MLB, Washington Nationals

Nationals have less talent than 2019, but two big factors may work in their favor to repeat

The Washington Nationals will be trying to defend their World Series title in what’s sure to be a unique season. What do their chances of repeating in 2020 look like?

The defending champion Washington Nationals is still a phrase that’s weird to say even as we’ve hit May, but at some point they’re going to eventually attempt to defend their World Series title.

They’re going to try to be the first team to repeat since the 1999-2000 Yankees without their best player from the 2019 run, after Anthony Rendon went and signed a gargantuan seven-year, $245 million contract with the Angels. But they still have arguably the game’s best front end of a rotation and pretty potent offense.

The delayed start of the 2020 campaign due to COVID-19 may actually benefit the Nationals in a couple of major ways, aside from fewer opportunities to listen to the MASN crew of Bob Carpenter and F.P. Santangelo, ranked 30th in the annual Awful Announcing fan poll for broadcast teams three years running.

If the regular season doesn’t start until the end of June or beginning of July and they only manage to get in 100 or so games, that means more rest and less wear and tear for a veteran-laden roster. The three options at catcher, Yan Gomes, Wellington Castillo and Kurt Suzuki, are 32, 33 and 36 respectively. You won’t find the fountain of youth at first base either, with 33-year-old Eric Thames, 35-year-old Ryan Zimmerman and 36-year-old Howie Kendrick all expected to see playing time.

Aside from 26-year-old shortstop Trea Turner, 34-year-old Asdrubal Cabrera and 30-year-old Starlin Castro will compete with top prospect Carter Kieboom for the other starting infield spot. Along with Turner, the starting outfield is why folks are still bullish on this National offense even after Rendon’s departure. Juan Soto celebrated his 21st birthday during last year’s World Series and is expected to be an MVP candidate for many years to come. Victor Robles doesn’t turn 23 until May 19 and put up a 17-homer, 28-steal season in 2019. The lone question mark is the injury prone Adam Eaton, who at 31 hit 15 homers and 15 steals in his first full season without an IL stint since 2016.

The starting rotation is top notch, but Max Scherzer is 34, Stephen Strasburg is 31, Patrick Corbin turns 30 in July and Anibal Sanchez is 36. You think that quartet, along with 33-year-old closer Sean Doolittle and 33-year-old setup man Daniel Hudson wouldn’t benefit from a shorter season after a long, grueling postseason?

Another factor that could really aid Washington’s chances of repeating is a temporary COVID realignment plan reported by USA Today last week. As part of this plan, all 30 teams would get to play in their home ballparks without fans. But to reduce travel, the American and National Leagues would be done away with for the year and teams would compete in three 10-team divisions.

The east division, per USA Today, would include Washington, Baltimore, the two New York teams, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Toronto, Boston, Tampa Bay and Miami. Among the teams that reached the N.L. playoffs last year, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Atlanta and Milwaukee, the Nats would play none of those teams all season in this proposal and only two A.L. playoff teams, the Yankees and Rays. Added games against the rebuilding Orioles, Blue Jays, Pirates and a Red Sox team in transition won’t hurt, either.

Now, a 100-game season with long stints of travel on trains and buses isn’t ideal for an older team like the Nationals either, but it definitely beats the grind of a 162-game campaign. And if a well-rested and battle-tested team like Washington gets an entire season fattening up on some inferior east division opponents without having to play a single game against another N.L. contender, that doesn’t seem too bad.

The Nats may not be better than last year, but things might be breaking their way as they look to win back-to-back championships.

Next: Would a shortened season impact the decision to pay or trade Fransisco Lindor?

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