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2020 NL East Preview: Comparing the Washington Nationals and the Miami Marlins

For the first in our series of previews on the Washington Nationals’ NL East opponents, we take a look at the Miami Marlins...

MLB: Miami Marlins at Washington Nationals Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

With the regular season fast-approaching, the Washington Nationals are no doubt starting to size up their divisional opponents in what looks to be a very competitive National League East.

This week, we have a series of articles to preview each of the other NL East teams and see how the defending champs compare to the main foes.

In each piece, we look at the team’s offseason, lineup, rotation, bullpen, and prospects who could make an impact in 2020.

First up are last season’s divisional basement dwellers, the Miami Marlins...

Notable Arrivals

  • UTIL, Jonathan Villar
  • 1B, Jesús Aguilar
  • SP/RP, Sterling Sharp
  • OF, Matt Kemp (MiL deal)
  • OF, Corey Dickerson
  • C, Francisco Cervelli
  • RP, Brandon Kintzler
  • OF, Matt Joyce
  • INF, Sean Rodríguez (MiL deal)

Notable Departures

  • INF, Starlin Castro
  • INF, Neil Walker
  • SP/RP, Wei-Yin Chen
  • SS/OF, JT Riddle
  • RP, Tayron Guerrero
  • OF, Austin Dean
  • OF, Curtis Granderson (retired)
  • INF, Martín Prado (retired)

Offseason Summary: Honestly, the Marlins had a low-key good offseason. Though they weren’t really able to bolster their prospect pool that much — aside from Sharp, who was selected in the Rule 5 Draft from the Nats — they did make plenty of major league additions.

More rebuilding teams should do what the Fish did this winter. The short-term veterans will not only help the team be better now, which can help the prospects already in the major leagues develop, but they can also be flipped for prospects at the trade deadline.

In particular, Villar, Aguilar, and Dickerson stand out as great additions, with the first two coming over for nothing on waiver claims and the latter on a two-year, $17.5 million deal.

There are also a pair of former Nationals on the arrivals in Sharp, and Brandon Kintzler, who likely slots in as Miami’s new closer.

Of the departures, Castro is the only real impact loss as he comes over to the reigning World Series champions. But even then, they have a ready-made replacement in the highly-rated Isan Díaz who will step right in at the keystone as their long-term second baseman.

Potential Lineup

  1. CF, Jonathan Villar
  2. 3B, Brian Anderson
  3. LF, Corey Dickerson
  4. 1B, Jesús Aguilar
  5. RF, Matt Joyce/Matt Kemp
  6. 2B, Isan Díaz
  7. SS, Miguel Rojas
  8. C, Jorge Alfaro/Francisco Cervelli
  9. Pitcher

In just their second Spring Training game, against the Nats, funnily enough, the Marlins may have tipped their hand slightly as to how they’re leaning with their lineup configuration.

Though they’re lacking in star bats, there is plenty of depth in Miami’s batting order.

With his speed, Villar will be an intriguing leadoff hitter. Anderson, Dickerson, and Aguilar are all slightly above-average bats and should be able to produce a healthy amount of runs. then the tail-end of the order isn’t exactly weak with Díaz and Alfaro as high-upside bats.

This lineup will probably look very different come August 1st assuming that players on expiring contracts are dealt and prospects come up to get valuable experience late in the year.

How do the Nationals compare?: This is closer than you might think. Yes, the Nationals have been one of the best offensive teams in baseball over the last few years, but expect them to take a step back this year and try to win more games with their pitching.

In the end, it’s the presence of Juan Soto and Trea Turner who give the Nats a decent edge over the Marlins, though the rest of both lineups are fairly nip and tuck between the two sides.

Verdict: Advantage Nationals

Potential Rotation

  1. Sandy Alcantara
  2. Caleb Smith
  3. Pablo Lopez
  4. Jordan Yamamoto
  5. José Ureña

There won’t be a whole lot of change in the Marlins’ rotation from 2019 to 2020. The theme here is mostly young, promising arms with another year of experience under their belts.

Alcantara, the centerpiece of the Marcel Ozuna trade, was Miami’s lone All-Star last year, and while he still has areas to improve on, he could easily blossom into a good long-term #2-3.

Smith, Lopez, and Yamamoto are all pre-arbitration guys who have flashed upside with the potential to be solid mid-to-low-end rotation piece moving forward. However, they all have their question marks to varying degrees around their consistency and command.

Rounding out the rotation is Urena. He’s certainly had his promising moments in the big leagues, but inconsistency might bump him to the bullpen in favor of Elieser Hernandez.

