Baseball

Grapefruit League provides a showcase for youth

Baseball has always been a kids’ game, so maybe it’s fitting the average age of major-league players has dropped nearly a full year since 2004.

Compare the names atop the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) leaderboards from then with 2014: Barry Bonds, 40, vs. Mike Trout, 23; Randy Johnson, 41, vs. Clayton Kershaw, 26. The shift is clear, and Major League Baseball is taking it in stride.

New statistics suggest that players don’t peak at a consistent age like previously thought, making minor-league seasoning less necessary. Add to the equation increased media interest in prospects and the integration of advanced metrics, and never before has baseball, the oldest and least malleable of the major American sports, been so unilaterally focused on the future. Where front offices and fans once asked, “What have you done for me lately?” they now prefer, “What can you do for me soon?”

Spring training 2015 will be a testament to that. Welcome to the Grapefruit League, the seasonal home of the best players you’ve never seen.

In Fort Myers, new Red Sox players Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez will face attention and hype. But probably not as much as 22-year-olds Blake Swihart (catcher) or Henry Owens (left-handed starter), neither of whom probably break camp.

In Port St. Lucie, the Mets have 25-year-old ace Matt Harvey returning from Tommy John surgery. But so many more questions this winter revolved around whether New York would trade Noah Syndergaard, 21, and his 4.60 Triple A ERA.

Don’t be bored by perennial MVP candidates Giancarlo Stanton at Marlins camp or Andrew McCutchen, with the Pirates in Sarasota. At 25 and 28, respectively, they’re baseball dinosaurs now, especially compared with hard-throwing Marlins prospect Tyler Kolek, 19, and Pittsburgh fire-ballers Tyler Glasnow, 21, and Jameson Taillon, 23.

Joining the ranks of the forgotten is Gregory Polanco, 23, Pittsburgh’s 2014 spring sensation. He’s garnering little attention these days mainly because he already has stepped on the big stage.

In a similar boat is Orioles starter and former No.4 overall pick Kevin Gausman. He started 20 games as a rookie in 2014. Look out, because another No.4 overall pick is coming in Dylan Bundy. He’s still just 22.

Even that’s ancient compared with Houston’s Carlos Correa, 20, the No.1 overall pick who could emerge as a star of spring.

Thirty percent of MLB’s 2014 All-Stars were 25 or under. This is the next crop. The list goes on. For some teams, the turnover never stops.

A year ago, 24-year-old center fielder Aaron Hicks was Minnesota’s savior cometh. But after Hicks hit .215, the Twins now hope No.1 prospect Byron Buxton, 21, wins the job.

Maybe this rapidly replaceable rate of production is contributing to baseball’s diminishing popularity. New commissioner Rob Manfred has pledged to direct marketing efforts at a younger generation of potential fans. But how is he supposed to sell stars who sizzle and fade away in this sort of cycle?

To figure that out requires pondering how we got here in the first place.

Highly paid, declining talents litter the Grapefruit League. Disgraced slugger Alex Rodriguez provides the most obvious example, but New York’s C.C. Sabathia and Mark Teixeira, and Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard fit the bill as well.

Now many general managers are more comfortable employing a player during his cheaper, team-controlled seasons, which is why teams are sending premium talent to the big leagues as quickly as possible and shipping still-young (by traditional standards) players away before they reach free agency.

In Kissimmee, Braves fans will miss former future cornerstone Jason Heyward, 25, two-time All-Star Justin Upton, 27, and slugger Evan Gattis, 28. All were traded away for prospects and all but Gattis were sent away a year before they hit the open market. But Rio Ruiz, 20, and Mallex Smith, 21, and more of Atlanta’s heavily lauded return, will be in camp.

Similar — but less extreme — future planning allowed the Los Angeles Angels, owners of baseball’s best record a year ago, to trade starting second baseman Howie Kendrick for 23-year-old Marlins prospect Andrew Heaney.

They say hope springs eternal. In baseball, it keeps getting younger and younger.

ATLANTA BRAVES

Home: Kissimmee, Champion Stadium, 700 S. Victory Way.

Tickets: www.braves.com or 1-800-745-3000. Prices $14-$54.

2014: 79-83 (T-2nd in NL East).

Top returning players: RHP Julio Teheran (14-13, 2.89 ERA), LHP Alex Wood (11-11, 2.78 ERA), RHP Craig Kimbrel (0-3, 1.61 ERA, 47 saves), 1B Freddie Freeman (.288, 18 HR, 78 RBI), SS Andrelton Simmons (.244, 7 HR, 46 RBI, Gold Glove), 3B Chris Johnson (.263, 10 HR, 58 RBI).

