The season is over 25 percent complete, and the Washington Nationals are now just 2.0 games out of the Wild Card at this moment after the Phillies lost tonight in San Francisco. In the last 23-games, the Washington Nationals have a winning record of 13-10 since that trip to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, in Minnesota. We were told that it was the pre-game meal of Jucy Lucys that was the catalyst. Whatever clicked in at that point in time has changed the axis for this team. Today, this team is on a 71.2-win pace given their .439 winning percentage, a marked improvement over a year ago.
“It was a good series [against the Mets]. These guys have been playing hard. Let’s forget about the first week of the season (when they went 1-6 against the Braves and Rays). We have been playing really well [since]. I want them to take that into consideration. Not just playing one team, but understanding where we are at and what we are doing. It’s been fun. They’re playing with a lot of energy.”— manager Dave Martinez on the season
If the Nats could continue that same pace from the past 23-games, or better, for the next 46-games (26-20), the team would, at a minimum, get above .500 at 44-43 right at the 77 game mark, coincidentally when the Nats are in San Diego at the end of June to play the Padres — the team that made the blockbuster trade for Juan Soto last year. The trade that made most of this possible if you are buying the FanGraphs ranking of MacKenzie Gore as the Nats top player with that +0.9 WAR, and CJ Abrams at +0.1 WAR. Also consider that James Wood was also in that trade, and today he was named the №8 prospect in all of baseball.
Should we also mention that Robert Hassell III and Jarlin Susana were in that trade for Soto too? Hassell is a high-end Top-100 prospect also. For all of the grief that general manager Mike Rizzo and the Lerner ownership group took for trading Soto, it looks like any disgruntled fans owe Rizzo and the Lerners an apology. Those who said they were exiting from the Nats’ fanbase due to Soto’s trade — they’re missing some great baseball with these young Nats.
One of the keys to players coming into camp this year is that there was a lot of offseason improvement by several players, and most noticeable with pitcher Josiah Gray who added a cutter pitch to his repertoire. Baseball is all about continual improvement because it is a game of adjustments.
“That’s one of the big takeaways I took at my exit meetings [with the players last year]… is all those guys were disappointed with losing [over 100-games]. They want to get better. They want to compete. … Losing 100-games is not acceptable.”— manager Dave Martinez on his young team
The starter’s ERA is the most concrete improvement on this team, and it seemingly improves weekly. Currently it stands at 4.40. Josiah Gray is leading the starters with a 2.96 ERA, and how’s about today’s winning pitcher, Patrick Corbin, who has a 3.47 ERA with just a 3.86 FIP since Jackie Robinson Day.
As aforementioned, Gray and Corbin both made changes to their repertoires with Gray’s cutter, and Corbin with his new low-in-the-zone sinker and changeup combo. Both pitchers are relying less on their 4-seam fastballs and both working the lower edges of the zone to take advantage of their groundball defense. The improvement for both is fewer home runs, fewer walks, and more efficient pitch counts leading to better outings and improving ERAs, leading to more wins.
What do you think is the weakness on this team? Lack of power, bullpen depth, and the need for a veteran ace pitcher on the staff have been named as three issues. Expect those issues to be addressed in the offseason. Retired columnist Thomas Boswell has written two articles this year. On Friday, he wrote that second article, “These Washington Nationals are scrappy, fun — and on their way back up” and one of the key takeaways read:
“When (or if) the Nats eventually approach .500, they will do what they did in 2011 when they signed Jayson Werth as a free agent. Each year, as they see who panned out and who didn’t, they will add a piece or two.”— writes Thomas Boswell
Okay, the facts are a little off from Mr. Boswell and should we remind him that the Nats were nowhere close to .500 when they signed Werth. The team was coming of a disappointing 69-93 season in 2010 and two months and two days after the 2010 season ended, Rizzo signed Werth to a deal on December 5, 2010. After Werth signed, the team improved to 80-81 in 2011. Hopefully these 2023 Nats can better that 69-93 record. The main point is that Boswell states as a fact that ownership will spend on a big piece or two. We have heard that from Mark Lerner too.
Plus, this 2023 draft, just 55-days away, the Nats will most likely sign a superstar named Paul Skenes, Dylan Crews, or Wyatt Langford. One of them will join a stacked farm system that has Wood, Hassell III, Susana, plus three more Top-100 prospects in Elijah Green, Brady House, and the injured Cade Cavalli who is recovering from UCL TJ surgery.
The young Nats core at the MLB level of Gore, Gray, Abrams, plus Luis Garcia, and Keibert Ruiz makes for a really nice combination of youth and potential. It is that potential that should have Nats’ fans salivating. Have you seen what Wood, Hassell and House have been doing down on the farm?
The strange part, with the Nats in postseason contention now, is that this is before they are ultimately ready to compete for anything meaningful in October. Baseball Reference gives the Nats only a 1.2 percent chance of making the postseason. It makes little sense to get aggressive in acquisitions nearing the trade deadline unless a long-term opportunity arises for a controllable player. Even then, it probably is not wise to do anything more than find a Daniel Hudson type opportunity like Rizzo did in 2019 at the trade deadline. This scrappy happy Nats’ team is devoid of a big-name star player on their active roster since Stephen Strasburg is injured. The last one that graced this team was Soto a year ago. Gore and Gray are the biggest names perhaps, although Wood and this year’s draft pick are looming as mega-stars.
“There’s a lot of positive energy right now. You can see some light at the end of the tunnel.”— general manager Mike Rizzo said last week as quoted by Thomas Boswell
Enjoy the ride.