Then again, it may not matter who fills out the rotation right now as Sixto Sanchez is on the way, potentially as soon as 2020. The Marlins’ top pitching prospect was the headliner of the J.T. Realmuto trade and has all the making of a future ace when he eventually gets the call.

How do the Nationals compare?: There are certainly things to like about the rotation that the Marlins will roll with this season. But there’s absolutely no doubt that the Nationals have one of the best starting pitching groups in all of baseball and should dominate again.

Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin would all easily be the ace of this Marlins’ staff, while Aníbal Sánchez would have a reasonable case too, or at worst their #2.

Verdict: Big advantage Nationals

Potential Bullpen

  • Adam Conley
  • Yimi García
  • Elieser Hernandez
  • Brandon Kintzler
  • Sterling Sharp
  • Ryne Stanek
  • Drew Steckenrider
  • Stephen Tarpley

Miami’s bullpen is probably its biggest weakness heading into 2020. There are very few sure-things among this group of names which makes it incredibly difficult to predict.

Former National Kintzler is lined up to be the team’s closer for as long as he’s with the team because he’s the only truly proven reliever and should be able to find some success, even if the save opportunities are limited playing for a bad team.

Good luck predicting how the rest will shake out. Stanek, Steckenrider, and Conley have pitched some late-innings in their time with the Fish, but all had ERAs north of 5 last year.

Garcia and Tarpley are both newbies who do have a little bit of upside but will probably start in the middle innings though both are hardly secure in their roles.

Plenty of Nationals fans were surprised that they left Sharp unprotected for the Rule 5 draft this offseason and he was eventually selected by the Marlins. In 2020 he’ll act as long relief and rotation depth as they look to keep him on the active roster this year to reap the benefit of his obvious upside in future seasons.

How do the Nationals compare?: Both the Nats and Marlins were bottom six bullpens last year in ERA and FIP, so the only way would appear to be up for these two units.

The problem is, the Marlins no longer have any of the six relievers who posted an ERA lower than 4.00 in at least 10 innings. Meanwhile, the Nationals added Will Harris to their bullpen, brought back Daniel Hudson, and have a handful of young arms who are due to improve.

While the Nationals’ relief corps is hardly much to write home about and will probably be middle-of-the-pack this season, the Marlins’ bar would seem to be even lower than that.

Verdict: Advantage Nationals

Prospects to know for 2020

  • SP, Sixto Sanchez
  • OF, Jesús Sánchez
  • OF, Monte Harrison
  • 1B, Lewin Diaz
  • SP/RP, Sterling Sharp
  • SP, Nick Neidert

On the whole, this Marlins’ farm system has probably made its way into the top 10 in baseball and is likely second-best in this division behind the Atlanta Braves. That could flip by the end of this year as more Braves’ prospects graduate and the Marlins own the #3 pick.

Of the prospects that could make the majors in 2020, Sixto Sanchez is the one to watch.

As mentioned in the rotation section, the right-hander is a future ace in the making and if Miami wants to really start kicking their rebuild into gear, he could be up this year.

With some outfielders who could be flipped at the deadline, both Sánchez and Harrison, both very toolsy athletes, could get a shot in the majors if they prove themselves in Triple-A after both scuffled to some extent there last season.

Diaz might be another player who gets a shot after the trade deadline if Aguilar is shipped off in July. The Marlins love him, as proven by giving up Sergio Romo and a prospect for him last July and so far, he’s been opening eyes since joining his new organization.

All four of the above players are all currently on the team’s 40-man roster. That should at least be one less hurdle to them getting their shot with the big league club and are all names that Nationals fans should be getting familiar with over the next few years.

Final Thoughts

In the end, the Marlins are still near-certainties to be bringing up the rear in the NL East, and by quite a distance. You won’t find anyone in baseball who will disagree on that point.

Their PECOTA projection of 70.6 wins seems about right, though maybe a win or two less.

But just because they aren’t going to be postseason contenders doesn’t mean they can’t spoil some parties along the way. This team appears to have graduated from somewhat pushovers in the division to pesky opponents who are going to steal some games away.

Take a look at last season. They were able to win the season series against the offseason champion Philadelphia Phillies while dropping 15 of 19 to the Nationals and Atlanta Braves.

That might have been the difference for Philadelphia. Imagine if the Phillies had been able to win 15 instead of 9, they’d have been in the Wild Card mix until the very end of the year.

So while Miami won’t be contending just yet, no team in a competitive NL East can sleep on them.

With more young talent expected to breakthrough as the months roll on, this could be a fun team to watch from the outside while they develop together as the year goes on...