No team that was built so well for the postseason flamed out as badly as the 97-65 Washington Nationals did in 2017. After winning their division by 20 games, the Nationals were eliminated by the Chicago Cubs in the National League Division Series in five games.
Despite the underachieving, the Nationals were a balanced team that sat in the upper echelon of the league in each of the three phases of the game.With a 17-12 record against eventual playoff teams during the regular season, we couldn’t have predicted such an early playoff exit by the Nationals.
If there was a weak spot for this Nationals team, it was the offense. Not that this group wasn’t able to hit the ball, they were very good there with a .266 team batting average and a .449 slugging percentage, but consistency was an issue. The Nationals were streaky throughout the season when it came to offensive output and fizzled out by the final month. After starting the season with 170 runs in April, for an average of 6.8 runs per game, the Nats averaged more than five runs per game again in only the shortened month of July. By September they were down to averaging a season-low 4.0 runs per game.
With outfielder Bryce Harper out for 51 games, infielders Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy, and Anthony Rendon did an excellent job carrying the offense. The trio combined to hit .309 with 117 doubles, 84 homers, and 301 RBIs. The addition of Harper’s .319 batting average, 29 dingers, 27 doubles, and 87 RBIs made for a potent offense, unfortunately, the group cooled off in October.
The Nationals boasted the best starting pitching rotation in Major League Baseball in 2017 with three pitchers with 15-plus wins and sub-three ERAs in NL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, and Stephen Strasberg. Tanner Roark rounded out the rotation with 13 wins of his own.
The pitching staff as a unit kept runners off the bases by throwing strike outs and avoiding walks. As the offensive output decreased over the course of the season, the pitching improved. The Nats tossed a 4.17 ERA the first half of the season, then a 3.53 ERA after the All-Star Break.
With such an effective pitching staff, the Nationals defensive didn’t have to do much work. But when they did get chances in the field, they were good with a .985 fielding percentage with just 86 errors. With so few errors, their fielding percentage should be much higher, but the Nationals were third in the NL for fewest defensive chances.They were third in the NL in defensive efficiency at .698.
Going forward, the Nationals have a solid roster. The pitching rotation’s main three and the offensive big four are still in tact with young guns Trea Turner (46 stolen bases in 2017) and Michael Taylor (19 homers and 23 doubles in 2017) looking to improve on excellent seasons. The Nationals are looking to take the next step in the playoffs for the first time since making the move to Washington in 2005, and there’s no reason this group shouldn’t climb to the next level this season.
Photo by Brigham Berthold