The 2016 season has unfolded much like the 2015 season was supposed to, as the Nationals have had at least a share of the NL East lead for all but four days in early May, never trailing by more than a half-game.
The lineup boasts the reigning NL MVP, and the rotation very well could feature this year’s NL Cy Young Award winner. There are some health concerns, but Washington has all the pieces necessary for a championship. Consider:
Max Scherzer already is in beast mode
Clearly the NL Cy Young Award front-runner, Scherzer’s intensity and power-pitching style – he leads the majors with 267 strikeouts – are custom-made for the postseason. Since June 29, Washington has won 13 of Scherzer’s 16 starts, and he has a 2.13 ERA and six double-digit strikeout performances in that span.
Stephen Strasburg’s injury is a big blow, but having an ace is crucial in October, and the Nationals still have that in Scherzer, an absolute workhorse.
Getty ImagesMike Ehrmann
Daniel Murphy hasn’t cooled off since last October
Remember when Murphy sent seemingly every pitch he saw over the outfield wall as the Mets marched to the 2015 Fall Classic? That supposedly was a fluke, but someone forgot to tell Murphy, who has nearly doubled his career high with 25 homers this season. Oh yeah, he’s also hitting .347 and leading the league in slugging percentage (.596) and OPS (.987).
The guy hasn’t slumped all season, hitting below .307 in only one month in 2016. Slowed recently by a buttocks strain, Murphy has time to rest before the postseason.
Getty ImagesPatrick Smith
Bryce Harper can build a playoff legacy
Harper has gone from the unanimous 2015 NL MVP to a guy who has looked lost at the plate much of the time since May, and there were conflicting reports about a possible shoulder injury before he left Sunday's game with a jammed thumb. Plus, he’s scuffling into the postseason with a .214/.329/.329 slash line in September.
But there’s a reason Harper was considered by many to be the sport’s best player just a few months ago, and that talent is still in there just waiting to re-emerge. Wiping the slate clean just before the lights get the brightest seems like the perfect equation for October success – if he’s anywhere close to 100 percent.
Getty ImagesMitchell Layton
Mark Melancon has solidified the bullpen
Jonathan Papelbon’s meltdowns are merely memories as Washington moves into the postseason for the first time in two years. That’s due largely to the seamless transition Melancon made after he was acquired from the Pirates in late July.
He is 13-for-14 in save chances with the Nationals and has helped redefine roles and restore order in the ‘pen in the process. Plus, he has October experience, having pitched in the past three postseasons.
Getty ImagesMitchell Layton
There’s power AND speed in the lineup
The Nationals have eight players with double-digit home run totals, including five with 20-plus long balls. But this is far from a one-dimensional attack that sits back and waits for a three-run shot to save the day.
Washington’s 113 stolen bases rank seventh in the majors, and Trea Turner (27 steals in just 66 games) leads five Nationals in double digits. That speed also comes in handy when taking the extra base and when manufacturing runs – both of which can make the difference in a tight postseason game.