Ask any baseball fan and they will tell you the best player on the Nationals is Bryce Harper and their pitcher is Max Scherzer. For the Nationals to bounce back and return to the playoffs this year, those two will likely need to lead the way with strong seasons.
But beyond Harper and Scherzer, who needs to step up this year? Here is a look at four players who could play big roles in determining the Nationals' chances in 2016...
1. Ryan Zimmerman - Zimmerman will be even more important to the Nats this year after the departure of Ian Desmond and Denard Span, and with the uncertainty surrounding Jayson Werth and how much can be expected of him at this point. Zimmerman is coming off two injury-plagued seasons, but still holds the potential to be the Nationals' second-best hitter. He can hit for power and get on base at a high clip. But most importantly, he could be the perfect complement to Harper batting cleanup behind him.
2. Gio Gonzalez - Gio is extra important to the Nats this season because of Jordan Zimmermann's exit and because of the questions behind him in the Nationals' rotation. Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg are a solid combination at the top of the Nats' starting five, but Gio has been trending in the wrong direction with an ERA that has gone up in three consecutive years. Gonzalez' numbers in 2015 were still pretty solid for a lefty mid-rotation starter, but the Nats could use more consistency from him to take the pressure off Tanner Roark and Joe Ross. It is also an important year for Gio personally, as his contract holds a team option after this season.
3. Anthony Rendon - An MVP candidate in 2014, Rendon's 2015 season was a major step backward. He dealt with injuries beginning in spring training and never really found a groove even though he played in half of the Nats' games. Rendon, like Zimmerman, will have more expected of him with Desmond and Span now gone. He has the chance to be one of the best all-around hitters in the National League and could form a dynamic duo with Harper if he hits in front of him. Rendon can both get on base and run the bases well. His health is important to the Nats' lineup, but also in the field where his presence makes their defense noticeably better.
4. Jonathan Papelbon - It's probably fair to say that Jonathan Papelbon's career with the Nationals didn't get off to a good start. Not only did he start a physical fight with Harper on live television, he also didn't pitch well in his brief time as Washington's closer. Papelbon blew two saves in nine opportunities with the Nats and also caused problems off the field. For better or worse, he is a huge part of the Nats' bullpen at the moment. He's the only guy with considerable late inning experience and is clearly their best reliever. If he were to get injured or have a bad season, the Nats' bullpen depth will be tested and right now that does not appear to be a strength.