Washington’s bullpen.
Washington Nationals Offense
The Nationals were fine despite losing Harper. Losing Rendon could pose a greater challenge.
Much of the pressure will surely fall onto Juan Soto. The youngster looks like a rising superstar after matching Rendon’s 34 home runs and posting a .949 OPS in 2019. But can he replicate that productivity without Rendon protecting him? Soto has been sidetrack by COVID-19 early in the season.
The Nationals have plenty of other proven hitters. Shortstop Trea Turner and outfielder Adam Eaton will serve as table-setters, while Thames should pick up some of the slack left by Rendon. However, there isn’t much power in the lineup outside of Soto and Thames.
It’ll be up to Washington’s contingent of veteran infielders like Castro, Cabrera, and Kendrick to become reliable run producers. Cabrera and Kendrick are better suited to be part-time players at this point in their careers.
That puts some pressure on Castro, especially with Eaton, Soto, and Thames giving Washington a left-hand-heavy lineup.
The Nationals will also need the catcher tandem of Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki to keep producing. Suzuki’s 2019 offensive numbers were well above his career averages, so he could come back down to earth.
Young center fielder Victor Robles and rookie third baseman Carter Kieboom will be important X-factors, but players the Nationals can’t yet rely on to be difference-makers.
Washington Nationals Three Key Players
Closer Sean Doolittle is one of Washington’s most important players in 2020. Having Hudson and Harris will help, but the Nationals need their closer to be trustworthy.
With only 60 games, blown leads will be magnified. More importantly, the Nationals won’t survive if their bullpen isn’t substantially better than it was the first half of last season.
Offensively, it’s all about Soto. It’s worth noting that he’s still just 21 and has fewer than 1,000 at-bats in the big leagues. He’s no longer Rendon’s running mate, which means there’s a lot on his shoulders.
Finally, Turner’s importance can’t be underestimated. Without question, there is less power in the lineup.
That means the Nationals will have to play small ball and be better at getting runners on base. Turner’s speed can be a big weapon, which means he needs to continue to get on base at a high rate after posting an OBP of .353 last year.
Washington Nationals Schedule Breakdown
The Nationals are set to play 40 of their 60 games against teams from the NL East. With the Braves, Mets, and Phillies also setting their sights on the postseason, that doesn’t make for an easy schedule.
A year ago, Washington was able to beat up on the Marlins and Phillies, but both teams figure to be better. More importantly, the Nationals won’t make any noise if they continue to play losing baseball against the Braves and Mets.
The silver lining is it will catch a break in interleague play by facing the Orioles for six games. Baltimore is undoubtedly the weakest team in the AL East and could be the worst team in baseball.
If the Nationals can beat up their Beltway rivals, they can steal a couple of extra wins that their division rivals won’t.
According to BetUS.com, Washington has a moneyline of +1600 to win the 2020 World Series. Among National League teams, only the Dodgers and Braves have better odds, which tells you that the Nationals are serious contenders.