Key additions: RF Nick Markakis (Orioles), RHP Shelby Miller (Cardinals), INF Alberto Callaspo (A’s), RHP Jason Grilli (Angels), C A.J. Pierzynski (Cardinals).

Key losses: LF Justin Upton (Padres), RF Jason Heyward (Cardinals), OF/C Evan Gattis (Astros), RHP Ervin Santana (Twins).

Outlook: A disastrous 2014 second half (27-40) forced the Braves into rebuilding mode just a year removed from an NL East title. Gone is two-thirds of the starting outfield and most of the middle of the order, as Upton (29 HR, 102 RBI), Heyward (.351 OBP, Gold Glove) and Gattis (22 HR) were shipped out for little more than prospects. Newcomers Miller and Markakis could provide stopgaps, but in the upstart NL East this is a team trending in the wrong direction.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Home: Sarasota, Ed Smith Stadium, 2700 12th Street.

Tickets: www.orioles.com or 941-954-4101. Prices $16-$33. Parking is $9.

2014: 96-66 (won AL East; lost to Royals in ALCS).

Top returning players: CF Adam Jones (.281, 29 HR, 96 RBI, Gold Glove), 1B Chris Davis (.196, 26 HR, 72 RBI), 3B Manny Machado (.278, 12 HR, 32 RBI), SS J.J. Hardy (.268, 9 HR, 52 RBI, Gold Glove), RHP Chris Tillman (13-6, 3.34), LHP Wei-Yin Chen (16-6, 3.54 ERA), LHP Zach Britton (3-2, 1.65, 37 saves), C Matt Wieters (.308, 5 HR, 18 RBI).

Key additions: OF Travis Snider (Pirates).

Key losses: DH Nelson Cruz (Mariners), RF Nick Markakis (Braves), LHP Andrew Miller (Yankees).

Outlook: Baltimore rode the long ball (MLB best 211 homers) in 2014 but failed this winter to replace the offensive prowess lost with the departures of home run champion Cruz and leadoff stalwart Markakis. The Orioles are betting on bounce-back seasons from Wieters (Tommy John surgery), Machado (knee surgery) and Davis (suspension) to carry a young-but-improving rotation back to October.

BOSTON RED SOX

Home: Fort Myers, JetBlue Park at Fenway South, 11581 Daniels Parkway.

Tickets: www.redsox.com or 239-334-4700. Prices $5-$48. Parking is $10.

2014: 71-91 (last in AL East).

Top returning players: DH David Ortiz (.263, 35 HR, 104 RBI), 2B Dustin Pedroia (.278, 7 HR, 53 RBI, Gold Glove), RHP Clay Buchholz (8-11, 5.34 ERA), 1B Mike Napoli (.248, 17 HR, 55 RBI), RF Shane Victorino (.268, 2 HR, 12 RBI), CF Rusney Castillo (.333, 2 HR, 6 RBI), RHP Koji Uehara (6-5, 2.52 ERA, 26 saves).

Key additions: LF Hanley Ramirez (Dodgers), 3B Pablo Sandoval (Giants), RHP Rick Porcello (Tigers), LHP Wade Miley (Diamondbacks), RHP Justin Masterson (Cardinals), C Ryan Hanigan (Padres).

Key losses: Yoenis Cespedes (Tigers), 3B Will Middlebrooks (Padres).

Outlook: Boston went from first to worst in 2014, finishing last in the AL East for the second time in three years (albeit with a World Series title sandwiched in between). GM Ben Cherington signed the two best free agent bats available in three-time champion Sandoval and former shortstop Ramirez. But can Boston survive Ramirez’s move to left field? And how long before the patched-up rotation begins to leak?

DETROIT TIGERS

Home: Lakeland, Joker Merchant Stadium, 2301 Lakeland Hills Blvd.

Tickets: www.tigers.com or 866-668-4437. Prices $10-$30. Parking is $8.

2014: 90-72 (Won AL Central; lost to Orioles in ALDS).

Top returning players: 1B Miguel Cabrera (.313, 25 HR, 109 RBI), DH Victor Martinez (.330, 32 HR, 103 RBI), LHP David Price (15-12, 3.26 ERA), 2B Ian Kinsler (.275, 17 HR, 92 RBI), RF J.D. Martinez (.315, 23 HR, 76 RBI), SS Jose Iglesias (DNP – injury), RHP Justin Verlander (15-12, 4.54 ERA), RHP Anibal Sanchez (8-5, 3.43 ERA).

