Washington Nationals 2019 season preview: Bryce Harper is gone, but expectations remain high in D.C.

The Washington Nationals watched their franchise star Bryce Harper head to Philadelphia in free agency, but the Nats should be right back in the mix again in 2019 to make their sixth postseason appearance in nine years. The Harper-less roster is just as talented as it ever was with young superstars like Juan Soto and Victor Robles and offseason acquisitions like Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez and Brian Dozier

Will this be the year the Nationals win their first National League pennant in franchise history? Let's take a closer look at what's ahead for them in 2019.

Probable lineup

  1. Adam Eaton, RF
  2. Trea Turner, SS
  3. Anthony Rendon, 3B
  4. Juan Soto, LF
  5. Brian Dozier, 2B
  6. Ryan Zimmerman, 1B
  7. Victor Robles, CF
  8. Yan Gomes, C

Bench: Michael Taylor, OF, Kurt Suzuki, C, Matt Adams, 1B, Howie Kendrick, INF

Probable rotation

  1. Max Scherzer, RHP
  2. Stephen Strasburg, RHP
  3. Patrick Corbin, LHP
  4. Anibal Sanchez, RHP
  5. Jeremy Hellickson, RHP

Probable bullpen

Closer: Sean Doolittle, LHP
Setup: Trevor Rosenthal, RHP
Middle: Matt Grace, LHP, Justin Miller, RHP, Koda Glover, Kyle Barraclough, RHP, Tony Sipp, LHP
LOOGY: Tony Sipp, LHP

The Juan Soto-Victor Robles-Adam Eaton outfield

The Washington Nationals' Harper-less outfield will still be a strength in 2019. With Soto, Robles and Eaton (plus Taylor off the bench), the Nationals have a young and deep group that has the chance to be one of the best outfields in baseball.

Soto had one of the best seasons ever by a teenager last year, At 19-years-old, Soto slashed .292/.406/.517 with 22 home runs. He finished second for NL Rookie of the Year (despite not making his MLB debut until May 20) to Atlanta Braves' outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. Robles is the team's top prospect and will take over as D.C.'s starting center fielder in 2019. Last year, he suffered a hyperextended left elbow at the end of April that forced him to miss most of the season. But Robles' limited numbers in the majors were impressive: .288/.348/.525 for a 127 OPS+ with three home runs, three doubles, one triple and three stolen bases in 66 plate appearances. Robles, who turns 22 in May, is an outfielder that possesses all five tools, with the potential to be a superstar if he continues develop. The Nats' everyday right fielder is expected to be Eaton in 2019. Eaton, 30, has appeared in 118 games for Washington, posting a slash line of .300/.394/.422. This season, if the Nationals keep a healthy Eaton on the field, he should be successful. He can be a dynamic leadoff man, and it's possible he can return to the field as fast and agile as he was before his 2017 ACL tear. Eaton missed most of April and May last season because of arthroscopic surgery to remove cartilage from his left ankle after he injured it on a slide into home plate. So far in spring training, Eaton's looked much better, both offensively and defensively.

Questions of Strasburg durability remain

It's no question that the Nationals' rotation will be a team strength heading into 2019, with the signings of Corbin, Sanchez and Hellickson, but Strasburg struggled to stay healthy last year with several stints on the injured list. He had one for right shoulder inflammation and another for a cervical nerve impingement. Strasburg, who will turn 31 in July, ended up making fewer starts last season than he has in any season since he returned from Tommy John surgery in 2012. After a dominant 2017 season in which he finished third in Cy Young voting, Strasburg ended the year with a 10-7 record to go with a 3.74 ERA and 156 strikeouts in 130 innings. 

This can't be another what-if season for the right-hander if Washington is expected to compete in a tough NL East. Strasburg's history of injuries -- 11 trips total to the injured list in his career -- puts a question mark on whether or not the former No. 1 pick's durability is limiting his true potential. When Strasburg is on the field and he's healthy, he's been dominant, so if he's able to stay injury-free in 2019, it will give the Nationals one of the most dominant 1-2-3 starter combinations in all of baseball.

Still looking to advance past the NLDS

Washington is still seeking its first playoff series win after four straight losses in the National League Division Series. The Nationals have been one of the most consistent teams in the NL, despite failing to win a playoff series. They've gone a combined 786-671 (.539 winning percentage) since 2010. Although unlike years past when the Nats blew past their competition in the NL East, it appears that the division will be a four-team race this year with the Mets, Phillies and Braves all improving this winter. But this team has the talent that's needed to compete and this year is as good as any to its their NLDS curse. In 2019, the Nats will push for more postseason success and attempt to shut down the questions about their inability to perform in October.

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