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Same as it ever was: Few battles loom for Nats

Washington enters 2018 with new manager but largely unchanged roster
MLB.com @JamalCollier

WASHINGTON -- The 2018 Nationals will not look much different than the team that finished the '17 season. After all, when a team wins 97 games and a second straight division championship, there is usually no need for sweeping changes.

Washington has kept its roster largely in tact as it lines up for another shot at a World Series championship. The Nats return their top eight position players, top four starting pitchers and three best relievers. Plus, they made a few key signings for their bench and are counting on a couple of relievers to return from injury to fill out their bullpen.

WASHINGTON -- The 2018 Nationals will not look much different than the team that finished the '17 season. After all, when a team wins 97 games and a second straight division championship, there is usually no need for sweeping changes.

Washington has kept its roster largely in tact as it lines up for another shot at a World Series championship. The Nats return their top eight position players, top four starting pitchers and three best relievers. Plus, they made a few key signings for their bench and are counting on a couple of relievers to return from injury to fill out their bullpen.

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So, barring injury, there might not be too many position battles at Nationals camp in West Palm Beach, Fla. Here's a projection of how the 25-man roster might look on Opening Day:

Catcher (2): Matt Wieters, Pedro Severino
Severino will enter camp as the favorite to win the backup catcher's job, which will be a more crucial role this season since Washington plans on using more of a platoon with Wieters. Severino must beat out veteran Miguel Montero for the spot in camp, but the Nats believe Severino is ready to become a full-time Major Leaguer, and they will give him every opportunity to prove it.

Video: Outlook: Veteran Wieters can contribute in 2018

First base (2): Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Adams
The Nationals got incredible production from this position a year ago, and they're hoping to at least match that production or not endure that large of a drop-off by adding Adams to replace Adam Lind.

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Second base (1): Daniel Murphy
After undergoing right knee surgery in the offseason, Murphy will take it slow entering Spring Training. The club still expects him to be ready for Opening Day, and once he is fully recovered, he should continue punishing opposing pitching staffs as he has since he joined Washington.

Third base (1): Anthony Rendon
A career year for Rendon garnered him a sixth-place finish in the voting for the National League Most Valuable Player Award. He is starting to become one of the most steady and consistent players in the Nats' lineup, and he should continue to play spectacular defense at the hot corner.

Shortstop (1): Trea Turner
Turner enters his second season as a full-time shortstop hoping he can remain healthy enough to continue to grow defensively and impact the game on offense with his bat and blazing speed.

Video: Outlook: Turner has speed to lead MLB in steals

Utility (2): Howie Kendrick, Wilmer Difo
Kendrick and Difo will be two primary contributors off the bench for the Nats, and they could see a good mix of playing time, especially if Murphy's knee injury keeps him from starting the season on time. Difo showed he can be productive when he received extended playing time last year, and the Nats re-signed Kendrick this offseason. The duo should serve as backups for Murphy, Turner and Rendon.

Outfield (4): Bryce Harper, Michael A. Taylor, Adam Eaton, Brian Goodwin
If healthy, the Nats' outfield should be a strength. They have an MVP candidate in Harper and an underrated star in Eaton coming off left ACL surgery. Taylor enjoyed a breakout season a year ago, and a strong rookie season from Goodwin helped prove he can be a solid fourth outfielder. Expect Kendrick to also spend some time as a reserve outfielder.

Video: Outlook: Eaton has all-around skills, back to healthy

Rotation (5): Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark, A.J. Cole
The first four starters are all but set, the only question mark remaining is the fifth spot. Cole will enter camp as the favorite after his strong finish to 2017, and he's helped by having experience in the Majors and the fact that he is out of options next season. He will still have to pitch well in camp, because he will compete with some veterans who were invited to Spring Training and Erick Fedde, the club's top pitching prospect.

Bullpen (7): Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler, Sammy Solis, Enny Romero, Koda Glover, Shawn Kelley

This is where the Nationals will have the most competition, because there could be as many as four spots up for grabs. Doolittle, Madson and Kintzler have their spots secured, and, if healthy -- not a sure thing recently -- Kelley and Glover should also lock down roles on the Opening Day roster. The left-handers are a bit more tricky, with Solis and Romero the favorites to compete with Matt Grace on the 40-man. But the Nats could keep just one additional lefty along with Doolittle and choose to keep a long reliever or another reliever who impresses in camp. This will be a battle to look out for.

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

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