WASHINGTON -- Even though they were eliminated by the Dodgers in the National League Division Series on Thursday night with a 4-3 loss, the Nationals look like they will be good enough to win their fourth National League East title in six years in 2017.
But one of the first things the Nationals have to do is figure who will be back next year. Catcher Wilson Ramos and closer Mark Melancon are free agents, though they are the only major free agents on the stocked roster. Ramos, who suffered a knee injury in September, is expected to rehab his right knee for seven months before he is back on the field. Melancon is healthy and the Nationals could use his 47 saves next year.
Even if Ramos or Melancon don't come back, Washington still has one of the best starting pitching staffs in baseball, led by Max Scherzer and Tanner Roark, plus Stephen Strasburg if he returns healthy as expected. The Nationals finished 17th in the Major Leagues in offense, but that should be even better if Bryce Harper has a better season next year. The Nationals won 95 games, but manager Dusty Baker wants to see improvements for his team next year.
"I'd like to go back to the drawing board and get better fundamental play, cut down on our strikeouts, cut down on our walks [issued by pitchers]," Baker said. "Because you know, in this series, it seemed like whenever we walked somebody, they scored."
First baseman Ryan Zimmerman has been with the Nationals for more than 10 years. He has seen the team go from one of the worst teams in the league to World Series contenders the last five years. Zimmerman expects the Nationals to be World Series favorites next year.
"This organization has come a long way. I think year in and year out, I think we are going to be consistent. That's where you want to be," Zimmerman said. "It's fun to be a part of it. Every year, we are legitimate candidates to make the playoffs and become legitimate World Series contenders. It's exciting. Losing to the Dodgers hurts right now. But we have come a long way."
Bill Ladson has covered the Nationals/Expos for MLB.com since 2002 and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.