The Nats are a good team that had an off-year. They rebuilt in some minor but important ways to make up for some important losses. They have a good division rival, in the Mets, but it isn't a team that stands head and shoulders above them. The Nats can certainly win a bunch of games and potentially win the division, which is about all you can ask for to start the season.
But there is a problem, or more accurately there are 5-7 problems amplifying the 7 other ones.
The Reds, Braves, Phillies, Rockies, and Brewers all stink. They are predicted to be among the worst 6 or so teams in the majors this year. The Padres and Marlins could stink. They aren't much better than that. There are a lot of wins to be had against these teams.
The Mets, Cardinals, Cubs, Pirates, Dodgers, Giants and potentially the resurgent/remade Diamondbacks are all solid teams. They are going to rack up said wins.
That means the race the the Wild Card is likely to be another race to the mid 90s or higher. Last year the 2nd Wild Card won 97 games. That's a lot of wins.
It's hard to say today which teams have the advantage. I guess you can say the Dodgers/Giants/Dbacks are at a disadvantage (3 good teams, only one surely bad one), but even that isn't a given. Nothing happens exactly like we assume. One of those teams I say "stinks" will likely have a surprise year and play around .500 ball. The Padres or Marlins could surprise and skirt the playoff picture. So the Braves surprise and the Marlins do well too, while the Padres crash and burn? Suddenly the Nats and Mets are the ones in trouble, not the NL West leaders.
From day one the Nats need to look at the season as a race to win as many games as possible. That sounds silly, but there is usually a "let's find our footing, we'll get them later" sense to games in April and May. There shouldn't be in a normal season, but it makes even less sense for 2016. Start at full throttle and ease up if you can later. Do not start slow expecting to catch up because, hey, 2015.
The worst thing about the Nats of 2016 is the same thing that can be said about the 2015 Nats (and 2014 Nats to be fair). They aren't built for 2016. They are built for 201x. They are a rolling 90-95% in on any season. They lack starting pitching depth (unless you think Giolito is coming up early) and are relying on question marks to fill gaps. They replaced a set of dominoes in the bullpen anchored by a potentially unreliable closer in big games with a better set of dominoes anchored by a potentially unreliable closer in the clubhouse. They improved the IF bench slightly but still lack a player on there that you are ok with playing everyday for a few months (I'm ok with trying Turner - not so much with Espinosa so that evens out). A better team than last year... let's say yes. A much better team? Given the injury circumstances of 2015? I can't say that.
Last year felt a lot more certain because the young teams hadn't arrived yet and we had no idea when they would. The Nats looked to have weak competition for the East. The non-division winners between St.Louis/Pittsburgh and Los Angeles/San Francisco had the inside tracks for the WC. To mix things up you could put another name there. The rebuilt Padres were the most popular, followed by the full of potential Marlins. But you only KNEW the Pirates and Giants should be pretty good. In this environment, the Nats approach could be said to make sense. Didn't work though.
In 2016? There should be no certainty. The Mets and Cubs have joined the rest of the good teams giving the Nats competition for the division crown and making the Wild Card picture more crowded. If the Diamondbacks are more Cubs than Padres, then there's no margin for error. The Nats approach is far riskier and makes less sense.
Obviously, even if it is riskier, all that matters is if it works out or not. The Nats are a deGrom and Syndergaard double injury from clear sailing. But I can't help thinking the stakes have been raised and the Nats haven't kept up with them, that the team isn't good enough for the fall back position of "get in and get lucky" and the season is going to boil down to "Beat the Mets or Bust".