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: New York Yankees

Lots of football news to talk about. The Seahawks released Richard Sherman as they continue to blow up the Legion of Boom, the Eagles traded Torrey Smith to the Panthers for Daryl Worley, and the Browns got BUSY, acquiring Jarvis Landry, Tyrod Taylor, and Damarious Randall while also sending Deshone Kizer to Green Bay. And not one of them cost a first or second round draft pick. What kind of world is this where the Browns look like the most competent organization in football? Absolutely stunning haul. Now the Browns have Tyrod Taylor throwing to Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry with potentially Saquon Barkley in the backfield. The Browns may actually win a game this season. But enough football, let’s get to 30 Clubs in 30 Days with the New York Yankees.

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2017 Results:

Record: 91-71, 2 games behind Boston Red Sox, hosted AL Wild Card Game, defeated Minnesota Twins, defeated Cleveland Indians in ALDS, lost to Houston Astros in ALCS

Notable Offseason Additions: RF Giancarlo Stanton, 3B Brandon Drury, 1B Adam Lind, OF Shane Robinson

Notable Offseason Subtractions: 3B Todd Frazier, 3B Chase Headley, SP Jaime Garcia, SP Michael Pineda, 2B Starlin Castro, DH Matt Holliday

Best Offensive Player: RF Aaron Judge

Best Pitcher: Luis Severino

Depth Chart:

C-Gary Sanchez, Austin Romine

1B-Greg Bird

2B-Ronald Torreyes, Gleyber Torres, Tyler Wade

3B-Brandon Drury

SS-Didi Gregorius

LF-Brett Gardner, Clint Frazier

CF-Aaron Hicks, Jacoby Ellsbury

RF-Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton (DH)

SP-Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Sonny Gray, CC Sabathia, Jordan Montgomery

Bullpen-Aroldis Chapman (CP), Dellin Betances, Tommy Kahnle, Daniel Robertson, Adam Warren, Chad Green, Chasen Shreve

Coaching Staff:

Manager-Aaron Boone (1st season with Yankees)

Hitting Coach-Marcus Thames

Pitching Coach-Larry Rothschild

1st Base Coach-Reggie Willits

3rd Base Coach-Phil Nevin

Bench Coach-Josh Bard

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I can’t remember ever seeing a coaching staff where¬† every member (except Larry Rothschild, whom I feel like has been Yankees pitching coach forever) played in the Major Leagues during my childhood. But that’s beside the point because holy shit do the Yankees look dangerous this season. It’s not a guarantee that they’ll be successful, we still have to actually play the games, but just look at this lineup.

1. Brett Gardner-LF

2. Aaron Judge-RF

3. Giancarlo Stanton-DH

4. Gary Sanchez-C

5. Greg Bird-1B

6. Didi Gregorius-SS

7. Brandon Drury-3B

8. Ronald Torreyes/Gleyber Torres-2B

9. Aaron Hicks/Jacoby Ellsbury-CF

The Major League record for team home runs is 264 by the 1997 Seattle Mariners. Last season Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton combined for 112 between the two of them. If the Yankees don’t set the new single season team home run record, it’ll be considered a down year. After acquiring Stanton from the Marlins in the offseason for a bag of peanuts, the Yankees now boast both home run champs from the AL and NL from last season. Aaron Judge set a rookie record with 52 home runs last season en route to winning AL Rookie of the Year and runner-up for AL MVP while Stanton belted 59 bombs and won NL MVP. Now he moves to an even more hitter friendly ballpark in Yankee Stadium where the fences are about 30 feet closer than at Marlins Park. Give me a break. Even if you decided to intentionally walk both Judge and Stanton for some reason, you’ve got Gary Sanchez waiting in the wings, who led all Major League catchers with 33 home runs in 2017. Didi Gregorius has also become a power threat at shortstop, as he hit a career high 25 home runs last season. There isn’t an easy out in this lineup and opposing pitchers are going to have nightmares trying to prepare for them.

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Don’t sleep on the Yankees pitchers. Luis Severino was a breakout star in the Bronx last season, going 14-6 with a 2.98 ERA and striking out over 10 batters per 9 innings while being worth 5.7 WAR. Masahiro Tanaka had a down year in 2017, as his ERA of 4.74 was far and away the worst of his career. However Tanaka’s previous worst ERA in his 4 seasons in the Majors was 3.51, which is a quality number. Despite posting the worst ERA of his career in 2017, Tanaka actually posted his career-best strikeout rate of 9.79. He did get tagged by the long ball quite a bit, as his 1.77 HR/9 was third worst in the Majors and worst amongst pitchers who spent the entire season in the American League (Jeremy Hellickson’s 1.92 was worst but he went from the NL Phillies to the AL Orioles). Tanaka had previously been very good at keeping the ball in the yard, as he had a sub-1 HR/9 in 2 of his previous 3 seasons. Then there’s 2017 trade deadline acquisition Sonny Gray, who was inconsistent upon joining the Yankees but overall had a very solid season, which was very encouraging given his poor 2016 in Oakland. Gray went 4-7 with a 3.72 ERA in pinstripes while striking out nearly 9 batters per 9 innings. And let’s not forget CC Sabathia, who had his best season since 2012 by going 14-5 with a 3.69 ERA while also pitching some inspired ball in the postseason. This unit is going to get overshadowed by the powerful lineup, but they are more than capable of shutting teams down for 9 innings.

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The bullpen for the Yankees last season was fantastic overall but there were some inconsistencies, particularly with their two best relievers, closer Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances. Chapman had a 3.22 ERA and only 22 saves last season but still struck out over 12 batters per 9, but that’s to be expected when you’re the author of the fastest pitch ever thrown in the history of the game at 105.4 mph. However Chapman was disastrous in May and August, as he had an ERA over 10 in May and 9 in August. Betances had his inconsistencies as well. While his overall numbers were pretty good (he had an ERA of 2.87 and struck out over 15 batters per 9), he struggled mightily with his control, walking over 6 batters per 9 innings. Betances has some of the most electric stuff in the game, as his fastball consistently hits 98 mph while his slider is like something out of the Matrix. He just needs to maintain better control. After those guys, though, there’s a lot of underrated talent in the Yankees bullpen. David Robertson returned to the Yankees after 2 and a half years with the White Sox and was fantastic in 2017, posting a 1.84 ERA and struck out nearly 13 batters per 9 innings. Tommy Kahnle was also tremendous with a 2.59 ERA and struck out nearly 14 batters per 9 as he too was an addition from the White Sox. This is an extremely talented bullpen but command is an issue. If they can limit the walks, this team will be even more dangerous.

Overall, the Yankees have one of the deadliest rosters on paper in all of baseball. The one knock against them that I could find is that they’re probably going to strike out a lot, as Judge and Stanton in particular whiff more than pretty much anybody in the league. But when this team does make contact, crooked numbers will follow. This Yankees team is a very legitimate threat to win their first World Series since 2009 and they’re going to be in a fight to the death with the Red Sox for the AL East title. Hopefully the acquisitions of Stanton to the Yankees and JD Martinez to the Red Sox are exactly what this rivalry needs to rejuvenate itself. It hasn’t felt the same since the 2004 ALCS because I mean, come on, how can you top that?

Projected Record: 98-64, win AL East

That’s going to do it for this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. Join me tomorrow when I discuss the Oakland Athletics, who always seem to teeter between “darkhorse” and “dumpster fire.” Let me know what you think of the Yankees’ chances in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10. Also, I will once again be on the call for college baseball on the Big Ten Network, so check out Indiana vs Pacific at 2.