Nationals

Quick Links

Biggest questions for the Nationals as they enter 2016

usatsi_7394967.jpg

Biggest questions for the Nationals as they enter 2016

The weather may be giving them trouble lately with an insane amount of rainouts, but overall 2016 spring training has been a breeze for the Nationals. They are 17-4 in the Grapefruit League - first place! - and there are no major injuries to report on. Compared to last year at this time when Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Denard Span were all questionable for Opening Day, the outlook for these Nationals appears much better.

But that doesn't mean there aren't questions hanging over this team as they prepare for a new season. The Nats made some improvements this offseason, but - like any team - they have both strengths and weaknesses.

Here is a look at the biggest questions facing the 2016 Nats...

1. Is the bullpen good enough?

Like most bullpens, the Nationals' relief corps could go many different ways this season. A glass half-full perspective would point to the veterans they didn't have last year, plus the high-ceiling young arms that could end up serving significant roles this season. But a pessimist may note that there is still plenty of inexperience, especially when it comes to late-inning roles. Jonathan Papelbon has a long track record as a closer, of course. But they don't have a proven setup man and there are no guarantees for the seventh inning at this point, either. Speaking of Papelbon, his situation will certainly be something to watch, not only when he's introduced to fans at the home opener but throughout the season when this team inevitably goes through ups and downs.

2. Do they have enough starting pitching depth?

On paper the Nationals have a fine group of starting pitchers, one that could rank near the top of the league if everything goes well. Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, in particular, are pretty much sure things. But in Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark and Joe Ross there are uncertainties and if any combination of those guys struggle or battle injuries, the Nats' depth could truly be tested. Behind their starting five is an unproven group that does boast Lucas Giolito, but it's not clear how much he can be counted on this year due to his innings plan coming back from Tommy John surgery.

3. Can they stay healthy?

Like their rotation, the Nationals' lineup looks solid on paper. But the Nats are still relying on a large group of position players who hold long and detailed injury histories. Werth, Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman are all coming off injury-shortened 2015 seasons and have durability concerns that go back further than that. Wilson Ramos and Bryce Harper were healthy in 2015, but before that had trouble staying on the field. The Nats deserve credit for investing in a new medical and training program to keep their players healthy, but they have to stay off the disabled list for that initiative to prove its worth.

4. Are they better than the Mets?

As has been the case for the fifth straight year, the NL East once again appears to be a two-team race between the Nationals and another club, that other team now being the New York Mets. The Nationals appear ready to bounce back and compete for a division title this season, but the Mets are a formidable counterpart with arguably the best rotation in baseball. The odds of all of their arms holding up all year and each of them having All-Star seasons are debatable, but they have so many good pitchers. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz are all so young that they could get even better this season. The Nationals certainly have the talent to beat the Mets, but they'll have to stay healthy and do better in head-to-head matchups.

[RELATED: Nats select contract to add veteran reliever to 40-man roster]

Quick Links

Its Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

Its Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

So if you have not heard, Bryce Harper is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018 season.

All off-season talking heads, baseball aficionados, radio hosts, etc. were speculating on where the outfielder’s destination will be next year.

And we are still a year away from it actually happening.

RELATED: VEGAS SETS OVER/UNDERS FOR 2018 MLB SEASON

Reporting to spring training on Monday, Harper did not waste any time telling the media how his press conferences were going to play out this season.

“If guys do [ask], or talk anything about that, I will be walking right out the door.”

Entering his seventh season with the Washington Nationals, the 25-year-old is coming off the second-best season, statistically, of his career. The 2015 NL MVP has hit .285 in his career, with 150 home runs and 421 RBIs. Unquestionably he is the face of the Nationals’ organization, if not, the best player in the team’s history.

If he does end the season without a contract extension, he will join Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, and Barry Bonds as the top sought out free agents in MLB history.

One thing is for certain in terms of Harper’s free agency; Harper has given no inclination on where his landing spot will be.  The top three cities are of course his favorite childhood team, the New York Yankees; joining with one of his closest friends with the Chicago Cubs; or just staying with Washington.

Wherever he does land, it does appear that it will be the largest contract given to a free agent ever.

As for now we just wait and direct any of your calls to his agent Scott Boras.

READ ALSO: NATIONALS FULL SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE

Quick Links

Nationals Spring Training Schedule 2018

usatsi_9977852.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Nationals Spring Training Schedule 2018

Now that pitchers and catchers have reported, the next step in our long journey to Opening Day is the spring training games themselves. Not every game is televised, so get ready to follow along with your favorite beat writer's Twitter account for all your updates.

Even without getting to watch the games, it'll still be exciting to once again check box scores in the morning to see if Bryce Harper homered again, or if Max Scherzer is perfect through 4 innings (spoiler: both of these will happen).

This year's spring training will be especially interesting, considering how many big-name players will be signing contracts in the next few weeks. The Nats are always willing to make a big splash, and even beyond the available free agents, have been linked to impact players like J.T. Realmuto in trade rumors.

Typically, the excitement of adding a new piece to the roster has to be reignited after a long winter off, but this season, those additions will be happening while camp is already underway.

It's going to be a hectic few weeks as teams prepare for their seasons, so bookmark this page to check on the Nationals spring training schedule over the next few weeks as the team finally takes the field in 2018.

Nationals 2018 Spring Training Schedule

Friday, Feb. 23 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Saturday, Feb. 24 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Feb. 25 - Braves at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Monday, Feb. 26 - Nationals at Braves, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Feb. 27 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Wednesday, Feb. 28 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Thursday, Mar. 1 (SS) - Nationals at Braves, 1:05 pm
Friday, Mar. 2 (SS) - Nationals at Mets, 1:10 pm
Saturday, Mar. 3 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 4 (SS) - Tigers at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 4 (SS) - Nationals at Mets, 1:10 pm
Monday, Mar. 5 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Mar. 6 (SS) - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Wednesday, Mar. 7 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Thursday, Mar. 8 - Mets at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Saturday, Mar. 10 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 11 - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Monday, Mar. 12 - Nationals at Tigers, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Tuesday, Mar. 13 (SS) - Mets at Nationals, 7:05 pm (MLBN) (MASN)
Thursday, Mar. 15 - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Friday, Mar. 16 (SS) - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Saturday, Mar. 17 - Mets at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 18 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Monday, Mar. 19 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Mar. 20 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Wednesday, Mar. 21 - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm (ESPN2) (MASN)
Thursday, Mar. 22 - Nationals at Mets, 6:10 pm
Friday, Mar. 23 (SS) - Astros at Nationals, 6:05 pm (MASN)
Friday, Mar. 23 - Nationals at Marlins, 7:05 pm
Saturday, Mar. 24 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 25 - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Tuesday, Mar. 27 (at Nationals Park) - Twins at Nationals, 4:05 pm