Nationals have the firepower for a quick turnaround in NL East


With spring training opening later this week, we take a four-part look at the Phillies' National League East rivals, what they did this offseason and where they might be going in 2021.

Part 1: Atlanta Braves

Part 2: New York Mets

Today: Washington Nationals

Quick look back

A year after winning the World Series, the Nationals suffered through a championship hangover, got off to a slow start and dealt with injury and subpar performance in their vaunted starting pitching staff in 2020. By the time they got going, the 60-game season was over and they finished eight games under .500 and at the bottom of the NL East.

Notable departures

Outfielder Adam Eaton, a high-energy player and tough out who put up some good seasons batting out of the No. 2 hole, signed with the White Sox.

Catcher Kurt Suzuki signed with the Angels, reliever Sean Doolittle signed with the Reds and professional hitter Howie Kendrick retired.

Notable additions

The Nats made several pickups that could be quite impactful and help them get back to the postseason.

The list includes lefty Brad Hand, one of the best late-game relievers in baseball.

Eager to win one more time, three-time World Series winner Jon Lester, 37, signed with the club as a free agent. The veteran lefty will hold down a spot at the back end of the rotation.

The Nats, who missed Anthony Rendon’s production in 2020, added some thunder to their lineup by acquiring first baseman Josh Bell in a trade with Pittsburgh and signing slugging outfielder Kyle Schwarber after he was non-tendered by the Cubs. 

Key offseason move

Hand led the majors with 16 saves for Cleveland in 2020.

Over the last five seasons, he has pitched to a 2.70 ERA and registered over 12 strikeouts per nine innings in 306 games. Opposing hitters have batted just .202 against Hand over that span, lefties just .150.

In his career, Hand has held two of the NL East’s most formidable lefty sticks in check. Freddie Freeman is 3 for 17 with zero extra-base hits and six strikeouts lifetime against Hand and Bryce Harper is 4 for 19 with a triple, a homer and five strikeouts.

Phillies tie

The Phillies hosted Patrick Corbin at Citizens Bank Park, put his picture on Phanavision and made him a contract offer during his free-agent tour after the 2018 season. He ultimately signed a six-year, $140 million deal with the Nats.

Speaking of Citizens Bank Park, Washington ace Max Scherzer is 5-1 with a 2.36 ERA in eight starts in the Phillies’ home park and 11-4 with a .270 ERA in 21 lifetime starts against the Phils.

2021 outlook

The Nationals have a brilliant young offensive star in outfielder Juan Soto. He led the majors in on-base percentage (.490) and slugging (.695) and was second in batting average (.351) during the shortened 2020 season. The Nats also have a tremendous two-way talent in shortstop Trea Turner. 

However, the team’s calling card in recent years has been starting pitching and that unit still holds the key to the team’s success in 2021.

Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young winner, did not display his usual brilliance last season and he’ll pitch at 36 in 2021. Stephen Strasburg missed nearly the entire season in 2020 with a nerve issue in his right wrist. If those two excel in front of Corbin and Lester, the Nats could get right back on track and push for a playoff berth in 2021.

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