Game #1 Opening Day 2022 comes with low expectations for the Nats!

Photo from @MLB

Few remember that the Washington Nationals entered the 2021 with lofty goals, and they were actually in second place and 2.5 games from first place on July 1. Maybe it was the dual injuries to Kyle Schwarber and Trea Turner that sunk the ship, or it was just the rocks they hit that are a sailor’s reminder of the rough seas that ruin a good charted course. With a good conscience, you cannot look at this 2022 roster construction and think it was built for greatness. Make no mistake about it, this 2022 roster was not built with a World Series in mind, rather a squad that will have a mix of young and old in which the front office can gauge who they have going forward. Yes, a bunch of familiar names are back from the 2019 championship season like Anibal Sanchez and Sean Doolittle — but this is a team that Fangraphs is projecting to lose between 86-89 games based on their projections. To be honest, I am little more bearish than Fangraphs have projected 71 wins for this in 2022. There were the anticipated bevy of the pre-game roster moves that started with the DFA of Andrew Stevenson and addition of Sanchez to the roster earlier in the week, and this morning, the team cleared three spots to add third baseman Maikel Franco, reliever Victor Arano, and utility man Dee Strange-Gordon. To make room for those three players on the 40-man roster, the team placed pitchers Will Harris and Seth Romero on the 60-day injured list, and DFA’d reliever Gabe Klobosits who debuted for the Nats’ last year in the bullpen. As the 60-day IL players return, the Nats will have to make corresponding 40-man moves at that time.

Graphic from Nationals with alphabetical correction from TalkNats

Sure, every team is tied for first place before the games are completed today; there is a chance of a miracle, but please don’t bet your house on the Nats winning the NL East crown. With a 12-team expanded playoff format that was installed in this CBA, more mediocrity can slip into the postseason picture. This Nats team’s goal as stated above is to improve for the future and see what cream rises to the top. If the Nats are firmly out of the playoff picture in July, you can expect August 2nd deadline trades like we saw last year. There are plenty of first-timers on this roster who have never participated in an Opening Day, and Lucius Fox could make his MLB debut at some point. He is actually just a placeholder for Ehire Adrianza who is on the 10-day IL. Also, you have two extra bullpen arms added to the roster until May 1st when rosters go back to 26-players. What we really want to see is how Joan Adon, Erick Fedde circa 2022, Josiah Gray look this season in the starting rotation, and of course if Patrick Corbin can be the Comeback Player of the Year. Additionally, most of this bullpen is auditioning for jobs going forward because of the roster squeeze on May 1. Of course Doolittle and Steve Cishek are the veterans who are on one-year deals, and the veteran, Tyler Clippard, should join them at some point in the bullpen. Clippard is getting his reps in Rochester and could be ready in a matter of days and cause the first roster move needed as he will need a 40-man spot. With so many of the old Nats on this roster, it is like a scene from Back to the Future, but nobody expects Doolittle, Sanchez or Clippard to be long-term answers. It is really looking at the youngsters that should get the fan base excited for what can be for 2023 and beyond. For the position players, Keibert Ruiz, Riley Adams, and Lane Thomas are the 2021 trade deadline acquisitions who have a chance to solidify spots as key parts of the core of this team going forward, and Victor Robles will try to prove he is the star-in-the-making that we saw glimpses of in 2019. While Carter Kieboom is on the 60-day IL, he is another one of the struggling former top prospects who has a lot to prove in 2022. Here is how Fangraphs has ranked the 2022 Nats in their WAR rankings: While the position players are contributing +20.1 WAR, it is the pitchers that are projected to only put up a combined +8.1 WAR. That is just awful. It feels like 2008 all over again. Fortunately, Juan Soto is being projected as an MVP candidate, and why not, he is coming off of a Top-3 finish in MVP voting in 2021. With Nelson Cruz and Josh Bell hitting behind Soto, it will be the hitter(s) in front of Soto in the batting order who must get on. The good news is that the universal DH will create more RBI opportunities in theory for Soto. We will see. As far as the standings go, MLB compiled projections using Fangraphs/ZIPS which has the Nats as the sixth worst team in MLB — but only losing 86 games.

MLB Graphic

The Nats made a proactive move with the forecasted rain this afternoon, and they pushed first pitch back to 7:05 PM from 4:05 PM.  This is rarely seen, and yet it seems so obvious to take advantage of the windows afforded by mother nature. The temps will start around 52°F at first pitch with a wind chill in the 40’s as temperatures will then dip even cooler to end the game. The voice of D.C. Washington will sing the Star Spangled Banner, and you can expect a whole lot of pomp and circumstance and a standing ovation when Max Scherzer is introduced as a member of the visiting New York Mets. A bitter pill to swallow for many Nats’ fans to see Scherzer in another uni. When Ted Lerner made Scherzer the richest pitcher of all-time for 7 years and $210 million, you had to think at that time he would finish his career with the Nats, but that was not the case as he signed a mega $43.3 million per year deal with the Mets. We don’t have word of who will throw out the ceremonial first pitch at this point, however some have speculated that it could be Ryan Zimmerman who retired earlier this year after a storied career with the Washington Nationals that started in 2005. Also, lineups will not come out until later this afternoon. It looks like Soto will be batting second in manager Dave Martinez‘s batting order with the newly acquired Cesar Hernandez leading off. With the team’s largest payroll acquisition of the off-season and a cool $15 million spent on Cruz, he will be the primary designated hitter and the protection for Soto in the batting order. The team has $10 million for Bell to hit behind Cruz, and this is the trio who have a chance to really ignite this offense if they are all smashing homers. The pitching matchups changed a lot due to injuries to Jacob deGrom and a sore hamstring for Scherzer has pushed Tylor Megill to take the mound for the Mets against Corbin who became the obvious choice for this Nats’ rotation. This is a rotation that will miss Strasburg until at least May 1 per general manager Mike Rizzo.
New York Mets vs. Washington Nationals Stadium: Nationals Park, Washington, D.C. 1st Pitch:  7:05  pm EDT TV: MASN; SNY; MLB App (out-of-town) Nats Radio: 106.7 The Fan and via the MLB app Lineups (subject to change without notice):    
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