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Washington Nationals 2018 Season Preview: 10 biggest questions

Washington Nationals 2018 Season Preview: 10 biggest questions

At 4:10pm on Friday in Cincinnati, the Nationals' season starts. 

In general, things look pretty familiar for the Nats. The core remains the same, the NL East remains bad, and their ability to win a playoff series remains to be seen. The Nats look like one of the best teams in baseball on paper, but like every team, there are still plenty of questions to be asked. Here are the 10 biggest:

1. Is this the team that wins a playoff series? 
The Nats have been handed particularly painful NLDS losses by the Dodgers, Cubs, Giants, and Cardinals over the last half decade. In all four of those years, they were division winners and favored to move on. They've wasted an MVP season from Bryce Harper and two Cy Young seasons from Max Scherzer. DC gets more and more impatient with each early-playoff exit, and this team's window won't be open much longer. Rebuilding is around the corner, so this year means that much more. 

2. The Bryce Harper-sized elephant in the room
Little known fact: Bryce Harper is going to be a free agent when the year ends. For years, DC has seen this winter coming. Is he going to the Yankees? He has said in the past how much he loves the pinstripes. The Cubs? He had that weird instagram post with Kris Bryant last summer. The Dodgers? There's no evidence behind LA's case, but it's LA - they don't need any. There are even new whispers of the Phillies having a chance. Things are only going to get worse before they get better, and they might not actually ever get better. Baseball! 

3. How good of a manager is Dave Martinez?
The Nationals' history of managing hires is a mixed bag. There's not a name that sticks out as a horrendous choice, but there's also a reason why the likes of Jim Riggleman, Matt Williams, and Dusty Baker aren't around anymore. Martinez comes highly regarded from the Joe Madden coaching tree, but it always seems a little suspicious when a popular managerial name continually loses out jobs. Coming into DC is a baptism by fire of sorts, and you just know there's going to be a Zimmerman-against-the-Giants moment this postseason. How Martinez manages it may go a long way towards answering question #1. 

4. Is Anthony Rendon lowkey the best player on the Nats?
Admittedly, this felt too hyperbolic even when I was typing it. It begs the question though: when will Rendon get the attention he deserves? He was a seven-win player last year, hitting .301/.403/.533 with a .937 OPS over 147 games. He brought his K% down five percentage points and posted the highest BB% (13 percent) of his career. He's hit 20 homers in three of his five major league seasons. He's embraced the fly ball craze that's sweeping baseball and adding it to his already absurd ability to make good contact. He'll never get the spotlight on a team with Max Scherzer and Bryce Harper, although it seems like that's the way he prefers it. 

5. How good is the Nats bullpen really?
This feels like the first year in a long time that the Nats aren't heading into Day 1 knowing that they need to add a big-time bullpen arm. There are a lot of intriguing names in this year's 'pen: Madson, Kintzler, Doolittle and Solis are just a few examples. For all the intrigue, though, there are equal amounts concern. Doolittle and Madson have extensive injury histories. Solis and Enny Romero have had their issues throwing strikes. Who knows what's going on with Koda Glover. Their bullpen depth is a luxury they haven't been able to afford in years past, but one or two injuries and things start to look real scary again. 

6. What can be expected from Trea Turner this year?
On an offense with Harper, Rendon, Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman, it's Turner that's first in the box on game nights. After a "down" year that saw Turner hit .284/.338/.451, the 24-year-old shortstop looks to return to his 2015 form. The Nats have never seen speed on the basepaths quite like Turners, as evident from his 46 steals last year. If the Nats can have a 50-base stealer hitting around .300 at the top of their order, watch out. Look for him to try and improve on some underwhelming defensive numbers from last year as well. 

7. Adam Eaton is on the Nats, remember?!
Speaking of leadoff hitters, it'll be Eaton, not Turner, who takes the first AB for the Nats this year. Eaton's season-ending knee surgery in the beginning of last season made him an afterthought for most of the summer, but Eaton has quietly been one of the best players in baseball over the last 4-5 years. He's a lifelong .284/.358/.416 hitter with 15-20 home run potential. Eaton-Turner-Rendon-Harper-Murphy-Zimmerman in some order or another is probably the deepest 1-6 hitters in baseball. 

8. Can the backend of the rotation hold their own?
We know what to expect from Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. It's the Gonzalez-Roark-Cole trio that raises some questions. Gonzalez, who owes the Nats nothing, benefited from some career-best luck while putting up surprisingly good numbers last year. He doesn't strike out enough batters to survive with the high walk rate that he posts, and he's slowly turning back into the flyball pitcher that he was Oakland. Roark has been the Nats' secret gem for a handful of years, although he was not-so-secretly very average last year. Roark's best seasons come when he's keeping the ball in the park, so his HR/9 will be worth looking closely at during the first month or two. 

