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.

860717824

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

860300008

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.

861062214

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.

860322742

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: Baltimore Orioles

Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me, happy birthday dear meeeeee, happy birthday to me. It’s my 22nd birthday, that’s what the song was referencing. But that’s neither here nor there since nobody cares about anybody’s birthday after their 21st so let’s get to some baseball. Not only is today the first day that MLB teams will face other MLB teams in Spring Training, but today we’re talking about the Baltimore Orioles, who I think are the most intriguing team of the 2018 season mainly because they could be a team that could compete for the playoffs but they could also find themselves in the division cellar and that leaves a lot of implications for a certain superstar infielder. So let’s get into the Baltimore Orioles for this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days.

856772718

2017 Results:

75-87, last in the AL East, 18 games behind Boston Red Sox, 10 games behind Minnesota Twins for final Wild Card Spot

Notable Offseason Additions: OF Colby Rasmus, OF Alex Presley, RP Josh Edgin, SP Andrew Cashner

Notable Offseason Subtractions: SP Wade Miley, C Welington Castillo, 2B Johnny Giavotella, SS JJ Hardy, IF Pedro Alvarez, 2B Ryan Flaherty, SP Jeremy Hellickson, SP Ubaldo Jimenez

Best Offensive Player: SS Manny Machado

Best Pitcher: CP Zach Britton

Depth Chart

C-Caleb Joseph, Chance Sisco

1B-Chris Davis

2B-Jonathan Schoop

3B-Tim Beckham

SS-Manny Machado, Engelb Vielma

LF-Trey Mancini, Alex Presley

CF-Adam Jones, Colby Rasmus

RF-Joey Rickard, Mark Trumbo (DH)

SP-Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Chris Tillman, Andrew Cashner, Gabriel Ynoa

Bullpen-Zach Britton (CP), Brad Brach, Mychal Givens, Darren O’Day, Miguel Castro, Josh Edgin, Richard Bleier

Coaching Staff:

Manager-Buck Showalter (8th season with Orioles)

Hitting Coach-Scott Coolbaugh

Pitching Coach-Roger McDowell

1st Base Coach-Wayne Kirby

3rd Base Coach-Bobby Dickerson

Bench Coach-John Russell

854510290

The Orioles may have finished in last place in the AL East last season, but they were tied with the Oakland A’s for best record amongst last place teams last season at 75-87. There’s a lot of talent on this team, particularly on offense. They boast one of the best infielders in the game in Manny Machado, an underrated hitter in Jonathan Schoop, two of the deadliest power bats in Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo, and that’s without even mentioning the guy that has been doing it all for the Orioles for the longest time in Adam Jones. However the Orioles did not live up to their offensive ability last season as they finished just 16th in runs scored. Here’s how the team is expected to line up this season.

1. Joey Rickard-RF

2. Adam Jones-CF

3. Manny Machado-SS

4. Chris Davis-1B

5. Jonathan Schoop-2B

6. Trey Mancini-LF

7. Tim Beckham-3B

8. Mark Trumbo-DH

9. Caleb Joseph-C

Now, Trumbo and Davis have been inconsistent over the last couple of years but when they’re on, they’re two of the deadliest bats in the game and can take pretty much any ball out of the yard. Jonathan Schoop is also probably the most underrated second baseman in the game and in 2017 he took his play to new heights, hitting .293 with 32 home runs, 105 RBI, 2 DRS, and being worth 4.1 WAR. Trey Mancini is another guy teams shouldn’t sleep on. In his first full season in the Majors in 2017, Mancini hit .293 with 24 home runs and 78 RBI as he finished in third place for AL Rookie of the Year behind the better-known Aaron Judge and Andrew Benintendi. Last season’s Trade Deadline acquisition Tim Beckham really came into his own after arriving in Baltimore from Tampa Bay. The former #1 overall pick had been considered a bust for quite some time, but upon joining the Orioles, he appeared to start to realize his potential as he hit .306 with 10 home runs and 26 RBI in 50 games. He’s going to be the everyday third baseman in Baltimore. But wait, you ask, isn’t Manny Machado the third baseman there? Not anymore, as he’s finally moving back to his natural position of shortstop, which is a weird thing to call it considering how good of a third baseman Machado is. Machado has been arguably the most exciting third baseman in baseball since his debut in 2012 but he’s made it very well known that he’s a shortstop by trade. It’ll be interesting to see how the transition goes. Machado’s a good shortstop, as he’s been able to showcase his abilities when JJ Hardy spent time on the DL. But he is so good at third base that most teams wouldn’t dare try and move him away from there. He’s never had a DRS below 6 in his career (it was as high as 35 in 2013) and he’s won two gold gloves and a platinum glove at the position. But as good as Machado is in the field, one could argue he’s even better at the plate. He did have a down season in 2017, hitting a career-low .259, but he was able to keep up his power stroke by hitting 33 home runs and driving in 95 RBI, his third straight season of at least 30 home runs and 85 RBI. Machado is easily Baltimore’s best player, however he’s also their biggest question mark, but I’ll get into that a lot more when I delve into the Orioles’ season outlook at the end of the blog.

