Last winter, it seemed that there was very little reason to actually play out the 2015 season. The Washington Nationals were going to win the World Series. With the supposed best rotation in baseball, it would have been a waste of time for the rest of the league to play 162 games.
Obviously that’s not how things turned out.
From Opening Day on, it was clear the Nationals would have to fight much harder than anyone expected to even reach the postseason, let alone the World Series. Injuries were a constant issue for the team — Anthony Rendon, Denard Span, Ryan Zimmerman, Doug Fister, Stephen Strasburg, and Jayson Werth all missed significant time. Rendon was not the same Silver Slugger hitter when he got back on the field. Ian Desmond struggled all year, as did Wilson Ramos. Clint Robinson got far too many at-bats.
There were bright spots, of course. Max Scherzer‘s near perfect game and two no-hitters. Strasburg’s emergence as a dominant pitcher when healthy. Joe Ross showed far more poise than could be expected of a rookie throwing his first pitches above Double-A. And who could forget Bryce Harper morphing into the modern-day version of Mickey Mantle and winning the MVP award.
In the end, a season that started with so much promised ended with only 83 wins, a cancerous clubhouse, and a fired manager. Injuries, inconsistent offense, and a shaky bullpen all spelled the end to the World Series aspirations for the Nationals in 2015.
With most of the core intact, and supposedly healthy, the Nationals should still be viewed as contenders in 2016. While Washington was unable to land any of its top targets — Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, and Brandon Phillips all said thanks but no thanks — they did bring in Daniel Murphy and Ben Revere, two solid players who should cement the top of the order in front of Bryce Harper. The bullpen also got some reinforcements.
With a new outlook and a new manager, the Nationals have a good chance to return to the postseason after a one-year absence. What needs to break their way to get back in the hunt for the World Series?