30 Clubs in 30 Days: Washington Nationals

More terror out of Boston sports as Chris Sale was drilled in the leg by a line drive in the first inning of his final spring training start. It’s apparently resulted in just a bruise and Sale claims that it looked a lot worse than it actually was so I’m breathing a sigh of relief, unlike with the Kyrie Irving news, whom I’ve just learned is expected to return in 3-6 weeks. Also, the Giants continue to get shit news as both Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija were injured, Bumgarner fracturing the pinky on his throwing hand and Samardzija suffered a pec injury. Both will open the season on the DL. But now we finally conclude this month-long series of 30 Clubs in 30 Days with the Washington Nationals.

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2017 Results:

Record: 97-65, won NL East, lost to Chicago Cubs in NLDS

Notable Offseason Additions: RP Joaquin Benoit, SP Jeremy Hellickson, SP Tommy Milone, 1B Matt Adams, C Miguel Montero

Notable Offseason Subtractions: LF Jayson Werth, C Jose Lobaton, SS Stephen Drew, RP Matt Albers, RP Oliver Perez, 1B Adam Lind, RP Joe Blanton, OF Alejandro de Aza

Best Offensive Player: RF Bryce Harper

Best Pitcher: Max Scherzer

Depth Chart:

C-Matt Wieters, Pedro Severino

1B-Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Adams

2B-Daniel Murphy, Howie Kendrick

3B-Anthony Rendon

SS-Trea Turner, Wilmer Difo

LF-Adam Eaton

CF-Michael A. Taylor, Brian Goodwin

RF-Bryce Harper

SP-Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark, AJ Cole, Jeremy Hellickson

Bullpen-Sean Doolittle (CP), Brandon Kintzler, Joaquin Benoit, Ryan Madson, Koda Glover, Shawn Kelley, Enny Romero, Sammy Solis

Coaching Staff:

Manager-Dave Martinez (1st season with Nationals)

Hitting Coach-Kevin Long

Pitching Coach-Derek Lilliquist

1st Base Coach-Tim Bogar

3rd Base Coach-Bob Henley

Bench Coach-Chip Hale

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The Washington Nationals were dominant in 2017, winning 97 games and finishing with the 2nd best record in the National League behind the Dodgers, however they continued to struggle in the postseason as they got bounced by the Cubs in 5 games in the NLDS. Since becoming the Nationals in 2005, this franchise has yet to win a playoff series. Their time is running out, though, as Bryce Harper is an impending free agent that they have very little chance of re-signing since they have a lot of money committed to other key players and people speculate that Harper may land the first ever $400M contract. Here’s how the Nationals are expected to line up in 2018.

1. Trea Turner-SS

2. Adam Eaton-LF

3. Bryce Harper-RF

4. Daniel Murphy-2B

5. Anthony Rendon-3B

6. Ryan Zimmerman-1B

7. Matt Wieters-C

8. Michael A. Taylor-CF

9. Pitcher’s Spot

That’s arguably one of the most imposing lineups in baseball especially when you take into account the improvements a lot of these guys made. Bryce Harper is the obvious star here as the 2015 NL MVP likely would have won his second such award before his 25th birthday had he not stepped on a wet base the wrong way and missed the last month of the regular season. Harper finished 2017 hitting .319 with 29 home runs and 87 RBI and being worth 4.8 WAR in just 111 games, which was a huge step up from his disappointing 2016 season where a series of always getting walked put him in a funk at the plate. Anthony Rendon was probably the most underappreciated star in baseball, as he quietly topped the NL in WAR at 6.9 by slashing .301/.403/.533 and hitting 25 home runs, driving in 100 RBI and playing excellent defense at third base. Rendon also had the best single-game performance of the season when he went 6-for-6 with 3 home runs and 10 RBI in an April matchup against the Mets (which was also notable for being the game where Noah Syndergaard injured his lat and basically missed the remainder of the season). Trea Turner is also a dangerous player at shortstop as he hit .284 with 11 home runs and stole 46 bases. Daniel Murphy is another guy who will be tough to retire, though he’s going to miss Opening Day due to offseason knee surgery. Last season, Murphy hit .322 with 23 home runs and 93 RBI. The two best seasons of the 32 year-old’s career have come as a member of the Nationals, as he was particularly dominant in 2016 when he hit .347 with 25 home runs and 104 RBI. Top to bottom, this is a very dangerous lineup.

