Predicting Nationals Opening Day Lineup Behind Starter Patrick Corbin

For proof of the new era the Nationals have entered over the past year, look no further than Director of Opening Day Programming Davey Martinez will submit for Thursday’s season opener. against the New York Mets.

Predicting the Nats’ opening day roster behind Patrick Corbin originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

For proof of the new era the Nationals have entered over the past year, look no further than Director of Opening Day Programming Davey Martinez will submit for Thursday’s season opener. against the New York Mets.

Patrick Corbin will be listed as the starting pitcher, ending a 10-year run in which the Nationals only gave the ball to Max Scherzer or Stephen Strasburg for Opening Day. Ryan Zimmerman’s name will also be missing; the retired infielder has completed Game 1 training every year from 2006 to 2021, except for the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

Instead, the Nationals will establish a batting order with a mix of young plays looking to establish themselves and veteran players on short-term contracts still hoping to be productive late in their careers. Here’s what their opening day lineup might look like.

1. 2B César Hernandez (S)

Martinez has spoken at length this spring about wanting Hernández, who the Nationals signed to a one-year contract this offseason, to beat the lead past their heavy hitters. The 31-year-old has been at the top of the roster for most of his career, but his on-base percentage dropped last season from his career average of .345 to .308 – not the kind of production first not the batter must provide.

However, Martinez pointed to Hernández’s change in approach where he focused more on hitting for power – he had a career-high 21 homers – and expressed how he wanted the second baseman back to what made him a successful hitter for years with the Philadelphia Phillies. Hernández’s ability to do so will be key to maximizing the success of the star players behind him.

2. RF Juan Soto (L)

Soto has taken the majority of his at-bats at the No. 3 and 4 spots during his young career, but the Nationals are moving him up to No. 2 in order to get him up to the plate more often throughout the season. Although third place has traditionally been reserved for a team’s best hitter, MLB teams have moved away from this line of thinking in recent years due to the rise of analytics.

The Nationals will look to Soto for MVP-caliber numbers in his 23-year season and he continues to establish himself as one of the best clean hitters in the sport. While he’s certainly capable of hitting for power, his eye for the strike zone is his strongest asset at home plate. Soto will attract a lot of walks, which is why the presence of their No. 3 hitter will be so important.

3. DH Nelson Cruz

The only active players with more home runs than Cruz are Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera, two players who have combined for five MVP awards throughout their careers. Cruz has never won an MVP title, but he’s been among the most productive hitters in the league over the past decade while still hitting for massive power even though he’s hit his early 40s.

Washington signed Cruz to a one-year deal this offseason to serve as both Soto’s roster protection and veteran clubhouse leader. While opposing teams will always walk Soto to one of the highest clips in baseball, Cruz is a dangerous enough hitter to punish them often.

4. 1B Josh Bell (S)

Bell is quietly coming off one of the best seasons of his career. He shrugged off an early slump and hit 27 homers with an .823 OPS in 144 games for the Nationals while playing a reliable first base in the field. The 29-year-old hitter is now heading into a contract year and could be set for a big payday next winter if he can put together another solid campaign.

The aforementioned crisis was severe. Bell started the year with .207 in the first six weeks of the season. His violent swing relies heavily on him to reduce his timing, which makes him prone to extending stretches like this. Washington will look to give him a strong start and avoid the early hole he dug himself into last year.

5. C Keibert Ruiz (S)

Perhaps the Nationals’ most important young player not named Soto, Ruiz will be thrown straight into a top spot this season after impressing in a limited sample as a rookie in 2021. The receiver, who arrived in Washington’s trade deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, has been among baseball’s top prospects in recent years with a skill set that includes impressive plate discipline.

That patience was in the spotlight last year during his time in DC, as was his power potential. Ruiz broke out in that department last year with 21 homers and 24 doubles in 72 games at Triple-A. He also hit base at an impressive .377, promising to become a well-rounded hitter who could be central to their offensive plans for the next half-decade.

6. SS Alcides Escobar

Escobar is back with the Nationals after resurrecting his career with them as an injury replacement last season. The 35-year-old fended off young infielder Luis García for the starting shortstop job at camp, although García – still only 21 – had a high chance of breaking camp with the team .

Often hitting second, Escobar has proven to be a troublesome contact hitter in 2021 and this year the Nationals are hoping he can add some length to their roster. He was never a power bat and his 30 base steal days are probably over, but he showed last season he can still rack up singles and doubles to keep the line moving.

7. LF Lane Thomas

Thomas has been among the Nationals’ most productive hitters this spring, posting a .269/.367/.500 slant line in 30 appearances on the board of Grapefruit League action. Washington acquired him in his trade for Jon Lester at the deadline last year and he came out on top on his DC debut, passing Victor Robles from center field while displaying impressive speed on the base paths. .

This year, Thomas will move to left field after showing a need for defensive improvement. He’s still a bit of an unknown quantity — he hit just .172 in 84 career games for the St. Louis Cardinals before the trade — but could be a candidate to move near the top of the roster if he does. can maintain its success in this season.

8. 3B Maikel Franco

The Nationals entered camp with Franco competing against Carter Kieboom for their starting third baseman spot. Kieboom then suffered a mass flexor strain and a UCL strain in his throwing elbow, landing him on the 60-day injured list to start the season. This left Franco as one of the only healthy third basemen remaining in the camp despite reporting to West Palm Beach as an unlisted guest.

Franco, another former Phillie, has three 20-home run seasons under his belt. He’s coming off a down year, having posted a 0.609 OPS in 104 games before being released by the rebuilding Baltimore Orioles. The Nationals signed him to a risk-free deal and any production he gives them above replacement level will be a strong return on investment.

9. FC Victor Robles

Despite a poor showing this spring, Robles is likely to open the season as the Nationals’ starting center fielder for the fourth straight year. His solid defense should lighten the shoulders of Soto and Thomas as he has the speed to be an effective base runner for top hitters. His ability to get on base in the first place, however, will determine his future in DC.

Robles initially reached the majors as a consensus top-10 prospect with a five-tool skill set. Although he flashed each of these tools over the year, he struggled to put it all together while going through various swing changes and adjustments to his approach. The Nationals are hoping he can at least get back to the hitter he was a rookie in 2019, when he had .745 OPS with 17 home runs and 28 stolen bases.

LHP – Patrick Corbin

The last pitcher not named Scherzer or Strasbourg to start the opening day of the national championships was Liván Hernández in 2011. This year, Scherzer is expected to pitch vs Washington on the opening day, although a hamstring injury jeopardized his status for the opener. Strasbourg is still rebuilding after undergoing surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome last summer.

Instead, it will be Corbin, who is on a straight decline for years after playing the hero with three scoreless innings for the Nationals in Game 7 of the 2019 World Series. Corbin was among the best left-handed pitchers in baseball this year there, and the club will be hoping he can regain his form with three costly years remaining on his contract. He had a good spring, giving up no earned runs in nine innings.

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