Looking at the lineup (48 days in advance)

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The Nationals haven’t had a lack of hype surrounding their last two seasons. The magazines were filled with predictions of parades on the National Mall, banners on South Capitol Street and a Curly W in the books for the last game of the season. We all know the rest of the story –  two seasons, one regular season disappointment, one 18-inning heartbreak.

Despite the incorrect predictions, there are still two large and legitimate reasons that in the past two year’s baseball previews, in big, bold letters, under the “World Series Champions” label, the words “Washington Nationals” have appeared more often than nearly any other. One is their talented rotation, which analysts like me and those on MLB Network could babble on about for hours. The other is the depth of their lineup, the “Red Line”. The Nationals possess what many would call the most dangerous lineup from 1-8, with offensive weapons at every stop.

Given the changes in the lineup made over the offseason, the lineup has the possibility to be different. It’s hard to believe Matt Williams and Mike Rizzo would mess too much with last year’s success excepting an injury.

Last year, the Nationals lineup eventually stacked up like this:

1. Denard Span, CF

2. Anthony Rendon, 2B/3B

3. Jayson Werth, RF

4. Adam LaRoche, 1B

5. Ian Desmond, SS

6. Bryce Harper, LF

7. Wilson Ramos, C

8. Asdrubal Cabrera/Danny Espinosa/Kevin Frandsen, 2B

9. Pitcher

Despite early season woes, this lineup took the Nationals to an NL East Championship. The majority of the players remain – all but two. Even so, Ryan Zimmerman will move to 1B but it does give Matt Williams a couple options on how he wants to shape his lineup. Here’s (barring any trades or injuries) the official Side of Natitude prediction.

1. Denard Span, CF – The Nationals don’t have a natural leadoff man like Denard Span. His speed and OBP have kept him at the top of the lineup since 2013

2. Anthony Rendon, 3B – According to the depth chart, Rendon finally has a permanent position at third base. He proved last season his consistency, his natural ability and the fact that he’s a smooth operator, which gave the Nats their long-desired 1-2 punch.

3. Jayson Werth, LF – Last season, Matt Williams gave Jayson Werth the third spot in the lineup, trusting his ability to get on base and drive runners in. He met those expectations, batting in 82 runs with 156 hits. Despite his switch across the outfield, Werth is still strong enough and good enough to take the 3-hole.

4. Bryce Harper, RF – In the first (predicted) change, Harper moves up two spots from number six. Harper has been hyped as the most powerful player since the age of 16, and was thought to be one of the next all time home run leaders. Through the first three seasons of his career, the power showed but never truly emerged, mainly due to injuries and slumps. This year, Harper is completely recovered, more mature, and a better player. The power is obviously there, and if he can utilize it, he’ll be an obvious choice for the cleanup hitter. If his power can fall into check, then he’ll also be an obvious solution for the loss of Adam LaRoche.

5. Ryan Zimmerman, 1B – Zimmerman’s troubles with his arthritic shoulder should finally be over, due to his jump across the diamond. Essentially an older Anthony Rendon, Zimmerman can easily do well driving in his guys in the five spot and flourish after a letdown season.

6. Ian Desmond, SS – Desmond has a lot riding on this season, as he enters free agency the winter after. He produced a below average season last year, batting .255 and striking out 183 times. On the upside, he hit 24 home runs and stole 24 bases, and went into the 20-20 club for the third straight year. On most teams, he would be good enough to be the number two or number five hitter. However, on this Nationals team, he hasn’t proved that he’s reliable enough and that he can go a season without striking out so consistently. Even so, he can still do very well in the sixth spot, providing power and unexpected speed.

7. Wilson Ramos, C – Ramos has traits you dream of for a catcher. Power. Hitting for average. Great pitch calling skills. Coolness under pressure. So why do you not make this guy the centerpiece of your lineup? Because he, beyond anything else, is injury prone. Over the last few seasons, Ramos has missed countless games due to injury – torn ACL, hamstring pulls and tears, broken hands, kidnappings (!) – he’s just not reliable enough. He would do incredibly well as a cleanup hitter or asthe fifth hitter, but you can’t build a lineup around a guy who may not be around for the majority of the season. When he proves he can stay in long enough, then maybe, he’ll be moved up. But for now, teams will have to be frightened by his power so low in the order.

8. Yunel Escobar, 2B – As you may know, I have mixed feelings about bringing Escobar on board.  Escobar is an average hitter who hits well for a second baseman, (almost a carbon copy offensively of Asdrubal Cabrera) and could be higher in other lineups. Even so, he proves to be the least consistent and least promising or exciting of the Nationals many hitters. If he proves to be a bigger threat than he has been throughout the past three years, then his lineup spot will reflect the change. He’s also a very good hitter – but the only hitter that makes remote sense in the eighth spot in the lineup.

-Will

Have a difference in opinions? Think Ramos should be leading off? Drop a comment or tell me on Twitter! (@WKSideOfNats)

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