Nationals start season with target on back

Nationals start season with target on back

The Washington Nationals signed 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer in the offseason. Tribune News Service

The 2015 MLB season is just around the corner, spring training is wrapping up and most teams' rosters have begun to take shape. With Opening Day less than two weeks away, the Washington Nationals are the team to beat in the National League this year.

Sure, the San Diego Padres made some nice off-season moves by acquiring Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers and James Shields but who knows if that will lead to a successful team this year. When bad teams like the 2011 Mariners and 2012 Marlins made multiple big time moves in the off-season hoping for a quick turnaround, they still found themselves at the bottom of the standings and soon taking part in a roster fire sale.

The Nationals are in a much different position than those teams. This is a team that is returning much of the same roster that made it to the National League Division Series last year and had the best record in the National League. Last year, many thought it had the best pitching rotation in the MLB, and it did. With Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, Stephen Strasburg and Tanner Roark making the majority of the team’s starts, the team registered a 3.04 ERA, which was the lowest in the MLB.

Not only do they return all five starters but they also signed 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, who has been one of the league’s best pitchers since 2011. Scherzer’s signing actually gives the Nationals too many starting pitchers, if that is possible. Barring a trade or injury, Tanner Roark, who went 15-10 with a 2.85 ERA last year, will start the year in the bullpen.

Offensively, the team still has most of the same lineup that they fielded last year with the exception of first baseman Adam LaRoche, who left via free agency. Shortstop Ian Desmond is looking to build on last year’s successful campaign in which he had 24 home runs and 91 RBIs. The Nationals also return third baseman Anthony Rendon, who had a breakout season last year and right fielder Bryce Harper, who missed a good part of last year do to injury.

Even though the MLB season hasn’t yet started, the Nationals have already emerged as one of the league’s true contenders for a World Series run.

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