When defending your World Series championship, you should probably put up some form of a fight. Not to say that the Washington Nationals were dead on arrival when the 2020 season restarted, but they weren’t the same team we had seen months prior.
That’s a problem for Washington, but it’s not necessarily anything new.
The Washington Nationals
2020: Record: 26 – 34
2020 Finish: 5th in the NL East, 13th in the National League
Surprises in 2020
This may be cheating, but there are two Nationals players who had insane seasons, but weren’t necessarily surprising. Trea Turner and Juan Soto went off in 2020. Like… sensational seasons for both players, and I think it’s important to talk about it.
Here’s a hot take that’s not actually a hot take: if Juan Soto didn’t contract Covid-19 and get held out of games by D.C. restrictions he’d be the NL MVP. Seriously. Juan Soto was that good in 2020.
Every other NL MVP candidate finished the season with 215-225 at-bats, while Soto finished with only 154 in 2020. Even with a 60+ at-bat advantage, Soto managed to match the numbers of his fellow finalists, and put up some insane ones of his own. Soto’s slashline in 2020 led the league in all but one metric, this batting average, which he led the NL in. Soto’s .351/.490/.695, with an OPS of 1.185, and OPS+ of 212, is astounding. But then again, Juan Soto is next Ted Williams.
Trea Truner, unlike Soto, played the full season without issue and without any kind of reservation. Turner’s 78 hits led the all MLB players in 2020, but his singles aren’t the biggest surprise of his season.
We know that Trea Turner is a weapon on the basepaths. Turner’s speed is a threat at all times, and he’s a master thief when it comes to stealing bases. However, in 2020 we saw Turner mature into much more of a power hitter than in previous years.
While seeing a significant jump in a player’s average in a shortened season is relatively common, seeing a bump in slugging percentage like that in Turner’s season, is amazing.
Trea Turner was able to keep pace with Soto for home runs and doubles, but pulled ahead in triples and overall hits. It’s unlikely that Turner will turn into a similar kind of power hitter, but this uptick in slugging shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Disappointments in 2020
In the offseason prior to the 2020 season, Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals agreed up on a 7-years, $245 million dollar extension, worth $35 million a year.
Strasburg failed to pitch more than five innings, but did give up 6 earned runs on 8 hits in his two appearances in 2020. That’s disappointing. Injuries happen, but they seem to happen to Strasburg more than anyone else. Big disappointment.
However, the biggest disappointment has to be with Patrick Corbin‘s performance in 2020. The 2019 free-agent acquisition had his worst season since 2016 when he was a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The advanced metrics are not great, but the superficial ones tell the story.
Patrick Corbin finished 2020 with a 2-7 record, a 4.66 ERA, a 1.556 WHIP, an 11.6 H/9, and an 8.2 K/9, which dropped from 10.6 in 2019. Despite all of those rough numbers, it’s possible that the 86 hits he allowed, the most of any pitcher in 2020, is the toughest stat to swallow. Patrick Corbin didn’t have it last season. That’s not great.
Looking Ahead to 2021
The Nationals went through it in 2020, and while they have much of their World Series team still intact, 2021 might only get a little better. That’s not necessarily a bad thing by any means.
The Nationals are a young team and are trending younger every year. While their contract responsibilities to Strasburg, Corbin, and Scherzer stretch on for a while, those deals could lend them to dealing for bats on the trade market.
Eight of the Nationals top ten prospects are pitchers. The Nationals need bullpen help more than anything, so these young arms will more than likely get their MLB debuts in spot starts or out of the pen. That’s good for everyone. It’s sure to be a bit touch and go, but it’s the right way to work their prospects in. It’s also the only way these young arms will get looks after the Nats signed Jon Lester.
And if the right deal comes along, the Nationals have some room to work with, should they go down that road. But for now, this Nationals team boasts two of the league’s best hitters, and three of the league’s best pitchers, when healthy that is.
And that’s not too shabby.
Projected 2021 Finish: 85-77, 3rd in the NL East
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