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Know your enemy: Washington Nationals

The defending champions have a good shot at getting back to the World Series.

Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

You know, I was very happy for the Nationals and manager Dave Martinez when they won the World Series. Martinez had coached under Joe Maddon for so long that it seemed he might never get his own shot to manage, and he did it well — after rumors surfaced that he might be fired when the Nats got off to a 19-31 start in 2019.

They’ll return the cast from that Series pretty much intact, except for Anthony Rendon, who’s headed to Anaheim to play for Maddon. Top prospect Carter Kieboom is expected to take over for Rendon at third base. Kieboom looks like the real deal. He might not put up superstar numbers as Rendon did, but he should be a solid replacement. Also departing is “Baby Shark” icon Gerardo Parra, who’s taking his daughter’s favorite song to Japan’s NPB.

The Nats also signed Eric Thames to play first base, or at least share it with franchise icon Ryan Zimmerman, who could have retired on top as a champion after 2019, but decided to give it one more go in Washington. He was the Nats’ first draft pick after the franchise moved to D.C. in 2005 and 2020 will be his 16th year in a Washington uniform. He’s repped the franchise well.

Washington’s strength, of course, is their rotation, which returns intact with the re-signing of Stephen Strasburg. Between him, Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin, that’s one of the best top three guys in baseball. Anibal Sanchez had a year resurrected from the waiver wire last year and the Nats need him to do that again. They also re-signed closer Daniel Hudson, who was a revelation after they signed him and gave him the closer spot.

Three former Cubs are in Nats camp: Welington Castillo, Starlin Castro and Emilio Bonifacio. The first two, at least, will certainly make Washington’s 26-man roster.

And I haven’t even mentioned (until now) the Nats’ two outstanding young outfielders, Juan Soto and Victor Robles, who were so good during their postseason run at ages 20 and 22, respectively. They’ll both be stars in this league for a long, long time. This is an outstanding team — and they might not even win their division, because the Braves are at least their equal. It’ll be a fun race to watch in the N.L. East again this year.

KEY ADDITIONS: Eric Thames, Welington Castillo, Emilio Bonifacio, Fernando Abad, Ryne Harper, Will Harris, Starlin Castro

KEY SUBTRACTIONS: Brian Dozier, Jeremy Hellickson, Gerardo Parra, Fernando Rodney, Anthony Rendon

The Cubs will face the Nationals April 16-17-18-19 in Washington and May 8-9-10 at Wrigley Field.