Washington Nationals: Top AL East Match Ups To Look Forward To
By Max Rayman
Baseball is on the verge of officially being back. With the 2020 schedule finally being released, which matchups against the AL East should Nats fans be most looking forward to?
On Monday night, MLB released the upcoming 2020 season schedule. Due to the season only being 60 games, each team will play 40 games against their division (aka the NL East), and 20 games against the division’s AL counterpart (aka the AL East).
On July 23, the defending World Series champion Washington Nationals start things off by hosting the New York Yankees.
After a three-game series with the Yankees, the Nats have a 15 game stretch where they take on some bottom tier teams, such as the Orioles, Blue Jays, and Marlins, with the Mets, mixed in-between. After an easy start to the season, the Nats have a brutal September which will either make or break the team.
The Nationals have one of the toughest schedules, due to the many competitive teams in both the NL and AL East. Here are a few matchups against AL East foes, Nats fans should be looking forward to. Be it top pitching matchups or a plethora of superstars all on the field at once.
Yankees @Nationals, July 23-26
The first game of the season should see three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, take the mound against the newly minted, $330 million dollar man, Gerrit Cole. This will be a mini-World Series rematch of sorts. Gerrit Cole and the Houston Astros lost to the Nationals in seven games. In-game one, Washington snapped Cole’s 19 game win streak, which stretched back 25 starts. The 29-year-old was able to bounce back and was the winning pitcher in game five. Cole was also involved in controversy when manager AJ Hinch decided to leave Cole in the bullpen in game seven with his team up one. Instead, Hinch went to Wil Harris who immediately gave up the game-winning home run. Now with the Yankees, many believe the righty is the teams missing piece, in order to win title number 28.
While Cole anchors the pitching staff, the Yankees boast a deep lineup, headlined by Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Miguel Andujar, and Gleybor Torres. Last season while the team was battling injury after injury, the offense finished second in homers (306), second in RBIs (904), fourth in OBP (.339), third in slugging percentage (.490), and third in OPS (.829). The Bronx Bombers are going to be tested against the best pitching staff in the league. Last year, the Nats starting rotation finished second in ERA (3.53), fourth in wins (66), third in FIP (3.72), fourth in K/9 (9.68), second in strikeouts (1010), and led the league in fWAR (21.4).
Having a potential World Series preview between the two heavyweights is the perfect way to start the season.
Nationals @ Rays, September 15-16
While the Nationals play against the Rays in D.C. a few weeks prior, the second matchup on the road is the one to keep an eye on. Washington will be in the midst of a brutal stretch, where they will be facing the Mets, Phillies, and Braves repeatedly. With no room for error, the Nats will have to bring their best against a Rays team who won 96 games last year.
Tampa Bay is one of the few teams that can match up with the Nationals rotation. Charlie Morton, Tyler Glasnow, and Blake Snell make up one of the top pitching trios in the league and are backed by an elite bullpen. Morton spent the majority of his career as a mid-end of the rotation starter, but that all changed when he arrived in Tampa for the 2019 season. With the Rays, Morton became a bonafide ace, finishing the season 16-6, with a 3.05 ERA, and 240 strikeouts. He set career highs in strikeouts, wins, innings, and ERA. The Rays rotation also features 2019 AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell.
Snell had a down year in 2019 due to spending multiple stints on the IL. Fully healthy, Snell should return to his 2019 form, where he went 21-5, with a 1.89 ERA, and 221 strikeouts. Rounding out the big three is rising ace, Tyler Glasnow. Last season, Glasnow started off the season 5-0, with a 1.75 ERA. Shortly after that he was placed on the IL and missed the majority of the season. He finished 2019, 6-1, with a 1.78 ERA, and 76 strikeouts. The righty returned in time for the playoffs and helped the Rays push Houston to five games. Now that he has had extra time to recover and build back his strength, Glasnow should look like his early 2019 form.
Tampa’s pitching staff is going to be tough competition for a Nationals offense that lost Anthony Rendon to the Angels. It will be up to Eric Thames, Howie Kendrick, Carter Kiebom, and Starlin Castro to make up for Rendon’s production.
While Washington’s bullpen is improved, Tampa returns a top tier relief corps. Last year, Tampa’s relievers ranked first in ERA (3.71), first in fWAR (7.7), first in strikeouts (825), second in FIP (3.94), seventh in saves (46), and were eighth in LOB% (stranding runners) (%74.6). The Nationals offense will be put to the test. With the teams playing each other at the end of September, this will make for a much watch serious, between two World Series contenders.