Bill Ladson

Nats ready to renew World Series quest in 2017

Washington's core will return largely intact for Opening Day

Nats ready to renew World Series quest in 2017

WASHINGTON -- After he was named manager of the Nationals on Nov. 3, 2015, Dusty Baker made it known that he came to Washington to go the World Series. The Nationals won the National League East title under Baker this past season, but fell short of the Fall Classic, losing to the Dodgers in the NL Division Series.

Next season, Washington's goal will not be any different. Starting with the Marlins on April 3, the Nationals will renew their quest to win the first World Series title in franchise history. The closest the club came to going all the way was in 1981, when it was known as the Montreal Expos. That team lost to the Dodgers in the NL Championship Series.

Nationals' 2017 regular-season schedule

Opponent: The Marlins and Nationals were almost evenly matched last season, with Washington winning 10 out of 19 games. Washington has had a tough time putting the brakes on slugger Giancarlo Stanton over the years. Stanton has a .304 batting average in 86 career games vs. the Nats, with 28 home runs and 65 RBIs -- his best totals against any team.

Before the 2017 season begins, look for Miami to acquire starting pitching. But, if the season started today, it would not be a surprise to see Tom Koehler get the Opening Day nod for the Marlins. Bryce Harper is 11-for-32 (.344) with six home runs and 11 RBIs in his career against the right-hander.

Opening Day starter: It will almost certainly be Max Scherzer for the third campaign in a row. He is already the best starting pitcher in Nationals history. It's not hard to figure out why: Scherzer has two no-hitters, one 20-strikeout game and a 20-win season under his belt.

Opening Day lineup: Using only players currently on the Nationals' roster, here is what the team's April 3 lineup could look like.

1. Trea Turner, CF
2. Jayson Werth, LF
3. Harper, RF
4. Daniel Murphy, 2B
5. Anthony Rendon, 3B
6. Ryan Zimmerman 1B
7. Danny Espinosa, SS
8. Pedro Severino, C
9. Scherzer, P

Three reasons to be excited:

1. Look for Harper to be a candidate for Comeback Player of the Year in 2017. After a great first month of the season in '16, Harper hit .235 with 15 home runs and 62 RBIs from May 1 to the end of the season.

2. A healthy Stephen Strasburg would give Washington a solid rotation. Everything was going so well for the right-hander until Sept. 7, when he strained his right flexor mass against the Braves. It ended his season, but he hasn't needed surgery to fix the problem. For now, rest will do the trick.

3. The Nationals will likely have a new starting catcher in 2017. With Wilson Ramos almost certain to exit as a free agent, Severino would be the leading candidate to take over behind the plate. It's easy to love Severino's energy, plus he even has speed on the bases. The question is, can he hit enough in the big leagues? Some scouts believe he needs to do better at hitting the breaking ball. On the other hand, it would not come as a surprise if the Nationals went after free agent Matt Wieters, who is a Scott Boras client.

Bill Ladson has covered the Nationals/Expos for 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.