854375808

Starting pitching has been a major issue for the Orioles for a long time. It’s not from a lack of talent, it’s more a lack of overall production. Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy are two of the most talented pitchers in baseball but they haven’t put together the consistency needed to solidify the pitching staff. Last season, the Orioles finished 27th in the majors in team ERA at 4.97 and it’s not like this has been a one-time problem, it’s seemingly every year that the Orioles rank lowly amongst pitching staffs. For a while, they were trotting out Chris Tillman as their ace, a guy who probably wouldn’t even crack the Red Sox 25-man roster. While you could do a lot worse than Tillman, he is certainly not the guy who should be the best pitcher on your staff. Gausman and Bundy are the two guys the Orioles are going to need to really break out if they’re going to have a chance to reach the postseason in 2018. Gausman has had some success before as he had a pretty solid 2016 season where he pitched to a 3.61 ERA. However that number jumped a whole run in 2017 and he hasn’t been striking out batters the way you’d hope a guy who throws 97 MPH would. He strikes out about 8 batters per 9 innings, which isn’t bad but it’s pretty low for a guy with his repertoire. Bundy had slightly better numbers than Gausman last season, as he pitched to a 4.24 ERA with roughly the same strikeout rate but his talent is similar to that of Gausman’s. If these two guys can reach their potential, the Orioles will have a 2-headed monster that could rival the likes of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling (a bit of a bold statement, but these guys really are extremely talented).

867157624

The bullpen has been a strength for the Orioles over the last few years but they’ve taken a significant blow in regards to their closer, Zach Britton. Britton missed most of last season and will miss the start of this season due to injury after a downright ridiculous 2016 season. How good was Britton in 2016? He allowed 3 earned runs in April. He allowed 1 the rest of the season. That equates to an ERA of 0.54 and quite frankly, if I had a Cy Young vote given the group of guys that the American League was putting out there that season, I think I would’ve voted for Britton to win despite him being a reliever. The Orioles should be in good shape without him, though. It will likely be Brad Brach who takes over the closer role in Baltimore in Britton’s absence and he does have an All Star appearance on his resume. Darren O’Day is another guy who can be really tough to hit. I would know, he’s by far my least favorite pitcher to face when I’m playing MLB the Show. His sinker and slider are deadly and couple that with the fact that he’s a submarine pitcher and you’ll be all out of sorts. Mychal Givens is also a quality arm out of the bullpen for the O’s.

The 2018 season is going to be huge for this front office. The lineup is very talented provided they hit the way they’re capable of but the pitching rotation will cost them many games. This will lead to a very difficult decision if the Orioles are hovering around the brink of a playoff berth because Manny Machado will become a free agent after this season and given his talent and the fact that he’ll be 26 when he hits the market, he’s going to command an INSANE contract that the Orioles simply won’t be able to afford. So if they find themselves sputtering and on the outside-looking-in for the playoff race when the Trade Deadline rolls around, I expect them to blow up the team and it’s going to start by trading Machado for a plethora of prospects. Reportedly the White Sox and Yankees have already contacted the Orioles about Machado and both teams do have the prospects to offer for his services. I’d consider the Yankees a long shot simply because it is widely believed within the Orioles’ organization that they don’t want to trade Machado within the division. However if the Orioles play to their abilities and are in the thick of the playoff race, they may decide to keep Machado with a chance to go on a deep playoff run. But if that’s your plan, you’d have to be World Series-or-bust because there’s very little chance that the O’s will be able to bring him back. So I can already tell you that the most intriguing team when the Trade Deadline rolls around on July 31st will be the O’s.

Projected Finish: 81-81, 3rd in the AL East

That projected record is kind of a place holder because what they do at the Deadline is going to be a huge barometer about how I project this team. If they trade Machado and other players on the roster, that record is going to drop like a ton of bricks. If not and their pitchers pitch to their capability, then we could see that first number in the 90’s. That’s going to do it for this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. Join me tomorrow where I preview the Boston Red Sox, who look to win a third consecutive division title for the first time in franchise history. Let me know what you think of the Orioles’ chances and send me some birthday wishes in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.