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The pitching rotation is just as dangerous as the batting lineup. The Nationals are spearheaded by ace and 3-time Cy Young Award winner (including each of the last 2 seasons) Max Scherzer. Last season, Scherzer dominated, going 16-6 with a 2.51 ERA and striking out over a dozen batters per 9 innings, which was the best number amongst righties in all of baseball. It doesn’t get much easier behind Scherzer as Stephen Strasburg was also a monster in 2017, particularly in the second half. Overall, Strasburg went 15-4 with a 2.52 ERA and struck out over 10 batters per 9 while having the best HR/9 in all of baseball at 0.67. After the All Star break, though, Strasburg was pitching out of his goddamn mind, as he had an ERA of 0.86 in 62.2 innings. With both guys pitching the way they did, you can pretty much pencil in the Nationals for 2 automatic wins in their 5-man rotation. Gio Gonzalez was strong on the surface last season as he had a 2.96 ERA, however his FIP was almost an entire run higher at 3.93, suggesting that his defense gave him a lot of help and that he may be due for some regression in 2018.

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The bullpen for the Nationals has always been what’s held them back in year’s past, though this season it looks more solid than usual. Sean Doolittle was strong after joining the Nationals from the Athletics in a midseason trade, pitching 30 games in DC and carrying a 2.40 ERA and recording 21 saves. Brandon Kintzler was also solid out of the bullpen for them, posting a 3.46 ERA for the Nationals after being acquired by the Twins. After them, though, there are a lot of question marks. Koda Glover has shown flashes of dominance at times but there have also been moments where he gets hit harder than a Colts quarterback. Ryan Madson has had stretches of dominance, like last season, but he’s 37 years old and at one point missed 3 consecutive Major League seasons due to injury. Considering all the talent the rest of the roster has, though, if the Nats can maintain just a top-15 bullpen, they’ll consider it a success based on the struggles they’ve had in the past.

Overall, I expect the Nationals to run away with the NL East. It’s a weak division and the Nationals are far and away the most loaded team. The issue for them is going to be whether or not they can advance in the postseason. They pretty much have to be all-or-nothing this season, as they won’t be able to retain Bryce Harper in free agency so I expect them to be heavy buyers at the Trade Deadline in an attempt to gear up for that elusive title run. After all, when you take into account their Montreal Expos days, the Nationals and Seattle Mariners are the only two franchises that have yet to even reach a World Series. Perhaps this is the year? After all, Sports Illustrated picked them to win it all for the third time in six years.

Projected Record: 95-67, win NL East

That’s going to do it for this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. Join me tom…wait, that’s it. That’s all 30 clubs. I actually succeeded in finishing this series. To be quite frank, this series didn’t do as well as I had hoped, as I think people got a bit tired of me posting about a new team every day. I had a ton of fun doing this, though, which is why I kept at it and didn’t ditch it like I have with my NFL Draft scouting reports. For the future, though, I’ll probably bring it down to just a division-by-division preview and make it a week-long thing rather than month-long. So thank you for keeping with me for all this time and let me know what you think of the Nationals’ chances in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

30 Clubs in 30 Days: Pittsburgh Pirates

Since I know you’re all clamoring for it, here’s my bracket. Congratulations to Villanova on their second national championship in 3 years, third overall. I did make it safely into Fort Lauderdale, encountered a lot of problems, but everything is good. The wifi in my hotel is AWFUL, so there may be a chance that I have to miss a day on the blog. Fingers crossed I don’t have to. But anyway, let’s get to today’s edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days, featuring the Pittsburgh Pirates.

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2017 Results:

Record: 75-87, 17 games behind Chicago Cubs, 12 games behind Colorado Rockies for 2nd Wild Card Spot

Notable Offseason Additions: LF Corey Dickerson, OF Daniel Nava, SP Joe Musgrove, 3B Colin Moran, LF Michael Saunders, RP Kyle Crick

Notable Offseason Subtractions: OF Andrew McCutchen, SP Gerrit Cole, 1B John Jaso, RP Daniel Hudson, RP Joaquin Benoit, RP Dan Runzler, C Chris Stewart

Best Offensive Player: CF Starling Marte

Best Pitcher: Ivan Nova

Depth Chart:

C-Francisco Cervelli, Elias Diaz

1B-Josh Bell

2B-Josh Harrison, Sean Rodriguez

3B-David Freese, Colin Moran

SS-Jordy Mercer

LF-Corey Dickerson, Adam Frazier

CF-Starling Marte

RF-Gregory Polanco, Bryce Brentz

SP-Ivan Nova, Jameson Taillon, Joe Musgrove, Chad Kuhl, Trevor Williams, Tyler Glasnow

Bullpen-Felipe Rivero (CP), George Kontos, Kyle Crick, Michael Feliz, AJ Schugel, Dovydas Neverauskas, Edgar Santana

Coaching Staff:

Manager-Clint Hurdle (8th season with Pirates)

Hitting Coach-Jeff Branson

Pitching Coach-Ray Searage

1st Base Coach-Kimera Bartee

3rd Base Coach-Joey Cora

Bench Coach-Tom Prince

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The Pirates are all in on their rebuild. They traded their two most prolific players in Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole to try and build for the future. They didn’t take the next step after their breakthrough starting in 2013 and now they’re trending back towards mediocrity. It’s a smart move to get out in front of these rebuilds, especially if they didn’t have any real chance at competing in the first place. Here’s a look at the potential lineup for the Pirates.

