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New Year and New Nationals

So long, 2020. Time to go...

In the year 2021, the Washington Nationals expect to compete for the division and, if all goes well, a World Series title. Only one (60-game) season removed from a championship, the Nationals are largely a new-look squad, with many departures coming over the last year and a half. That’s just the way sports tend to go.

Long gone are the days of a horde of players sticking around with one organization for an extended period of time.

With new-comers abound, the Nationals will attempt to navigate the increasingly perilous National League East. It’s been a common refrain of mine to fret about the state of the division — simply because it’s becoming much more formidable at a rapid rate. Much attention has been paid to what the New York Mets are doing with Steve Cohen as the new owner; we know what the Atlanta Braves are; we also know that the Philadelphia Phillies had one of the best offenses in baseball a year ago.

While baseball hopes to reach a semblance of normalcy in 2021, the Nationals do, too. For an organization that expected to be competitive in 2020, we were all surprised for them to finish tied for last in the NL East. While some of those woes could potentially be chalked up to the strange and turbulent COVID season, as well as injuries, it’s still reason to give us pause in the team’s baseball endeavors. Further compounded by an aging roster and dwindling farm system, what’s to become of the Nationals going forward this season?

It might be a series of new faces for the most part taking infield and batting practice at Nationals Park this season, but in many ways, it’s the same makeup; a plug-and-play mentality consisting of (hopefully) savvy veterans that can lead a team to victory. It’s certain that maturity often plays a factor in a team’s success, and it appears that the front office is banking on that very thing. Led by an old rotation and a mixture of young players and aging veterans, the Nationals will hope to get off to a hot start with the knowledge that several of their divisional foes will soon be nipping at their heels.

A competitive Nationals team is a possibility, certainly, and its look will likely mimic 2019’s roster — at least in terms of age. The organization has perhaps backed itself into a tough position; it’s technically in a position to compete, but it will be a rough ride in a rougher division. Usually when teams come out on top, the cards often have to fall a certain way and include some amount of luck. In some cases, that means being in a division where the competition isn’t up to the task at hand. Take the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals, for example. That team finished with 83 wins and were longer odds to win the World Series at the beginning of the season than the Pittsburgh Pirates were last year.

Unfortunately for the 2021 Nats, they’re starting in a bind from the beginning, being a participant in a division that’s likely to consist of all the teams beating up on each other and coming out black and blue at the conclusion of the regular season. What the Nationals could potentially lack in talent in ‘21 will need to be made up in veteran presence. That type of difference maker is a bit vague, imprecise, and unquantifiable, but whatever makes up veteran toughness, the Nats are going to need it.