Washington was projected to win 96 or 97 games last season by oddsmakers, the most in baseball, coming off 98-win campaign and having added Max Scherzer to have best rotation in the majors.
But trophies are not handed out on potential, you have to earn it on the field and the Nationals were the most disappointing team in baseball at 83-79 and cost backers dearly, ranked 25th at -18.9 units and failed to make postseason.
Matt Williams was jettisoned at the end the season, replaced by 66-year old Dusty Baker, who is equally old school, but is known for having a greater grasp of knowing his players and walking the fine line of praising and getting on players.
Though Bryce Harper is only 23, Washington has floundered a couple other chances to reach World Series and unless it happens in the next year or two, the Nationals might have to start over with Harper as centerpiece. Here what to think about for MLB picks concerning the Nats.
Harper's fantastic season helped catapult Washington to third spot in runs scored in the National League at 4.3 runs per game, behind Colorado and Arizona, who play in hitter-friendly parks. However, Denard Span and Ian Desmond left as free agents and Jayson Werth has an ever-slowing bat at 36 and Ryan Zimmerman is a old 31 at first base.
Daniel Murphy will help at second base, but his postseason outburst is not supported by career numbers. The success or failure of offense lies with 3B Anthony Rendon, outfielders Ben Revere and Michael Taylor. If Rendon can stay healthy, Revere is recharged playing with contender and Taylor can tighten up swing and lose bad habits, Baker will have an offense more like 2012 which scored 4.5 RPG and won 98 games.
Nationals Starting Pitching and Bullpen
Last year's supposed outstanding starting staff never happened. Stephan Strasburg and Doug Fister both missed multiple starts and were not especially effective when they did pitch. Fister did not handle pressure well and signed with Houston as free agent and Nationals could not sign Jordan Zimmerman to long contract, having to paid Scherzer, Werth and Zimmerman already.
If you take the glass is half full approach, Scherzer is flat out stud, Strasburg needs to drink from same water bottle as the Nats ace and development mental toughness to match his talent. Gio Gonzalez is fine as long as he does not start walking everyone and 22-year old Joe Ross is poised to ease Zimmermann's departure with low-90's sinker that he can pound the strikeout zone with.
Stunned really Jonathan Papelbon is still here, being a complete tool, with diminishing skills, but to the front office, he was a better option than up and down Drew Storen as closer. Definitely liked the signings of Oliver Perez and Yusmeiro Petit to shore up bullpen and add versatility.
If Strasburg pitches to ability, Washington can win the NL East.
After being among the worst fielding teams in the senior circuit the past couple seasons, the Nationals improved to tied for sixth in fewest errors. Upon close inspection, the defense was just as bad as recently, because they ranked last in total chances at 5,927, meaning they did not get to nearly as many balls. Some might argue because Washington was fourth in strikeouts, their fielders had fewer chances, nevertheless, the Cubs were first in punch-outs and finished fourth in total chances with 235 more.
The MLB odds from 5Dimes have Washington fourth in the National League and sixth to win the World Series. The talent is in place, playing in a very weak division other than the New York Mets is a big plus. Every opposing scout has high praise for the talent on hand, but their ability and stats have never translated to World Series, outdone by teams who were mentally stronger with a greater will to succeed.
The Nationals best bet is probably being division champions, but would hold off on saying they replaced the Mets as NL champions and wait until late May for futures bet since barring injuries, their futures odds are not likely to change much, providing time to make more accurate assessment.