1. Corey Dickerson-LF

2. Josh Harrison-2B

3. Starling Marte-CF

4. Josh Bell-1B

5. Gregory Polanco-RF

6. Francisco Cervelli-C

7. David Freese/Colin Moran-3B

8. Jordy Mercer-SS

9. Pitcher’s Spot

There’s a lot of underperforming talent in this lineup. It starts with Starling Marte, who is a freak athlete but got busted for PED’s last season and missed 80 games. In his limited time last season, he hit .275 with 7 home runs and 31 RBI with 21 stolen bags and a 1.2 WAR. He’s one of the fastest players in the game and a talented hitter but he’s one of those guys that I think could be so much better but for whatever reason just hasn’t taken that next step. Josh Harrison is a guy I enjoy watching play. There’s just something about him that gets me excited to watch him go. Last season he hit .272 with 16 home runs and 66 RBI while being able to play pretty much every position imaginable. Josh Bell was a breakout stud for them last season, hitting .255 with 26 home runs and 90 RBI, providing a big power bat in the middle of their lineup. But after those guys there isn’t a whole lot. Gregory Polanco was a guy I heard several people compare to Barry Bonds when he debuted and he has been far from being that dangerous threat. He had a pretty solid 2016 but his 2017 left a lot to be desired. He hit .251 with 11 home runs and 35 RBI while playing a pretty good right field but also being one of the worst baserunners in baseball. There is some talent in their minor league system such as Austin Meadows, who could be seeing some playing time before this season gets out. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Pirates selling some of their talented assets at the Trade Deadline for a team trying to make a late push for the postseason.

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After trading Gerrit Cole, there isn’t much to go off of in this Pirates rotation in 2018. Slated to start opening day for the Bucs is Ivan Nova, who has been just okay since joining Pittsburgh after a disappointing tenure with the Yankees. Last year he went 11-14 with a 4.14 ERA while posting a measly 6 K/9. He isn’t a bad pitcher but being a team’s ace is nowhere near where his talent merits. Jameson Taillon is a talented guy and he showed a lot of ability last season before being diagnosed with testicular cancer. He was able to return after successful surgery and was able to make 25 starts, going 8-7 with a 4.44 ERA but a 3.48 FIP, suggesting the Pirates’ defense wasn’t a big help for him. Taillon is a guy who could be the team ace by next season and I think he’s someone they can build this rotation around. Tyler Glasnow is another talented pitcher in the rotation but he’s been a nightmare at the Major League level. He carries a career 6.75 ERA in 22 appearances and 17 starts. I don’t expect this rotation to really do a whole lot, they did finish 13th in the Majors in team ERA last season but they lost their best pitcher in Gerrit Cole and didn’t acquire anybody that will ease that loss.

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There isn’t much talent in the Pirates bullpen with the exception of their closer Felipe Rivero. Rivero really burst onto the scene in 2017. He posted a 1.67 ERA while striking out over 10 batters per 9 innings and recorded 21 saves. His fastball can touch 100 miles per hour and he’s got the breaking ball to throw off hitters’ timing like you wouldn’t believe. After him, though, there’s a pretty steep drop. George Kontos is a decent reliever with a pretty solid cutter but the rest of that ‘pen is filled with guys I’ve never heard of. Though looking at their numbers, AJ Schugel is a guy I should start paying attention to, as he posted an ERA of 1.97 in 32 appearances. But otherwise there isn’t a whole lot to really be paying attention to at the moment.

Overall, I don’t expect much out of the Pirates. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if this whole team gets blown up at the trade deadline. After a few good players there’s a pretty steep drop in productivity that will really limit this team’s ceiling. Clint Hurdle, who is an excellent manager, will likely be on the way out as they get into a full rebuild process once they start to drop in the standings.

Projected Record: 76-86, 4th in NL Central

That’s going to do it for this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. Join me tomorrow when I discuss the San Diego Padres, whom I got to briefly work for at the Home Run Derby in 2016 and really got me invested in their culture (pretty much just worshiping Tony Gwynn). Let me know what you think of the Pirates’ chances in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.