Washington Nationals: Take the next step

The Nationals are loaded with frontline talent, from 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper and promising shortstop Trea Turner to pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer. Yet three times in the past five years, they’ve won the NL East (with 98, 96 and 95 wins in 2012, ‘14 and ‘16, respectively) then fallen in the Division Series to the Cardinals, Giants and Dodgers, respectively. Washington desperately needs to take the next step, particularly if it is to have any shot at retaining Harper after he reaches the open market in 2018. The additions of outfielder Adam Eaton and catcher Derek Norris should help, but the bullpen remains a question mark after they failed to sign Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen or Mark Melancon, the top three closers on the free-agent mark. A big key would be to get a full season from Strasburg, who made the All-Star team last year amid a stretch in which he won his first 13 decisions, but then went on the DL with elbow soreness in early August and made just one brief relief appearance, in early September, the rest of the season.

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