Phillies vs Nationals: DC set to pose a bigger threat this season?

As we continue to get ready for the 2021 MLB season, part two of our NL East preview series takes a look at the 2019 world champions, the Washington Nationals, and how they ultimately stack up against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Less than one year removed from their improbable World Series win, the Nats took a major step back in 2020. They lost Anthony Rendon to the Angels in free agency, they lost World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg to injury, and key starters Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin looked like shells of their former selves.

While Juan Soto and Trea Turner were both spectacular for the entirety of the shortened season, the rest of the surrounding pieces around them simply failed to live up to their end of the bargain. Players like Eric Thames, Starlin Castro, and Asdrubal Cabrera were signed to “replace” Rendon’s offensive production around the middle of the lineup, and none of them really had productive seasons in DC.

The Nationals finished 26-34 in 2020, a full 2.0 games behind the Phillies and 9.0 games behind the NL East winning Atlanta Braves. Such a poor season following their World Series run has led many to believe that their “window” has already closed, and that they shouldn’t really be viewed as a threat to the Braves, Mets, and ultimately speaking the Phillies.

However, despite their quick regression to last place, the Nats were busy bees this winter. They signed the likes of Jon Lester, Kyle Schwarber, and Brad Hand via free agency, and then acquired 2019 All-Star Josh Bell via a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

While none of those guys are necessarily household names compared to someone like Francisco Lindor (who the Mets acquired), they’re upgrades nevertheless. The combination of Soto, Turner, Bell, Scherzer, a returning Strasburg, and even Corbin should be enough to give most MLB teams fits this season, but when it comes to comparing the Nats to the Phillies, I’d still give Philadelphia a slight edge.

With the improvements that the Phillies made to their starting rotation and bullpen, one should feel pretty good about them remaining better than the Nats moving forward. While DC definitely had their fair share of roster holes in 2020, the Phils literally had the second-worst bullpen in baseball history, and still finished above them in the standings.

The Phillies should top the Nats in 2021.

The addition of Archie Bradley alone should be enough to keep Philly in the mix for a Wild Card spot in 2021, while Washington likely struggles to stay above .500.

Soto is a legit MVP candidate when he’s at his best, but the rest of the roster has some serious question marks to it. Can Scherzer and Strasburg stay healthy? Will Turner replicate his 2020 form? Can Corbin bounce-back? Are guys like Bell, Lester, and Schwarber significant additions, or are they just well-known names that Nats’ management felt they could add for cheap?

While I think the Nationals will definitely “steal” a good number of games from the Phils this season (they always do), I feel pretty comfortable in my prediction that Philadelphia will top them in the standings for the second year in a row.

Part one to the “NL East preview series”, where I took a look at the revamped NY Mets, can be found here.