Key additions: LF Yoenis Cespedes (Red Sox), RHP Shane Greene (Yankees), CF Anthony Gose (Blue Jays).

Key losses: RHP Max Scherzer (Nationals), RHP Rick Porcello (Red Sox), RF Torii Hunter (Twins).

Outlook: Detroit barely overcame a late-season surge by Kansas City in 2014, and lost two starting pitchers (including ace Scherzer) and its right fielder this winter while Chicago and Cleveland both improved. Re-signing Victor Martinez (2nd in 2014 AL MVP voting) and trading for Cespedes (22 HR, 100 RBI) ensured the lineup will still be potent around future Hall of Famer Cabrera. But Martinez will miss time with a knee injury.

HOUSTON ASTROS

Home: Kissimmee, Osceola County Stadium, 631 Heritage Park Way.

Tickets: www.astros.com or 321-697-3201. Prices $10-$55. Parking is $10.

2014: 70-92 (4th in AL West).

Top returning players: 2B Jose Altuve (.341, 7 HR, 59 RBI), DH Chris Carter (.227, 37 HR, 88 RBI), RF George Springer (.231, 20 HR, 51 RBI), C Jason Castro (.222, 14 HR, 56 RBI), RHP Dallas Keuchel (12-9, 2.93 ERA, Gold Glove), RHP Scott Feldman (8-12, 3.74 ERA).

Key additions: OF/C Evan Gattis (Braves), SS Jed Lowrie (A’s), CF Colby Rasmus (Blue Jays), RHP Luke Gregerson (A’s), RHP Pat Neshek (Cardinals), 3B Luis Valbuena (Cubs).

Key losses: CF Dexter Fowler (Cubs).

Outlook: Houston surprised many by being relatively competitive in 2014 despite years of rebuilding. Breakout seasons from MLB batting champ Altuve, slugger Carter and Keuchel supplemented Springer’s impressive debut. In all the Astros debuted seven top prospects in 2014, and after a slew of winter moves, the roster is filled with young talent and veteran help.

MIAMI MARLINS

Home: Jupiter, Roger Dean Stadium, 4751 Main Street.

Tickets: www.marlins.com or www.rogerdeanstadium.com or (561) 630-1828. Prices $15 to $40. Parking is $10.

2014: 77-85 (4th in AL East).

Top returning players: RF Giancarlo Stanton (.288, 37 HR, 105 RBI), LF Christian Yelich (.284, 9 HR, 54 RBI, Gold Glove), RHP Jose Fernandez (4-2, 2.44 ERA), RHP Henderson Alvarez (12-7, 2.65 ERA), C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.220, 11 HR, 44 RBI), RHP Jared Cosart (4-4, 2.39 ERA), CF Marcell Ozuna (.269, 23 HR, 85 RBI), RHP A.J. Ramos (7-0, 2.11 ERA).

Key additions: 2B Dee Gordon (Dodgers), 3B Martin Prado (Yankees), RHP Mat Latos (Reds), 1B Michael Morse (Giants), OF Ichiro Suzuki (Yankees), RHP Dan Haren (Dodgers), RHP David Phelps (Yankees), RHP Aaron Crow (Royals).

Key losses: 3B Casey McGehee (Giants), 1B Garrett Jones (Yankees), LHP Andrew Heaney (Angels), RHP Nathan Eovaldi (Yankees).

Outlook: Once-stringent owner Jeffrey Loria signed Stanton to the biggest contract in baseball history, then kept his promise by surrounding the 25-year-old slugger with talent. After five losing seasons in a row, the Marlins enter 2015 a trendy wild-card pick thanks to newcomer Gordon (64 steals) and an outfield rated among the best in the game. The rotation could be just as strong if Fernandez (Tommy John surgery) can recapture his rookie-season magic.

MINNESOTA TWINS

Home: Fort Myers, Hammond Stadium at CenturyLink Sports Complex, 14100 Six Mile Cypress Parkway.

Tickets: www.twins.com or 800-33-TWINS. Prices $10-$31. Parking is $10.

2014: 70-92 (Last in AL Central).

