The late news (other than "StepBrothers" """story""") is that Anthony Rendon might miss Opening Day. He fouled a ball off his leg about a week ago and is nursing a bruised calf. On one hand - a bruised calf should be something that clears up pretty easily. On the other hand Rendon has infamously terrible legs, having multiple months long injuries from the knees down. He should be back any day now, maybe today, but I'll breathe easier when I see it.
It's time for predictions
The Nats have only one obvious hole, Ryan Zimmerman, and they have enough better than average talent around the diamond to compensate for that. There's a way that the offense doesn't come through. If Werth collapses, Murphy regresses, Bryce doesn't bounce back, Turner sophomore slumps, Wieters gets hurt.... but it's as equally likely a scenario that the offense is unstoppable. If Murphy repeats, Bryce is BRYCE, Turner is near who he was in 2016, Rendon breaks through... Anyway you look at it, the addition of Eaton covers the CF mess from last year, and Turner for Espinosa is an upgrade at the plate. Wieters won't replace Ramos but that's the only obvious downgrade. With the addition of Lind, the bench is as deep as it's ever been which for the Nats is saying they finally have a bench that isn't a weakness. It's hard to put them any worse than their annual landing spot of "best of the rest".
The starting pitching remains strong. Scherzer is arguably the best non-Kershaw SP, while Strasburg and Roark are good enough to be half the leagues #1. Ross is having difficulty staying healthy and Gio is fading but they remain among the best 4/5s in the majors. The depth isn't there, Cole is first up and he's a AAAA arm. Voth might be better but it's telling that they haven't given him a shot. Fedde might be ready by year's end but it's doubtful he's good to go now. SP depth is always tested. so the question is if the Nats can get a little lucky here and either hold off injuries long enough or have the "right" arms get hurt and not too bad. Still they are starting from the point you want to be - near the best.
The relief pitching didn't get the huge upgrade everyone was hoping for. They didn't get that shut 'em down anchor that makes everyone else look better. However, after flirting with doing nothing for most of the off-season, they did add the very good arm of Joe Blanton giving the Nats a bullpen depth they haven't had in a while. The back end of the pen might still be a little rough. Perez is here to serve out his contract. Solis and Gott are question marks. There's a reason Romero was traded. But at least the Nats now have the arms in Treinen, Kelley, Glover and Blanton to survive an injury or bad performance. It's not an ideal pen still, but it's a workable major league pen with potential.
The Nats have two Achilles heels. The first one is a propensity for injury. They rely on a lot of players who have missed a lot of time in the past few years. Bryce, Werth, Rendon, Zimm, Wieters, Murphy have all missed from a month to virtually a season in the past 3 years. Strasburg and Ross have shown no consistency in health. Kelley is a double TJ arm. But they have enough depth in the pen and the line-up this year to cover for this. A SP injury would be more troublesome but we're likely looking at a team that will need multiple long injuries to bring it down. This is certainly possible - again look at the players GP histories - but it has to happen soon enough to derail the year.
The second Achilles heel is the defense. It wasn't great last year and it should be a little to a lot worse in 2017. The middle of the diamond moves from the surprisingly good Ramos, no longer exceptional but at worst very good Espinosa, and solid MAT/Revere combo to a passable Wieters, question mark (though probably ok) Turner, and likely overmatched but holding Eaton. In itself these aren't terrible moves, these guys should all be ok. But the former good defenders covered for the ones that weren't as good. Werth is a statue in LF. Murphy is not good at 2nd and likely even more limited after his injury. Zimmerman is a clear minus at first, most likely to be replaced by a player even worse. If Rendon is hampered in any way by his injury well you could be looking at a brutal defense. Is it enough to matter? Probably not but don't be surprised if some ERAs float up and you not noticing any big difference in the way the guys on the mound seem to be pitching.
So where do I think the Nats will end up? Well I think overall the competition will be similar. I can't/won't predict major injury trouble so without that you have to admit the pen will be fine, rotation will very good and the offense has potential for greatness. With no real "first order" weakness to speak of, I'll stick with what I had earlier - Nats 94 wins. I'll also say this gives them the NL East title.
Rest of the division
The Mets remain their main competition. They have a very very good starting staff and very good depth behind it. However, they are already tapping into their depth and we haven't hit Opening Day yet. As the Nats of 2015 can tell you, you don't want to go into the season already hurting. The pen is solid but not lights-out. The offense is no different than the offense was last year. You can twist your head and squint your eyes and see it as good, but it most likely tops out as average. To be anything more they'd have to have either no holes or someone will have to step up to match Cespedes (or better yet - both). Neither seems likely. What you have then is the 2016 Mets again. That's a team that won 87 games and made the Wild Card. Unless they have everything come up Mets in the rotation they just won't pass a healthy Nats team. 88 wins and WC.
The Braves are my choice to surprise, and possibly challenge for a playoff spot. They weren't as bad as their record indicated last year and they were mostly brought down by glaring weaknesses. Their SS was terrible. Their SP was terrible. Glaring weaknesses are easy to fix though and the Braves have done it. Top prospect and ROY candidate Dansby Swanson takes over at short. Competent veterans Jaime Garcia, Bartolo Colon, and R A Dickey fill out the rotation. These combine to make the Braves multiple wins better. Still nothing is great here, it's mostly barely good, and the bullpen is a little suspect. They probably won't be any closer than the fringes of the WC race. But with a little timing or some luck with development (Swanson a superstar? Peterson and/or Inciarte take a step forward? Surprise early developer from their deep but young minor league SP depth?) they could make it. 83 wins.
Everyone's favorite team to challenge last year is in disarray. With the tragic loss of Jose Fernandez the rotation has no saving grace. It should challenge for worst in the league. The question then is whether the bullpen and offense can be so good to make up for it. The bullpen actually might. While they were floundering Miami actually put together a solid pen. Ramos, Phelps and Barraclough are all legit very good and they added the good Brad Ziegler to that. Whatever games are savable should be saved. Offensively though it's hard to be high on the Marlins. I mean,Tyler Moore. They struggled last year because their MI was a hole and they lacked depth. This year they have the same MI and still lack depth. If Stanton is STANTON I guess they have a chance but again it's gotta be great to overcome the pitching and that's too big a jump for this line-up. 74 wins.
Remember when the Phillies started the 2016 season hot and everyone was like "We don't think they are good but what if..." and then they totally tanked? The Phillies were a mirage last year and that's at 71 wins. The corner OFs are other teams' bench players meaning the rest of the lineup has to step up to keep them competitive. I suppose it's possible, Franco should bounce back and they are all young. However I don't see that 2nd star. I see a lot of potential OK. The bench is terrible. The rotation should be ok and this is where any surprise potential lies for the Phillies. They'll be rolling with two pretty decent vets in Hellickson and Buchholz (I love AL to NL guys) and three arms 25 yo or younger. If they are going to do anything it'll be because this comes together. More likely though is that one of those three are bad and another one of the four gets injured and then there is neither the depth or the star arm to keep them from collapsing. They added a couple of arms to stabilize the pen but the arms they added (Benoit and Neshek) are real old and they won't be compliments but key pieces. If Gomez has another off year this pen could be terrible. I just don't see anything here to be excited about. 63 wins.