9. What role will Victor Robles play this year? 
Robles is the most exciting prospect to come through the Nats system since Harper. He impressed during his brief playoff stint last October, but will start the year in the minors. The Nats' outfield is pretty crowded, so there's not a clear opening for Robles until rosters expand in September. Still, the Nats are one serious outfield injury away from giving Robles meaningful PAs at the major league level. He's just 20, so there's no rush to bring him up for good. Still, Robles is a special talent and his #hugwatch will be a highly anticipated event. 

10. Will Bryce Harper win the Home Run Derby?
Bold prediction: Harper's going to win the home run derby, announce a team-friendly 10-year contract immediately after, and then run over to the Senate and single-handedly solve the partisan crisis on Capitol Hill. It's his destiny. 

RELATED: NATIONALS SEASON PREDICTIONS

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Former Nats manager Jim Riggleman named interim manager of Reds

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Former Nats manager Jim Riggleman named interim manager of Reds

Remember Jim Riggleman, the infamous Nats manager that resigned from the position back in 2011 after a win against the Seattle Mariners? Well he's back in a managerial position.

Bryan Price was fired as manager of the Cinncinati Reds Thursday, after the team started the 2018 season 3-15. Riggleman, who spent four seasons as their bench coach, was named the interim manager to replace Price.

Riggleman was promoted to interim manager of the Nats in July of 2009, after Manny Acta was let go midseason. He stayed on as manager for 2010 and 2011, and he then resigned from the team on June 23, 2011 after a win agaisnt the Seattle Mariners. He had lead the team to a win in 11 of their last 12 games prior to stepping away.

The reason behind the dramatic exit was due to the organization not yet picking up his 2012 contract option. He had reportedly requested a conversation with the front office about his future with the organization, and was upset after they declined. At 58 years-old, he felt he deserved more respect.

He's been with the Reds organization since 2012, and has spent time managing the Padres, Cubs and Mariners, in addition to the Nationals. His career winning pct. with each team has been below-.500.

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Nationals fall after Mets score 9 runs in 8th inning

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Nationals fall after Mets score 9 runs in 8th inning

NEW YORK -- Yoenis Cespedes launched a grand slam during a nine-run outburst in the eighth inning that rallied the New York Mets past the Washington Nationals 11-5 on Wednesday night, preventing a three-game sweep.

Todd Frazier tied it at 4 with a two-run single and pinch-hitter Juan Lagares put New York ahead for the first time with a two-run double off ineffective setup man Ryan Madson (0-2).

Shut down by Tanner Roark for seven innings, the first-place Mets broke loose in the eighth and improved to 13-4 with a stirring victory against their NL East rivals.

Ryan Zimmerman homered twice, tripled and drove in four runs for the Nationals, who pulled off their own big comeback in the eighth inning of the series opener.

Two nights later, New York returned the favor.

Roark limited the Mets to two hits and left leading 4-2. Michael Conforto, Cespedes and Asdrubal Cabrera singled off Madson to load the bases with nobody out in the eighth. Jay Bruce fouled out before Frazier smacked a two-run single up the middle and advanced to second on the throw home.

After an intentional walk to Adrian Gonzalez loaded the bases again, pinch-hitter Wilmer Flores struck out. Lagares then lined a two-run double the other way, just inside the right-field line at the outer edge of the infield grass, to put the Mets up 6-4.

Sammy Solis walked Amed Rosario and Conforto to force in a run. Cespedes connected for his sixth career slam -- the third by the Mets already this season -- off A.J. Cole, sending fans into a frenzy.

Both of Cespedes' hits in the inning came on 0-2 pitches.

AJ Ramos (1-1) worked a perfect inning for his first win with the Mets since being acquired from Miami last July.

Howie Kendrick reached on an infield single for Washington in the first and Bryce Harper drew his 24th walk, most in the majors. Zimmerman, batting .121 at that point and struggling to make opponents pay for bypassing Harper, came through with a drive to left-center off Steven Matz for his second home run of the season.

Matz steadied himself after a 33-pitch first inning and retired his final 10 batters. He was pulled for a pinch hitter in the fourth after throwing 74 pitches.

Cabrera doubled to open the fourth and scored on Gonzalez's single. Zimmerman had a chance to start an inning-ending double play, but his throwing error from first base allowed another run to score on Jose Lobaton's RBI grounder as the Mets cut it to 3-2.

After Mets pitchers retired 16 in a row, Zimmerman's leadoff triple in the seventh got past a diving Bruce in right field, and Moises Sierra followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 4-2.

Zimmerman also hit a solo homer in the ninth.