Top returning players: 2B Brian Dozier (.242, 23 HR, 71 RBI), 1B Joe Mauer (.277, 4 HR, 55 RBI), LF Oswaldo Arcia (.231, 20 HR, 57 RBI), 3B Trevor Plouffe (.258, 14 HR, 80 RBI), C Kurt Suzuki (.288, 3 HR, 61 RBI), SS Danny Santana (.319, 7 HR, 40 RBI), RHP Phil Hughes (16-10, 3.52 ERA), LHP Glen Perkins (4-3, 3.65 ERA, 34 saves).

Key additions: RHP Ervin Santana (Braves), RF Torii Hunter (Tigers).

Key losses: RHP Jared Burton (free agent), 1B/OF Chris Colabello (free agent).

Outlook: Blame a fourth losing season in a row in 2014 on an AL-worst 4.57 team ERA and some of baseball’s poorest defense. With Justin Morneau gone and Mauer in steep decline, Minnesota is looking for a new pair of homegrown stars to emerge in third baseman Miguel Sano and center fielder Byron Buxton.

NEW YORK METS

Home: Port St. Lucie, Tradition Field at St. Lucie Sports Complex, 525 Northwest Peacock Blvd.

Tickets: www.mets.com or 772-871-2115. Prices $16 to $25. Parking is $8.

2014: 79-83 (T-2nd in NL East).

Top returning players: RHP Matt Harvey (DNP – injury), RHP Jacob deGrom (9-6, 2.69 ERA), 3B David Wright (.269, 8 HR, 63 RBI), 1B Lucas Duda (.253, 30 HR, 92 RBI), CF Juan Lagares (.281, 4 HR, 47 RBI, Gold Glove), LF Curtis Granderson (.227, 20 HR, 66 RBI), RHP Zach Wheeler (11-11, 3.54 ERA), LHP Jon Niese (9-11, 3.40 ERA), RHP Bartolo Colon (15-13, 4.09 ERA), Bobby Parnell (1 game – injury).

Key additions: RF Michael Cuddyer (Rockies), OF John Mayberry Jr. (Phillies).

Key losses: OF Eric Young Jr. (Braves), OF Bobby Abreu (free agent), RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka (Japan).

Outlook: Mets fans might chase GM Sandy Alderson out of Queens if shortstop Wilmer Flores (.251, 6 HR, 29 RBI) can’t handle the position, as many expected Alderson to improve the up-the-middle situation this winter. But he failed to acquire impact players there despite a few being available. Alderson promised 2015 would be the year the Mets returned to contention, but even with ace Harvey (Tommy John surgery) back, they might be a few pieces away.

NEW YORK YANKEES

Home: Tampa, George M. Steinbrenner Field, 1 Steinbrenner Drive.

Tickets: www.yankees.com or 813-879-2244 or 800-96-YANKS. Prices $17 to $33. Parking is $10.

2014: 84-78 (2nd in AL East).

Top returning players: CF Jacoby Ellsbury (.271 16 HR, 70 RBI), RHP Masahiro Tanaka (13-5, 2.77 ERA), LF Brett Gardner (.256, 17 HR, 58 RBI), RHP Dellin Betances (5-0, 1.40 ERA), RF Carlos Beltran (.233, 15 HR, 49 RBI), C Brian McCann (.232, 23 HR, 75 RBI), DH Alex Rodriguez (DNP – suspended), 3B Chase Headley (.243, 13 HR, 49 HR), LHP C.C. Sabathia (3-4, 5.28 ERA), RHP Michael Pineda (5-5, 1.89 ERA), 1B Mark Teixeira (.216, 22 HR, 62 RBI).

Key additions: LHP Andrew Miller (Orioles), SS Didi Gregorius (Diamondbacks), RHP Nathan Eovaldi (Marlins), 1B Garrett Jones (Marlins).

Key losses: SS Derek Jeter (retired), RHP David Robertson (White Sox), INF Martin Prado (Marlins), RHP Brandon McCarthy (Dodgers), RHP David Phelps (Marlins), Shane Greene (Tigers), OF Ichiro Suzuki (Marlins).

Outlook: If nothing else, Jeter’s retirement tour took attention away from New York’s lowest win total in 22 years. The Yankees don’t have that luxury this year, only more luxury tax to pay on the contracts of Sabathia, Teixeira, Beltran, McCann and Rodriguez. With A-Rod returning, 2015 is bound to be more circus than ceremony for the Yankees, who play in a division where almost every other team made major winter moves.

PHILADELPHIA

PHILLIES

Home: Clearwater, Bright House Field, 601 Coachman Road.

