Nationals Should Top Rays For Title…In 2016

CHICAGO—The city of Washington hasn’t toasted a World Series title since 1924, when the Senators parlayed two bad-hop grounders and some clutch relief work from Hall of Famer Walter Johnson into a Game Seven victory against the New York Giants.

Nine decades later, the nation’s capital is on its third big league franchise and still looking for its second postseason series victory. Washington won’t have to wait much longer for a second championship, however.

Here in this corner of Baseball America, we like to raise the degree of difficulty in our annual Major League Preview and prognosticate three years into the future. Back in 2010 ($), we projected that the Braves, Nationals, Rangers, Rays, Reds and Yankees would make the playoffs this year, with Tampa Bay winning the World Series. That all seems plausible, so have faith when we tell you the Nats finally will emerge as champs again in 2016.

First-Rounders Drive Nats

The two most talented teams in the National League will reside in the East, where the Nationals will prevail thanks to Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. The two No. 1 overall picks will win the NL MVP and Cy Young awards, not to mention the home run and strikeout crowns. They’ll be ably assisted by two other first-rounders, Anthony Rendon and Lucas Giolito, who finish second in the league batting and strikeout races.

The Braves claim a wild card thanks to a stellar outfield (Jason Heyward and the Upton brothers) and an entirely homegrown rotation (Kris Medlen, Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, J.R. Graham). Atlanta’s development pipeline will produce three additional all-stars in Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons and Craig Kimbrel.

Much as they have throughout the decade, the Cardinals and Reds will continue to battle for superiority in the NL Central. This round goes to St. Louis, with outfielder Oscar Taveras winning his first batting title and righthander Shelby Miller leading the pitching staff. The Cards have an admirable mix of veterans (Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, Adam Wainright) and new blood (Taveras, Miller, second baseman Kolten Wong, righthanders Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal).

Cincinnati settles for a wild card with one of baseball’s most homegrown rosters. Center fielder and perennial stolen-base leader Billy Hamilton sets the table, Jay Bruce and Joey Votto power the lineup, and Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco play supporting roles. The rotation also is loaded with homegrown talent (Johnny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman, Robert Stephenson, Homer Bailey).

Out West, the Dodgers hold off the Giants for the division title. Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw are still the stars of the team, but Los Angeles also has plenty of fresh faces: free-agent signee Asdrubal Cabrera, international import Yasiel Puig in right field and first-round picks at third base (Corey Seager) and in the rotation (Zach Lee, Chris Reed).


Moore, Price Lead Rays

Assuming the Rays find a way to sign David Price before he hits the free-agent market, they’ll win the always-rugged American League East. Matt Moore eclipses Price by winning the Cy Young Award and strikeout titles as the two headline a dynamic pitching staff featuring Chris Archer, Jeremy Hellickson, Taylor Guerrieri and Jake Odorizzi. The offense is in good hands with Desmond Jennings (the AL steals leader), Evan Longoria and a pair of young sluggers, right fielder Wil Myers and first baseman Richie Shaffer.

The rebuilt Yankees grab a wild card. While New York dips into free agency to plug holes with Yovani Gallardo and Chase Headley, player development proves just as crucial. Catcher Gary Sanchez and outfielders Tyler Austin, Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams team with Robinson Cano and Headley to form baseball’s most feared lineup.

The trade that sent Myers and Odorizzi to Tampa Bay also helps the Royals, who ride roughshod over a weak AL Central. James Shields and Wade Davis bolster a rotation that finally has some quality homegrown arms in Kyle Zimmer, 2013 first-rounder Ryne Stanek and Yordano Ventura. AL MVP Eric Hosmer has come into his own, as has Mike Moustakas, and Kansas City also benefits from an athletic, talented outfield of Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon and Bubba Starling.

Baseball’s closest race comes in the AL West, where the Mariners edge the Rangers by a game. Seattle builds its winner around pitching, with Felix Hernandez and youngsters Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Brandon Maurer and Carter Capps. Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak live up to their first-round promise, as do catcher Mike Zunino and second baseman Nick Franklin.

Texas’ consolation prize is a wild card. The Rangers have the game’s best middle infield (batting champ Jurickson Profar and Elvis Andrus) and a host of young sluggers in third baseman Mike Olt, catcher Jorge Alfaro and first baseman Joey Gallo.

Surviving the AL East gauntlet will help the Rays get to the World Series, where the game’s two best players will be a little too much for Tampa Bay. Harper and Strasburg will star as the Nationals end their 92-year championship drought.