Predicting the Washington Nationals’ 2014 Opening Day Lineup

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Washington Nationals: Predicting 2014 Opening Day Lineup

Bryce Harper
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

After missing the playoffs in 2013, the Washington Nationals and their fans eagerly anticipate Opening Day 2014 at Citi Field against the New York Mets. The Nationals are spoiled with a wealth of talent, starting with phenoms Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. Entering 2014, the Nationals have only improved what was already a very strong roster, as the team's lineup, starting rotation, bench and bullpen can all be counted on as strengths.

During the offseason, general manager Mike Rizzo did not have many options for improving his already deep squad, but he still managed to steal Doug Fister from the Detroit Tigers and signed Nate McLouth to bolster the bench. The Nationals also traded for Jose Lobaton to be the backup catcher. Lobaton and McLouth join Tyler Moore, Scott Hairston and Danny Espinosa to form a strong and versatile bench.

The Nationals' starting rotation is an embarrassment of riches, starting with ace Stephen Strasburg and continuing with three other pitchers who could be considered aces elsewhere in Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman and Doug Fister. The Nationals other major acquisition this winter was trading for Jerry Blevins from the Oakland A’s to fill the vacancy in the bullpen as a left-handed reliever.

Washington has done nothing but improve a team that in 2013 was considered to be among the best in the league, so expectations are once again sky high in 2014. As is the case for a lot of teams, the Nationals' success may depend on the health of the team as a whole. The following is a prediction of the Washington Nationals' Opening Day lineup for 2014.

Kyle Johansen is a sports writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylejohansen and add him to your network on Google.

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1. Denard Span - CF

Denard Span
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

While Denard Span’s walk rate has slowly eroded from 12.2 percent in 2008 to 6.3 percent last year, he makes sense atop the Nationals’ lineup due to his speed and contact skills. Span’s value lies in his quality center field defense and not in his bat, but the other options for hitting leadoff (Jayson Werth, Ian Desmond) both would see their power wasted at this position in the lineup.

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2. Jayson Werth - LF

Jayson Werth
Derick Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Jayson Werth had the type of season in 2013 that Nationals fans expected after the team signed him to a seven-year, $126 million deal three years ago. Werth has always put up strong power and on-base numbers, but the entire package was on display last year as Werth hit .318/.398/.532 with 25 home runs and 10 stolen bases in just 129 games played. Werth also had the highest weighted on-base average of his career at .403 and would be an excellent choice for the No. 2 spot in the lineup.

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3. Bryce Harper - RF

Bryce Harper
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

While injuries held Bryce Harper back last year from having a truly breakout season, the numbers he did put up in 118 games played were nevertheless incredibly impressive for any player, much less a 20-year-old. Harper cut his strikeout rate down to 18.9 percent while bumping up his walk rate to 12.3 percent and his raw power also increased from a .206 ISO to .212 in 2013. The sky is the limit for Bryce Harper and baseball fans are lucky to have an opportunity to watch him play.

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4. Ryan Zimmerman - 3B

Ryan Zimmerman
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

As long as Ryan Zimmerman is on the field, the Nationals know what kind of production they’re going to get from the veteran third baseman. While Zimmerman has been playing for the Nationals since 2005, he is still just 29 years old and should continue to put up numbers in line with his career .829 OPS. Zimmerman should maintain a 30 home run pace to go along with a line of around .280/.350/.475 for as long as he can stay on the field in 2014.

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5. Ian Desmond - SS

Ian Desmond
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Ian Desmond is coming off of two straight 20-20 seasons with a combined 45 home runs and 42 stolen bases. During that stretch, he has established himself as one of the elite shortstops in baseball with exactly five WAR in each of the last two seasons.

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6. Adam LaRoche - 1B

Adam LaRoche
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Adam LaRoche will never again reach the heights of his 2012 season when he hit 33 home runs with 100 RBIs and a .853 OPS. While the 2013 version of LaRoche wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t very good either. Although LaRoche hit just .237, but he did manage to put up an on-base percentage of .332 and hit 20 home runs. At 34 years old, the Nationals are just hoping that LaRoche doesn’t decline any further in 2014.

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7. Wilson Ramos - C

Wilson Ramos
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Wilson Ramos has the skills to be one of the better offensive catchers in baseball, but his problem is staying healthy. After tearing his ACL in 2012, Wilson made multiple trips to the DL again in 2013 with hamstring issues. While he’s on the field he provides power and contact, a rare combination for any player, but even more impressive for a catcher. Ramos was able to hit 16 home runs in 2013 in just 303 plate appearances, and if he can stay healthy for a full season in 2014, he has the ability to hit 25 home runs.

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8. Anthony Rendon - 2B

Anthony Rendon
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Rendon rounds out a potent Nationals lineup as another potential star player. Like Ramos, Rendon is limited by his ability to stay on the field. When he’s healthy, he has done nothing but hit, showing power and patience at each stop in the minor leagues. Rendon has very little minor league seasoning and played in just three games at Triple-A before joining the Nationals midway through the season last year. Rendon’s fragile body caused him to fall from what would have been the No. 1 overall selection in the 2011 draft to the Nationals at No. 6, but if he can stay healthy, he has a chance to be a perennial All-Star at second base for Washington.

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9. Stephen Strasburg - SP

Stephen Strasburg
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Strasburg has been the Nationals’ Opening Day starter for the past two seasons and should once again take the mound on Opening Day 2014 at Citi Field against the New York Mets. When it comes to Strasburg, it seems the specter of injury is always looming near, and that continues to be the case this year as Strasburg underwent offseason surgery to remove bone chips in his right elbow. Strasburg did stay healthy throughout the 2013 season, though, and impressed with 191 strikeouts in 183 innings pitched to go along with a 3.00 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. Strasburg is the definition of staff ace and should continue to build on his status as an elite pitcher in 2014.

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