After acquiring a few All-Stars in the offseason, the Phillies seem poised to win the National League East in 2019. Since the other teams in the East have yet to concede to the Phillies’ greatness, it’s worth taking a look at each division rival and determine how much of a hindrance they’ll provide towards the Phillies’ playoff hopes.
2018 Record: 82-80, 2nd place in National League East
The Nationals were expected to cruise to another division title in 2018. Instead, they suffered through a disappointing, injury-filled season, finishing eight games behind the Braves. They got off to a slow start and never seriously threatened to make the playoffs. By mid-August, team ownership had basically given up.
On the bright side, by being eliminated from contention early on, they saved their fans of suffering yet another agonizing loss in the NLDS.
What did they do this offseason?
In case you hadn’t heard, Bryce Harper left the Nationals in free agency. (He joined the Phillies.) The Nats are supposedly just fine with his departure. Seriously, just ask them. Despite the departure of the face of the franchise, the Nats haven’t decided to just give up on competitive baseball and return to their 100 loss days.
Hey web slingers, you're going to want to get your hands on today's print edition of The Washington Post. @briannaschroer and @billythebutcher have an amazing poster on the back page inspired by your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. #OnePursuit #RingTheBell pic.twitter.com/pycKuyKHfO— Neil Greenberg (@ngreenberg) March 27, 2019
Instead, they took a very 2011 Phillies approach to compensate for Harper’s absence, and added more pitching. They signed free agent starters Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez, giving them perhaps the best rotation in the National League.
Do they have any hitting left?
The Nationals are trying to counter Harper’s departure with youth. They’re already hyping second year man Juan Soto, calling him the greatest teenage player in history. (Obviously no shade being thrown there.) He’ll be paired with rookie Victor Robles, who many are predicting to win the Rookie of the Year award.
These two are indeed talented, and could provide the Nationals with a dynamic outfield for years to come. On the other hand, counting on two extremely young players to perform at a high level is a dangerous approach for a would-be contender.
So how about the veterans?
The most prominent veteran bat is third baseman Anthony Rendon, who Nationals fans should probably enjoy while they can. He supposedly rejected an extension offer a few months ago, and he will presumably be looking for Nolan Arenado money.
There’s also Ryan Zimmerman who appeared in only 85 games last season. That’s not especially surprising since Zimmerman has played fewer than 100 games in three of the past four seasons. It seems unlikely that at age 34 he’ll be able to reverse that trend.
Second baseman Brian Dozier was added as a free agent to boost the lineup. The Nats are hoping that he returns to his 2017 form when he hit 34 home runs, and that his poor 2018 season wasn’t a sign that he’s on the decline.
Brian Dozier’s reaction says it all pic.twitter.com/83qCqt7QtH— Baseball Bros (@BaseballBros) March 10, 2019
Ah, but the pitching
Nationals fans are pinning their hopes on the rotation, and sure enough, ace Max Scherzer is one of the best pitchers in baseball (if only he was able to outduel Aaron Nola). But after Scherzer, we start getting more question marks than you might expect.
Stephen Strasburg came into the league with great stuff and even greater hype. At times throughout his career, he’s looked like he was ready to finally live up to his advanced billing. But an inability to stay healthy and deliver consistent start-to-start results have kept him from becoming elite.
As for the newcomers, both Corbin and Sanchez had excellent 2018 seasons, but not-so-great showings in 2016 and 2017. The Nats are putting a lot of faith in guys who weren’t especially good as recently as two years ago.
As for the bullpen, they’ve added Kyle Barraclough and Trevor Rosenthal to go along with closer Sean Doolittle. In theory, this gives the Nats a strong back of the bullpen. Then again, in theory, trading for Jonathan Papelbon in 2015 was going to do the same.
No more #natitude?
At least according to Twitter, Natitude is no longer the unofficial slogan for the Nationals. Instead, the team’s official hashtag is #OnePursuit.
As corny as it was, at least Natitude was distinctive. OnePursuit is just generic and meaningless.
Why the Phillies should beat them
They can talk all they want about how they won’t miss Harper, but he was perceived as the biggest threat in the lineup, and the main guy opposing managers had to plan around. Maybe Soto and Robles will eventually reach that status, but it’s hard to expect that now.
If all of their players play up to their potential, the Nats could be back in the playoffs. But last year showed what happens when a couple of guys have off years.
Why the Phillies should be wary
While it might be a bit overhyped, that rotation should be good enough to keep the Nationals in most games and win a decent amount of them.
Second place in the National League East, but will take one of the wild card spots