Tickets: www.phillies.com or 727-712-4300. Prices $14-35. Walk-up prices vary. Parking is $10.

2014: 73-89 (Last in NL East).

Top returning players: LHP Cole Hamels (9-9, 2.46 ERA), LHP Cliff Lee (4-5, 3.65 ERA), RHP Jonathan Papelbon (2-3, 2.04 ERA, 39 saves), CF Ben Revere (.306 AVG, 49 SB), 2B Chase Utley (.270, 11 HR, 78 RBI), 1B Ryan Howard (.223, 23 HR, 95 RBI), LF Dominic Brown (.235, 10 HR, 63 RBI), C Carlos Ruiz (.252, 6 HR, 31 RBI).

Key additions: RHP Aaron Harang (Braves), RHP Chad Billingsley (Dodgers).

Key losses: OF Marlon Byrd (Reds), SS Jimmy Rollins (Dodgers), OF John Mayberry Jr. (Mets), RHP A.J. Burnett (Pirates), LHP Antonio Bastardo (Pirates), RHP Kyle Kendrick (Rockies).

Outlook: General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. tried to unload many of his aging, expensive players to little avail. He was only able to rid himself of Byrd (.264, 25 HR, 85 RBI), who wasn’t all that expensive, and Rollins, the most productive of the lot. Philadelphia hasn’t made the playoffs since 2011, and with one of the lowest-rated farm systems doesn’t appear to be headed back again soon.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Home: Bradenton, McKechnie Field, 1611 9th Street West.

Tickets: www.pirates.com or (877) 893-2827. Prices $12 to $27, $3 walk-up fee. Parking free.

2014: 88-74 (2nd in NL Central, lost to Giants in wild-card game).

Top returning players: CF Andrew McCutchen (.314, 25 HR, 83 RBI), 3B Josh Harrison (.315, 13 HR, 52 RBI), 1B Pedro Alvarez (.231, 18 HR, 56 RBI), LF Starling Marte (.291, 13 HR, 56 RBI), 2B Neil Walker (.271, 23 HR, 76 RBI), RHP Gerrit Cole (11-5, 3.65 ERA), RF Gregory Polanco (.235, 7 HR, 33 RBI).

Key additions: SS Jung-Ho Kang (Korea), RHP A.J. Burnett (Phillies), OF/1B Corey Hart (Mariners), LHP Antonio Bastardo (Phillies), C Francisco Cervelli (Yankees), UT Sean Rodriguez (Rays).

Key losses: C Russell Martin (Blue Jays), 1B Ike Davis (A’s), OF Travis Snider (Orioles), RHP Edinson Volquez (Royals), LHP Justin Wilson (Yankees).

Outlook: After 20 years without playoff baseball, two consecutive October appearances have raised expectations. The Pirates will miss Volquez (13-7, 3.04 ERA) if Burnett (NL worst 18 losses) can’t bounce back. But the minimal offseason moves made by the Brewers and Reds mean Pittsburgh will probably only have to hold off the Cardinals and revamped Cubs to stay near the top of the NL Central.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

Home: Jupiter, Roger Dean Stadium, 4751 Main Street.

Tickets: www.cardinals.com or 800-745-3000. Prices $15-$40. Parking $0-$10.

2014: 90-72 (Won NL Central, lost to Giants in NLCS).

Top returning players: RHP Adam Wainwright (20-9, 2.38 ERA), C Yadier Molina (.282, 7 HR, 38 RBI, Gold Glove), 3B Matt Carpenter (.272, 8 HR, 59 RBI), LF Matt Holliday (.272, 20 HR, 90 RBI), RHP Lance Lynn (15-10, 2.74 ERA), RHP Michael Wacha (5-6, 3.20 ERA), CF Jon Jay (.303, 3 HR, 46 RBI), 1B Matt Adams (.288, 15 HR, 68 RBI), RHP Trevor Rosenthal (2-6, 3.20 ERA, 45 saves), SS Jhonny Peralta (.263, 21 HR, 75 RBI).

Key additions: RF Jason Heyward (Braves), 1B Mark Reynolds (Brewers), RHP Jordan Walden (Braves), RHP Matt Belisle (Rockies), RHP Carlos Villanueva (Cubs).

Key losses: RF Oscar Taveras (death), RHP Shelby Miller (Braves), RHP Jason Motte (Cubs), RHP Pat Neshek (Astros), INF Daniel Descalso (Rockies), C A.J. Piersynski (Red Sox).

