Spring has sprung… or, at least, baseball’s back — and, as such, it’s time to get down to brass tax.
For months now, folks have been arguing about where the Phillies might stand in comparison to the rest of the National League East, so, I thought it might be fun to delve deep into the Phillies’ primary competitors to discover just that.
Key pieces added (retained):
RHP Stephen Strasburg
INF Asdrubal Cabrera
INF Howie Kendrick
RHP Daniel Hudson
RHP Will Harris
INF Starlin Castro
1B Eric Thames
C Yan Gomes
1B Ryan Zimmerman
Key pieces lost:
3B Anthony Rendon
2B Brian Dozier
First Impressions: You win some, you lose some.
So… the Nationals won the World Series. That happened.
Honestly, it was well deserved. They fought hard, and managed to beat the trashcan-banging Houston Astros FOUR TIMES AT HOME. That is no small feat. Hats off to them.
One thing that I really commend the Nationals for throughout this offseason was their ability to retain a slew of their World Championship team (as listed above.) I’m sure the chemistry between these guys has reached an all-time peak, and it’s important to keep your clubhouse happy — especially post winning a title.
That said, I think they let the wrong guy walk in Anthony Rendon.
Rendon was the heart and soul of the 2019 Nationals regular season run. He and phenom Juan Soto single-handedly powered the Nationals offense to a ring (with a little help from Howie Kendrick.) But, now that Rendon has shipped off to Los Angeles, Soto has little-to-no protection in this Washington lineup — and that’s a big problem.
I can not overstate how much of a mistake I think the Nationals made in letting Anthony Rendon go. They obviously underestimated his contribution to their success in 2019, and they will surely feel the effects of his missing presence in 2020.
In order to plug the dam-sized hole left by their superstar third baseman, the Nationals went out and acquired a bunch of little fixes… and I’m not sure that was the right way to go about things.
After missing out on the best non-Rendon option on the Free Agent market in Josh Donaldson, the Nationals quickly pivoted, and managed to sign five — count ‘em, FIVE infielders to cheap, short-term deals.
First, they made sure to lock up World Series hero, Howie Kendrick, who, even in his older age, had a ridiculous 2019 offensively, and became a priority for the Nationals early on in the offseason. The managed to ink the 36 year-old to a 1-year deal, with a mutual option for 2021.
Next, the Nationals re-signed infielder Asdrubal Cabrera, and then added infielder Starlin Castro to a packed house, once again reassuring infield depth.
Washington also made a point to bring back the home-grown product in Ryan Zimmerman, and even managed to snag the ever-exciting Eric Thames on a 1-year deal, too.
Then, the Nats shored up their bullpen with the likes of Daniel Hudson and Will Harris — two solid gets, especially given how weak the relief pitching market was in 2019.
Overall, the Nationals were busy bees this offseason — but they settled for quantity over quality, and that spells bad news for a club that is attempting to defend a championship.
SS, Trea Turner, 122 G, .298/.353/.497, 19 HR, .850 OPS, 113 OPS+ (35 SB)
RF, Adam Eaton, 151 G, .279/.365/.428, 15 HR, .792 OPS, 101 OPS+
LF, Juan Soto, 150 G, .282/.401/.548, 34 HR, .949 OPS, 138 OPS+
2B, Howie Kendrick, 121 G, .344/.395/.572, 17 HR, .966 OPS, 142 OPS+
1B, Eric Thames, 149 G, .247/.346/.505, 25 HR, .851 OPS, 117 OPS+
CF, Victor Robles, 155 G, .255/.326/.419, 17 HR, .745 OPS, 88 OPS+
3B, Asdrubal Cabrera, 131 G, .260/.342/.441, 18 HR, .783 OPS, 97 OPS+
C, Yan Gomes, 97 G, .223/.316/.389, 12 HR, .704 OPS, 78 OPS+
Right off the bat, I can say with confidence — this lineup is nowhere near as fearsome as the 2019 Nationals. The loss of Anthony Rendon makes for a huge drop in momentum after the 3-spot.
That said, the top of their lineup is still really good. If Trea Turner can stay healthy, he could easily steal 50+ bags in a season. Plus, he’s followed up by Adam Eaton, who’s been as good a contact guy as any over his lengthy career.
Then, of course, there’s Juan Soto, who is hands down the most talented baseball player in all of the National League East. No ifs, no ands, no buts.
After that, however, there’s not a lot of luster here. Howie Kendrick’s 2019 was a major outlier, and, while he’s going to keep on chugging for years to come, I highly doubt he’ll constantly produce at the elite level that he did last year.
Eric Thames, on the other hand, was a really under-the-radar pickup for the Nationals, and has some devastating power. Plus, he’s a fun guy to watch, and is easy to root for. He’ll be a fan favorite in Washington for sure. It’s worth noting, however, that he’ll lose some starts to Ryan Zimmerman every now and again.
