Ryan Sullivan: Three bold Nationals predictions on opening day

Happy opening day, baseball friends! After many months of battling cold temperatures and evenings without the soothing voices of Bob Carpenter and F.P. Santangelo, Nationals baseball returns today.

One of the many great things about opening day is the sense of optimism it brings with it - spring in Washington can be truly beautiful and the beginning of a baseball season leads one to think of the endless possibilities over 162 games. Naturally, this leads fans to start making predictions for what will occur.

So I figured for my debut MASNsports.com guest blog, I would make three bold predictions, plus a few honorable mentions, for the Nationals' 2018 season. Additionally, I hope this inspires you to share your prognostications in the comments section below.

Adam Eaton hits 20-plus home runs

Washington's big offseason acquisition prior to last season, Adam Eaton was off to a breakthrough offensive season for the Nationals in 2017, hitting .297/.393/.462 over 23 games. Unfortunately a fluke knee injury occurred running to first base, abruptly ending his season. Now with nearly a year for his knee to recover and to build up his body, I am expecting a monster season for Eaton, with 20-plus home runs and 55-plus extra-base hits. Eaton's career season high is 14 home runs, which he could match prior to the All-Star game.

Jeremy Hellickson wins 10-plus games as the fifth starter

In a relatively quiet winter for all of baseball, one of my favorite low-cost gambles was the Nationals' signing of Jeremy Hellickson to a minor league contract. Washington was seeking a low-cost fifth starter in case pitchers A.J. Cole or Erick Fedde were not ready for the job, while Hellickson will look to rebound in the National League, pitching half his games against the mediocre NL East. I am not projecting a return to his 2016 numbers in Philadelphia, when he posted a 12-10 record with a 3.71 ERA and 154 strikeouts over 189 innings; however, I see little reason he cannot approximate his career NL numbers of a 4.27 ERA over 447 1/3 innings pitched.

The Nationals have done quite well in recent seasons finding valuable contributors on minor league contracts (remember Matt Albers, Matt Belisle and Hector Carrasco?) and I believe Hellickson to be the next example, providing Washington with 10 wins, a 4.20 ERA and 150-plus innings while solidifying the fifth starter spot.

Tanner Roark returns to form

Tanner Roark struggled through a difficult 2017, as he spent spring training with Team USA in the World Baseball Classic and received irregular work throughout the tournament. This caused him to start the season slowly and he never seemed to find his groove all year. I attribute much of his poor 2017 to his unconventional spring. This season Roark has had a full spring to prepare in West Palm Beach, and has made some mechanical adjustments in his delivery to improve his command. Roark gets overlooked in a rotation with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, but I expect him to rebound with 15 wins and an ERA in the low 3.00 range this season.

Honorable mention predictions

Bryce Harper hits a home run on opening day. Victor Robles permanently joins the Nationals on Mother's Day weekend. Strasburg throws a no-hitter in 2018. And, finally, the Nationals win 92 games this season and win their first playoff series!

Ryan Sullivan blogs about the Nationals at The Nats GM and runs The Nats GM Show podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @NatsGMdotcom. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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