If the season ended today, the Washington Nationals would be a playoff team!

There are only six teams in the National League with a record of .500 or better. All of those teams would be in the playoffs today if the season was over. The Washington Nationals would be one of those playoff teams. They would be the third and final Wild Card team. It seems inconceivable yet this is factual.

You could say a 17-17 record means nothing with 79.01 percent of the season to play — or you could smile and think — that maybe the Nats could make a promotion of top prospect James Wood and some other upgrades — then roll the dice to see if they can be the 2024 version of last year’s Reds, Marlins or the Diamondbacks.

As it turned out, the 2023 NL Wild Card needed at least 84 wins, and the Marlins and Diamondbacks tied at 84 wins each and took the final two slots for the Wild Card. The Reds won 82 games, and came up short. Still, they had a 20-game improvement over their previous season, and that was significant because nobody had them winning more than 69 games in preseason projections after their 62-100 finish in 2022.


When Jesse Winker hit a sprinkler head today that turned a single into a double (no error assessed), it was shades of Juan Soto in the 2019 Wild Card game. There was plenty of nostalgic flashbacks, and while nobody hit a foul pole today, this win just felt like this team can find ways to win.

What the Reds did in 2023 was promote top prospects including Elly De La Cruz on June 6th of last year, and they went on a run. Maybe if the team was a buyer for top pitching at the trade deadline they would have made the playoffs. The issue is that when you look to be a fringe team, you do not want to trade off top prospects for trade deadline acquisitions. You should try to take on some salary in trades and try to improve kind of like the 2019 Nationals did at the trade deadline when they acquired Daniel Hudson.

Of course it is too early to do anything on making any decisions of whether the Nationals would be buyers or sellers at the 2024 trade deadline. Also, principal owner Mark Lerner and general manager Mike Rizzo need to sit down and talk strategy on what they want to do in the short-term. Do they call Wood up now or do they wait for another few weeks to see what Joey Gallo looks like off of the 10-day IL, and how Victor Robles fits back into the roster?

The hottest player in the Nats’ minor league system is Travis Blankenhorn. He has nine home runs and three in just the past six games. But Blankenhorn got a chance last year on the Nats’ roster, albeit in a small sample size of just 31 at-bats, and he didn’t capitalize on it. Some would say he did not get a fair shot — but he got a shot and did not impress with a .161 batting average and a .555 OPS. For a lefty outfielder, there might not be room right now.

There is also a case for catcher Drew Millas who also got hot this week and is batting .302 with an .845 OPS. He has some clutch hits including a home run and double this weekend. Let’s face it, Keibert Ruiz is struggling both offensively and defensively. He was sick with a bad case of the flu and rushed back from an IL stint after only two rehab games and reportedly having lost between 18-20 pounds battling the flu. For the season, he is batting just .134 with a .418 OPS.

On the pitching staff, LHP reliever Robert Garcia was placed on the 15-day injured list retroactive to April 21 with the flu. He could be back this week too. Who leaves is unclear today, and it looks like it could be Tanner Rainey, a constant on this team since the Nats’ World Series season. But you could also see the possibility of an IL stint for someone like Rainey or even Jordan Weems who has been shaky every since he was a high lev reliever and used three consecutive days from April 12-14 and had a 1.42 ERA then fell apart. Today Weems has a 4.85 ERA.

While the starting rotation has been improving seemingly week by week, the team should have both Josiah Gray and Cade Cavalli ready for call-ups on June. But who would leave, and are either an upgrade over Patrick Corbin is what Rizzo and manager Dave Martinez must figure out. Gray was the team’s lone All-Star last year although he finished on a poor note, and Cavalli is recovering from UCL TJ surgery from last year.

All of this is great, but fundamentals of defense is a key. The team had eight charged errors this weekend resulting in nine unearned runs. But there have been mental errors and makeable plays that are not made too often. Those don’t get marked as fielding errors. The official scorer has been very kind to some of the fielders. Trey Lipscomb had two of the eight charged errors this weekend — but he also missed a double down the line today and threw three poor balls to first base. Twice he was saved by first baseman Joey Meneses on bounced throws.

“I wasn’t very good today. [My] error was big. It was just a really bad error, and then I made a bad pitch with the bases loaded. I wasn’t great today, but a heck of a win.”

“… The way we played this weekend isn’t how you’re going to win consistently. …”

— pitcher MacKenzie Gore said today

Most feel that Lipscomb and Alex Call will be sent back to Triple-A when Robles and Gallo are activated off of the IL. Again, the call will come from whatever Rizzo thinks with input from Martinez. The jury is out on Ruiz and his struggles. The team will continue to stick with outfielder Eddie Rosario who finally got his batting average back over .100 with a huge home run today. This team is far from perfect, and yet in 34 games they have been a team that has found a way to win games.

The team has the Orioles in on Tuesday and Wednesday. Can the Nationals get gems from Trevor Williams and Mitchell Parker, and come away with some upset victories? After that, the Nats have series against the Red Sox, White Sox, and the Phillies on the road, and then come home against the Twins in DC in two weeks from tomorrow. From there the Nats face the Mariners, Braves, and Guardians to finish the month of May. Only the White Sox have a losing record of all of those teams.

The next four weeks will be the stretch of games to get into June that could determine what this Washington Nationals team is overall. If the Nats survive or thrive and can be at or over .500, this is a legit team. If not, the naysayers will just say, “I told you so.”

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