WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Nationals are preparing for what will be one of the most important years in their short history.They have won four division titles in the past six years and have established themselves as one of the most successful regular-season clubs in Major League Baseball across
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Nationals are preparing for what will be one of the most important years in their short history.
They have won four division titles in the past six years and have established themselves as one of the most successful regular-season clubs in Major League Baseball across that span. That success has not transferred to the postseason, however, as the Nats have been unable to advance past the National League Division Series each time.
So 2018 could be the Nationals' last opportunity with this current core of players. No one in Washington is interested in hearing about either getting over that postseason hurdle or the potentially closing championship window. But the fact is this could be the last go-round with these current Nationals.
Washington kept most of the roster together coming off back-to-back division championships, but the organization hired Dave Martinez to be its manager with the hopes that he can be the man to lead the club over the hump. Martinez is ready to embrace the challenge, so much so that he even brought in actual camels to camp this spring to signify it.
When the Nationals decided not to renew Dusty Baker's contract as skipper during the offseason, general manager Mike Rizzo had a telling statement.
"Winning a lot of regular-season games and winning divisions are not enough," Rizzo said. "Our goal is to win a world championship."
That statement will be the motivation behind everything the Nationals do this season.
What's the goal?
The Nationals want to bring D.C. its first World Series title and complete the task this core has been knocking on the door for years now. This will be Washington's last chance to do so before Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy become free agents this winter, with starters like Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg in their prime and veterans like Ryan Zimmerman still everyday contributors.
What's the plan?
Few teams have a roster as loaded as the Nationals. They feature four strong starting pitchers, a lineup that should be one of the deepest in the Majors and a back end of the bullpen as set as ever. Washington will count on its stars to carry most of the workload, but do not count out the depth of a club coming off consecutive division titles.
What could go wrong?
While these Nationals still have players performing in the prime of their careers, it is an older roster. And with the age of their roster comes health concerns. Their pitching depth might not withstand a significant injury to one of their premier starters, and of the four returning, Strasburg is the youngest -- turning 30 this season. The Nats are still developing their upper-level pitching prospects, which have been depleted by trades the past few years.
The Nats also have a few question marks in their bullpen, outside of their late-innings trio of Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler. Some of those questions have to do with health and some with performance. There are few sure bets in the relief corps behind those three relievers.
Who might surprise?
Calling Victor Robles a surprise might be an understatement at this point, but there is a good chance he is one of the Nationals' starting outfielders by the end of the season. Washington's top prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, has been a steady highlight reel all Spring Training. And by his performance alone, it's difficult to argue that he isn't Major League ready. For now, however, there is not room for him on the big league roster. At some point, his performance might force the Nats to create some.
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.