Lane Thomas had the best game of his career

Some thought Lane Thomas should have been an All-Star this year. The only vote that mattered was Major League Baseball’s, and they chose Josiah Gray as the Washington Nationals representative in the mid-summer classic. Yesterday, Thomas jumped to the top-WAR player on the team even after he went into a little mini-slump the past two weeks, and then caught fire on Sunday while turning in the best 5-tool game of his career. Batting in what they call the 2-hole, where some teams put their best hitter, Thomas was batting .193 in that spot before yesterday’s game — and a huge difference from the .322 he was hitting as the lead-off guy.

Truth be told, this new top-of-the-lineup configuration is only a 12-game sample size that began full-time on July 7th. Former Nats’ manager, Dusty Baker, used to stick to “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The analytics was screaming to get CJ Abrams into the leadoff spot, and the decision was made. Abrams has been en fuego from July 7-July 22. Yesterday he actually hit into some awful luck and some great Giants’ defense. The hope is that Abrams-to-Thomas will bring back the magic and havoc wreaking of Trea Turner to Adam Eaton from the glory year of 2019. That makes sense. Some think this new dynamic duo could be even better — if general manager Mike Rizzo doesn’t trade Thomas in the next eight days during this trade deadline crunch.

So what did Thomas do to show off his 5-tools yesterday:

  1. Hit tool: Thomas went 3-for-4 in the game
  2. Power tool: Thomas cranked a double in the game
  3. Speed tool: Thomas stole four bases
  4. Defense: Thomas had two Web Gems in five put-outs with an outfield assist and a double play
  5. Arm: Thomas had his cannon arm on display with a double play he turned

“I felt good. Just trying to be aggressive, and it’s easy when MacKenzie’s going out there and getting quick outs and getting us back in the dugout. It helps those day games, especially getting out of the sun quicker, so props to him.”

— Thomas said yesterday

Per usual, Thomas did not want to talk about himself, and showered his starting pitcher, MacKenzie Gore, with the praise. What did manager Dave Martinez think of what he saw yesterday from Thomas?

“Oh, man, I told him [after the game], I said, ‘You’re a five-tool player. You did it all, so good for you.’ Man, outstanding. He was all in. He’s been that way all year, really. He’s played really hard all year for us.”

— Martinez said after the game

After an Abrams sacrifice fly in the fourth inning, up came Thomas, and he laced an RBI double to left field to make it 5-0 for his third hit in the game, and then stole third base for his fourth bag of the game — and he did all of that in just four innings.

“I just do what they tell me to. He gave me the steal sign, and I ran, so luckily I will safe. … Some guys [steal] on their own. Yeah, sometimes, but I wasn’t today. … Props to Davey.”

— Thomas humbly said about his four steals

For the record, Thomas’ four stolen bases matched a Nationals record per Nats PR (2005-present) for stolen bases in a game, tying Turner who did it twice (June 18, 2017 at the Mets and June 27, 2017 against the Cubs) and Michael A. Taylor (June 17, 2018 at the Blue Jays).

With some more humble thoughts from Thomas and deflecting praise on others, he said that having Jeimer Candelario at-bat while he was on-base helped to distract the pitcher. “… they were more worried about [Candelario than me. So it gets you an opportunity to be aggressive and get a bag and maybe give him a chance to drive a run in. So it was good.”

Can you imagine what this team could be if Abrams and Thomas are both hitting and stealing bases in the same game? Again, that is a lot of potential havoc wreaking. With Thomas’ big day, he jumped in front of all Nats’ players on Baseball Reference with a +3.0 WAR as the most valuable Nats’ player, and on FanGraphs, Thomas is the second most valuable +2.3, and only trailing Candelario who is at a +2.7 WAR.

Nats’ fans that climbed aboard the ‘Lane Train’ don’t want to see him traded, but there is probably 90 percent odds on Candelario going to another team within the week. After the Nats’ first 3-game sweep in 767 days, it finally felt like this team was getting set to go on a good run. The reality that Candy/Lane could be gone if the right offer comes along for Rizzo, could derail the train. While the Nats’ third baseman is set for free agency after the season, Thomas still has 2 1/3 years remaining in Washington’s team control. Nats’ fans don’t want the fun to stop.

“It’s a lot of fun. He’s gonna be exhausted. I’ll tell you that he will sleep good. He came out [in this game] and he did everything. Ran the bases well, got some big hits for us, played great defense. But like I said, he’s been doing that all year for us.”

— Martinez said

Can Thomas steal bases like we saw yesterday? He came into the game with only eight steals on the season and bumped that up by 50 percent in one game. Where has that been all year? It begs the question: Is Thomas a true 25/25 man with 30/30 potential? You have to think for a player in his prime years and not turning 28 until next month that he can be that guy. Some feel you have to sell high on him and trade him, because this is just an outlier season. Nobody really knows. They said the same about other players. For some, sure it could be just a career year, and for others, it is a start of a great career as a late bloomer as we saw from Jayson Werth. With Thomas, from what I can see in his peripherals, he still has room to get better if he can improve his approach with runners on-base.

The other factor is that Victor Robles most likely won’t have his contract picked up for next year, and while the team’s strength is in their future outfield chock full of top prospect outfielders — none are locks to make the 2024 roster. With Dylan Crews, James Wood, Robert Hassell III, Daylen Lile and Elijah Green, all part of the long-term future of this team, their development is the key — not rushing them to the show.

Rizzo still has to field a team for 2024 and needs a bridge to those top prospects with just Thomas, Alex Call, Stone Garrett, and some minor leaguers in the mix if the team doesn’t promote one of their top prospects to the 2024 Opening Day lineup.

“The tricky part is getting back the value you want for [our players in a trade]. I see Lane Thomas as having an All-Star first half of the season. He’s got tools, he’s young, and he’s a terrific player.

“If another team views him only as a part-time or bench player, we won’t have a deal, but if somebody views him as the way I view him and the way our staff views him, then we’d have a conversation.”

— Rizzo said to the Sports Junkies on 106.7 radio

There you have it from the general manager’s mouth on the Thomas trade status. In the meantime, Thomas can only help himself by playing great game after game. His secret formula might be to get over-caffeinated. Thomas said after the game that he drank a lot of coffee before and during the game.

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