Victor Robles is due to trend upwards after a somewhat disappointing 2019. While he’s certainly a defense-first talent, there’s a lot more offensive upside there than what was presented last year, and, should all go well, he’ll likely move more towards the top of this lineup as the year unfolds.
After Robles, you’re looking at some variables. Starlin Castro will probably take some starts at third base over Asdrubal Cabrera, and Carter Kieboom, the Nationals top prospect, is also looking to make the Major League Roster in 2020. Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki will likely platoon at catcher in 2020 as well.
I’m not going to sugar coat it… on paper, this lineup looks pretty mediocre. That said, the Nationals aren’t a team that is known for its blistering offense. Instead, their secret weapon lies within their starting pitching...
RHP, Max Scherzer, 172.1 IP, 2.92 ERA, 2.45 FIP, 1.03 WHIP, 157 ERA+, 12.7 K/9, 1.7 BB/9
RHP, Stephen Strasburg, 209.0 IP, 3.32 ERA, 3.25 FIP, 1.04 WHIP, 138 ERA+, 10.8 K/9, 2.4 BB/9
LHP Patrick Corbin, 202.0 IP, 3.25 ERA, 3.49 FIP, 1.18 WHIP, 141 ERA+, 10.6 K/9, 3.1 BB/9
RHP, Anibal Sanchez, 166.0 IP, 3.85 ERA, 4.44 FIP, 1.27 WHIP, 119 ERA+, 7.3 K/9, 3.1 BB/9
RHP, Austin Voth, 43.2 IP, 3.30 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 1.05 WHIP, 140 ERA+, 9.1 K/9, 2.7 BB/9
This is, hands down, the best rotation in all of baseball. There’s nothing more to be said.
Max Scherzer has defied reality for the last 7 years. He is one of the most fearsome competitors that the game has ever seen, and he’s hardly shown signs of fatigue.
Stephen Strasburg received what was publicly perceived as a pretty hefty overpay this offseason, after he signed a 7-year, $245 Million deal with the Nats. With his injury history and age, it’s hard to believe he was able to garner such a massive sum. However, his staying with the Nationals keeps this ridiculous rotation alive and well — just as Washington intended.
The Patrick Corbin contract, in retrospect, is looking like a steal. He was brilliant for the Nationals last year, and proved that his 2018 was anything but a fluke. Anibal Sanchez has been a nice surprise, too.
The Nationals only rotation issue lies within their depth. Outside of these five men, the Nationals have Joe Ross and Erick Fedde as rotational supplements… and no Nationals fan wants to see either of those guys take the mound ever again. If any one of Scherzer, Strasburg, or Corbin goes down, the Nationals will be left in a pretty sticky situation.
That said, even if they were to lose a front-end starter, the Nationals would still have a better rotation than 90% of the National League — so I wouldn’t get too preoccupied with that thought.
The bullpen was easily the Nationals’ weakest front heading in to 2019, and I’d wager it’s still their least-impressive aspect in 2020.
Sure, they nabbed Will Harris, and will be getting a full year of Daniel Hudson, but relievers are always volatile (as Phillie fans know by now) — and when your only notable bullpen arm outside of the aforementioned pitchers is Sean Doolittle… you might be in a spot of trouble.
I don’t think the Nats’ bullpen will be a disaster per se, but they certainly could have done more to bolster it. Guys like Hunter Strickland and Wander Suero are really going to have to step up this year if the Nationals want to keep the close games close in later innings.
So, how do the Phillies stack up?
Personally, I think this one is pretty straight forward.
The Phillies easily have the edge on the Nationals in terms of offense. With no protection surrounding Juan Soto, and regressions due to come for guys like Howie Kendrick, I think it’s safe to say that this Nationals lineup will likely rank somewhere near the bottom in terms of the overall scope of the NL East.
As for the rotation… it’s not even a question. The Nationals have it.
I’d give the Nationals a slight edge in terms of bullpen, but, honestly, it’s really hard to predict how the Phillies’ ‘pen is going to wind up in the first place. I don’t think it will be all that terrible — but it certainly won’t be great. At least Nationals fans have a relatively straightforward idea of what to expect from their lacking ‘pen.
Overall, I think the Nationals are headed for a pretty hefty come down year. They just haven’t done enough to boost their offense, let alone their bullpen — and they’ve funneled far too much cash into their rotation, which they can hardly support on the field.
I could be missing the mark here, but I’m not too impressed with what I’m seeing (on paper) with the Nationals. That said, baseball is, as I always say, a volatile game. We’ll never truly know who’s good and who’s not until the season comes to a close in September.