Many of the opponent previews I've written so far have said the teams are strange, or weird, or awful.
Not this time. I'm here to tell you that the Washington Nationals could be odds-on favorites to win the World Series this year. Heck, if they had managed to win that crazy 18-inning game against the Giants in the division series -- a game they came within one out of winning in nine innings and had the potential winning run on base in the 10th, 12th, 13th and 15th -- that series would have been tied and then who knows what might have happened?
But it didn't, and the Nats, who had the best regular-season record in the National League in 2014 and who have won 95-plus two of the last three years, went home and watched the Series on TV with the rest of us.
To the strong core that won 96 games in 2014 they have added a top starting pitcher, Max Scherzer.
Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Scherzer might be the best 1-2-3 punch any starting rotation has this year. And the No. 4 and No. 5 guys, Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez, are pretty good too -- they could be near the top of almost any other team's rotation. Tanner Roark, who went 15-10 with a 2.85 ERA and 1.092 WHIP (3.5 bWAR), could get left out of the rotation entirely. (One of those guys could wind up traded.)
The Nats also have a strong offense led by Jayson Werth, who's been worth most of that $126 million deal they signed him to several years ago, and Anthony Rendon, who has been well worth the No. 1 pick the Nats used on him in 2011 (three picks ahead of Javier Baez). Maybe this will be the year that Bryce Harper stays healthy and puts together a big offensive year. Keep in mind that Harper, who has almost 1,500 major-league plate appearances, is still just 22.
The Nats' only real addition offensively this year is Yunel Escobar, acquired from the Athletics for Tyler Clippard just four days after the Rays shipped Escobar to Oakland in a five-player deal. Escobar will play second base and be a big upgrade hitting-wise over Danny Espinosa, who becomes a utility player.
There's been a fair amount of turnover in the Nats' bullpen. Rafael Soriano, who closed for them the last two years, is gone to free agency, so Drew Storen, who did a good job closing in 2011 only to be relegated to setup duty, returns to the closer role. Casey Janssen was signed as a free agent to help set up Storen; Craig Stammen will back him up. If there's one weak spot on this team, it might be the pen, but the Nats, who were third in the National League in runs in 2014, might not have to worry too much about that if they can keep up the scoring.
And that starting rotation. Man, not a weak spot anywhere.
The Cubs will host the Nats for a three-game series beginning Memorial Day, May 25, and travel to D.C. the following week for a four-game set June 4-5-6-7, playing the entire season series in a two-week span.