Outlook: A once opportunistic offense turned into one of the least potent (NL worst 105 home runs) in 2014, and promising pitchers Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez were plagued by injury, inconsistency or both. Yet St. Louis won the NL Central anyway, earning its fourth consecutive playoff berth. The Cardinals had to recover from baseball’s most tragic offseason loss, the death of Taveras, 22, who was killed in a drunk driving accident. But after acquiring gold glover Heyward, don’t expect St. Louis to miss a step.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

Home: Port Charlotte, Charlotte Sports Park, 2300 El Jobean Rd.

Tickets: www.rays.com or 888-326-7297. Prices $10 to $29. Parking $10.

2014: 77-85 (4th in AL East).

Top returning players: 3B Evan Longoria (.253, 22 HR, 91 RBI), RHP Alex Cobb (10-9, 2.87 ERA), RHP Chris Archer (10-9, 3.33 ERA), RHP Jake Odorizzi (11-13, 4.13 ERA), LHP Matt Moore (2 games – injury), CF Desmond Jennings (.244, 10 HR, 36 RBI).

Key additions: OF Steven Souza (Nationals), INF Asdrubal Cabrera (Nationals), C John Jaso (A’s).

Key losses: UT Ben Zobrist (A’s), OF Wil Myers (Padres), Yunel Escobar (Nationals), RHP Joel Peralta (Dodgers), RHP Jeremy Hellickson (Diamondbacks).

Outlook: The Rays scored the fewest runs in the American League (612) a year removed from a wild-card berth and traded away ace David Price before another offseason roster overhaul. But Tampa’s biggest challenge could be competing without GM Andrew Friedman, who left for the Dodgers, and manager Joe Maddon, who went to the Cubs.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Home: Dunedin, Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, 373 Douglass Avenue.

Tickets: www.bluejays.com or 888-525-5297 or 727-733-0429. Prices $17-$32.

2014: 83-79 (3rd in AL East).

Top returning players: RF Jose Bautista (.286, 35 HR, 103 RBI), DH Edwin Encarnacion (.268, 34 HR, 98 RBI), SS Jose Reyes (.287, 9 HR, 51 RBI), RHP R.A. Dickey (14-13, 3.71 ERA), LHP Mark Buehrle (13-10, 3.39), RHP Marcus Stroman (11-6, 3.65 ERA).

Key additions: 3B Josh Donaldson (A’s), C Russell Martin (Pirates), 1B Justin Smoak (Mariners), LF Michael Saunders (Mariners).

Key losses: LF Melky Cabrera (White Sox), 3B Brett Lawrie (A’s), CF Colby Rasmus (Astros), 1B Adam Lind (Brewers), CF Anthony Gose (Tigers), LHP J.A. Happ (Mariners), RHP Casey Janssen (Nationals).

Outlook: Toronto traded for Donaldson, adding to an offense that ranked third in the majors in home runs (177). Donaldson and Canada-born Martin also should help improve the defense. But the Blue Jays didn’t do anything to alter a pitching staff that ranked 22nd in team ERA (4.00).

WASHINGTON NATIONALS

Home: Viera, Space Coast Stadium, 5800 Stadium Parkway.

Tickets: www.nationals.com or call 321-633-9200. Prices $12-$35.

2014: 96-66 (Won NL East; lost to Giants in NLDS).

Top returning players: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (14-5, 2.66 ERA), RHP Stephen Strasburg (14-11, 3.14 ERA), RF Bryce Harper (.273, 13 HR, 32 RBI), LF Jayson Werth (.292, 16 HR, 82 RBI), 3B Anthony Rendon (.287, 21 HR, 83 RBI), SS Ian Desmond (.255, 24 HR, 91 RBI), LHP Gio Gonzalez (10-10, 3.57 ERA), RHP Drew Storen (2-1, 1.12 ERA), 1B Ryan Zimmerman (.280, 5 HR, 38 RBI).

Key additions: RHP Max Scherzer (Tigers), 2B Yunel Escobar (A’s), RHP Casey Janssen (Blue Jays).

Key losses: RHP Tyler Clippard (A’s), 1B Adam LaRoche (White Sox), 2B Asdrubal Cabrera (Rays).

Outlook: Baseball’s best starting staff (3.04 ERA) got better with the signing of 2013 AL Cy Young winner Scherzer, who led the AL in wins the past two seasons. Washington won the NL East by 17 games in 2014 and returns virtually the same lineup.

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