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Washington Nationals 2017 Season Preview: Best/Worst case scenarios for the Nats...

What would have to go wrong for the Nationals to fail to defend the NL East crown. What happens if it all goes the Nationals’ way?

Boston Red Sox v Washington Nationals Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Right now, the season is a blank slate of games, 162 (or more) sets of nine innings (or more) to go through, the combination of which will all come together to create some sort of narrative for the 2017 Washington Nationals’ season, whether it’s a narrative of extreme success or extreme failure... or anywhere in between.

But for a moment, let’s consider the extremes, the best and worst-case scenarios—within reason, as in most predictions will have some substance behind them—for the Nats’ 2017 campaign.

The Nationals are in a uniquely favorable position among most Major League Baseball teams; their best-case scenario is as good as the best case scenario of any team that isn’t the Chicago Cubs, and their worst-case scenario is one that many teams would feel lucky to find themselves in.

Let’s take a look...

Worst Case Scenario:

Starting pitching: Max Scherzer loses one or two miles per hour off his fastball, and adds a little to his ERA, Stephen Strasburg gets injured in one of his first starts and doesn’t return until July, but never really gets on track, the league figures out Tanner Roark a little more, making him a little less effective, Gio Gonzalez finally (completely) falls off the tracks, and is no longer on the team by June (replaced probably by A.J. Cole or Austin Voth), and Joe Ross either struggles with health again or just proves to be plain mediocre, and the Nats are giving up four or five runs before the fifth inning in many games.

Relief pitching: Blake Treinen can’t handle the ninth inning and is out of the closer’s role by June, Shawn Kelley replaces him and then promptly blows out his elbow again, and then Koda Glover gets the job and also struggles, but is the Nats’ last, best option. Oliver Perez looks more like mid-season Oliver Perez from last year, and Enny Romero can’t locate and is replaced by Trevor Gott, who also struggles, leaving a hole in the bullpen (or, if Jeremy Guthrie makes the squad, he does about as well as he did in his last season in the majors (2015) — a 5+ ERA).

The starting lineup: Trea Turner can’t translate his great half season into a full season, and has a Billy Hamilton-esque season: decent average (mid-200s) and a lot of stolen bases.

Adam Eaton becomes (a less extreme) version of Ben Revere, struggling to acclimate to his new team on offense, posting mediocre offensive numbers, and can’t handle center field as well as he did right field last season — the Nats would normally move on, but they’re much less willing to give up on him given the high price they paid for him, forcing fans to suffer for a season or two.

“2016” Bryce Harper turns out to be around the norm for Bryce Harper, who improves a little from his performance last year, but not by much (he hits around .260 and hits about 25 home runs).

The league catches up to Daniel Murphy, who falls back to earth towards his numbers from earlier in his career (.280 average, 15 homers), while Anthony Rendon’s Spring Training injury keeps him sidelined for most of the first half of the season and puts up numbers like he did in 2015 when he didn’t start playing until June (.264 with 25 RBI), and Jayson Werth finally has the season of rapid decline everyone has been waiting for, with his average falling into the low 200s, or he experiences serious injury again.

Ryan Zimmerman does about as well as he did last season (leaving questions as to if the Nats will force him to retire or trade him), and Matt Wieters plays like he did last year, with an average in the low .240s.

The bench: Stephen Drew loses twenty points off of his average, unless he gets hurt again, which sidelines him for most of the season. Wilmer Difo is a strikeout machine that struggles with baserunning and fielding, and Michael A. Taylor keeps striking out, but at least provides good defense and speed. Chris Heisey hits for the same low average, but loses the power that made him valuable last season. Jose Lobaton is Jose Lobaton and does Jose Lobaton things.

The bottom line: The Nats, even in their worst case scenario, don’t have the ability to be blatantly terrible, thanks to the depth of their, even in the worst case, still good (or good-enough) starting pitching, barring (knock on wood), the injuries of every single player in the starting lineup and the rotation.

Other than Jayson Werth and Gio Gonzalez, no player becomes worthless, and the Nats squeak out a winning record, by going 82-80, and finish second in the division, only three games ahead of the Braves. They’re out of playoff contention by mid-September, and talk of whether or not they’ll trade Bryce Harper in what everyone is assuming will be his final season with the club begins to get louder.

Best Case Scenario:

Starting pitching: Max Scherzer does what he did all of last season and wins another Cy Young Award (or at least comes really close), Stephen Strasburg stays healthy, and looks like he did before his injury last year (an ERA somewhere in the low 2.50s), Tanner Roark continues to dominate, Gio Gonzalez does about as well as he did last year, and Joe Ross stays healthy for the entire year while finding consistency.

Relief pitching: Blake Treinen comes out guns blazing, and turns into a regular sinker-balling outs machine, not unlike Zach Britton, on the way to recording 40+ saves.

Shawn Kelley stays healthy and does exactly what he did last last year, keeping his ERA in the mid-2.00s, Joe Blanton only drops off a little, if at all, and keeps his ERA below 3.00, while Koda Glover dominates in whatever role he fills.

Oliver Perez pitches like he did at the beginning/end of last season, and Enny Romero learns to locate.

The starting lineup: Trea Turner does just as well as he did last year, taking off a few points on his average if only from having the league see him more. He commits twenty errors, hits fifteen home runs, and steals fifty bases.

Adam Eaton is as advertised, hitting in the high .200s, and ends up at 5-7 WAR.

Bryce Harper, if not returning to the absurdity of his 2015 heights, goes far above and beyond his 2016 performance, hitting in the low .300s and knocking 30-35 home runs with around 90 RBI.

Daniel Murphy declines, but only a tiny bit, putting his average only a little below where it was last year, and hits another 20 home runs with nearly 100 RBI.

Anthony Rendon hits like he did in the second half of last season (.291 with 52 RBI) and a .357 OBP), Jayson Werth holds off rapid decline for another year and performs around his statistics from last season (.244 AVG, 21 HRs and 69 RBI), and Matt Wieters looks like All-Star caliber Matt Wieters, with an average in the high .200s.

Ryan Zimmerman picks up where he left off in the playoffs (.353 average with a .450 OBP) and finally looks like the old Zim of 2005-2012 that we know he can be.

The bench: Stephen Drew stays healthy and hits in the mid-to-high 200s, providing a legitimate backup middle infielder. Adam Lind looks like he did between 2013 and 2015, hitting around .300. Chris Heisey continues to be the best power-pinch hitter in baseball, and Michael A. Taylor finally translates a great spring into a great summer, showing off his insane power and hitting for average, making days that a starting outfielder takes off bearable. Jose Lobaton is Jose Lobaton and does Jose Lobaton things.

Surprise heroes: Ryan Zimmerman, if he can make it work, will make the entire Nats lineup click, turning it into a run-scoring machine that only stops at the pitcher’s spot in the lineup. Michael A. Taylor, on the other hand, can keep said machine rolling every time he pinch hits if he starts to enjoy some major league success.

The bottom line: It all clicks in a beautiful harmonious moment of jubilee; the pitchers all perform as well as they possibly could, the hitters all either prove that the year before was/was not a fluke, and nobody gets injured. The Nats go 98-64 and win the division by eight games, coming in second in the NL to the Cubs (100-62).

They make it through the NLDS in four games, and if they squeak past the Cubs in the NLCS, they win it all.