Turn the page; Improve the product!

As soon as the Washington Nationals jet flew out of San Diego at 6:45 pm PDT, they turned the page on a miserable series. That series exposed a team that makes too many mistakes. Where is the internal improvement? What you do next is what counts. You must improve your product. No, it was not a happy flight after being swept by the Padres. The Nationals had leads in two of the three games in the series including a 3-run lead in the 10th inning on Monday.

If you had flashbacks to May 16 of last year in Miami, we get it. There are often parallels to other times, and Hunter Harvey had that same moment in both games with Luis Arraez coming up with two outs. This time his manager, Dave Martinez, made the right decision for Harvey and 4-fingered Arraez to take first base. Instead of Jorge Soler stepping into the batter’s box next — it was Jurickson Profar on Monday. Like with Soler, Harvey had him at 2-strikes with 2-outs, and then threw the fateful pitch. But here’s the thing, it’s what happened both times before Arraez stepped to the plate that cost Harvey and his team. The Nats got swept in that Miami series in 2023 after entering that series with an 8-5 record in the previous two weeks.

No, the blame does not go on Harvey. This is a team game. There were chances to make plays throughout the game to change the outcome, just like on Tuesday and Wednesday.

On the bright side, the Nats are only 4-games under .500 after they clawed their way back from 8-games under on June 6. They will have to claw their way back again. That is what good teams do. The team in Baltimore just ended their 5-game losing streak last night. Losing happens every day in sports.

The daily debate of what this team is continues. A team cannot be defined by one bad series or one good series. The Nats went through that with the Mets when they were swept at the beginning of June, and the Nats woke up and beat up on Atlanta. Pessimism turned to optimism. Now some of you are back in that New York frame of mind.

You know what the Nats’ manager said to his players before they exited Petco Park, “Go 1-0 on Friday.” That’s how you turn it around. Win your next game. Celebrate Nasim Nuñez‘s first MLB hit. Talk about how the offense woke up and averaged 5-runs per game in San Diego, but should have scored more and given up fewer runs. Talk about how you will get better to go 1-0.

Improve the product. Stop making the same mistakes. Clean it up. That message should go from the owner’s office through the front office to the coaching staff and to the players. There is also a process in place that you cannot sacrifice the future for today. There is a plan in place. What you hope to get is incremental improvement. Losing to Dylan Cease was not the problem here. You will not win every game. What you are supposed to do is win the games you are supposed to win like when Adam Mazur starts in place of the injured Yu Darvish.

This team will win more when they improve the product incrementally at a pace of 1/26th at a time. That is all you can do. Make each piece of the engine better, and that is the positive incremental change to make the product better. There is no magic pill to fix this. This takes time. Can James Wood be part of that change? Can Dylan Crews be part of this change? Yes, you would think that would be the faster route to improvement. But you also coach up players to make them better.

The defense ranks the team as the 6th worst defensive team in all of baseball for just the seven players behind the pitcher, and per FanGraphs the team is the 5th worst. Take out Jacob Young, and this is the worst defense in the league.

The complication with that 1/26th is that other than pitchers and the DH, the other players have to play a dual role of offense and defense, and most are failing. The pitching could be so much better than it is if the defense was better. Just in the month of June that has not ended, Statcast shows that between Jesse Winker, Lane Thomas, CJ Abrams, and Nick Senzel — they have cost the team 10-runs on defense. At some point, the juice isn’t worth the squeeze, and change needs to happen. Either coach them up or try something else. The only reason Eddie Rosario‘s name wasn’t mentioned is because they took him out of the field. He was worth -3.0 runs in May.

Herein lies the problem. Not every flawed defensive player can be the DH. By bringing in Wood and Crews who are two defensive upgrades, and putting Thomas and Winker at DH, that could upgrade the product. Put Ildemaro Vargas at third base in the right situations, and see how much better these pitchers look. Put Nunez late in the game at shortstop. Aren’t these the little things? We can all agree that we have to balance offense and defense, and this is why Abrams will continue to play shortstop.

When you look at Monday night’s 10th inning, should Winker have caught the flyball hit near him that had a 66 percent catch probability? He was playing no doubles defense and was close to the ball. Should Thomas have caught Profar’s ball? Per Statcast, the Profar ball had a 58 percent catch probability. If that’s the case, then the answer should be — yes. Sometimes you have to make the tough plays to win games.

On top of this, the Nationals are now a poor base running team and 5th from last in stolen base percentage at 73 percent. A total of 14-teams are at 80 percent or better. The Nats are the 3rd worst on making extra outs on-base baserunning plays that were not derived from pick-offs or caught-stealing. The Nats lead baseball in the most pick-offs at 17. This is a problem that is only getting worse. Something has to be changed here.

While it is easier to tell you what is wrong, there is plenty of parts of the team that is going right. The starting pitching with this youth movement is the 14th best in baseball at a 3.98 ERA overall that includes Josiah Gray (14.04 ERA) and Patrick Corbin (5.46 ERA) starts. With any young team, blowups will happen. This is impressive for where this team is as they get to the halfway (81 games) point in the season tomorrow. The sample sizes are large.

While Trevor Williams is on the IL and leads the team in ERA, Jake Irvin has been putting up some unbelievable numbers on the second worst run-support in baseball. Irvin’s improvement should excite you about a pitching staff that includes the newly called up Mitchell Parker too.

“If you can’t get excited about where we’re at here, right now, then you’re not paying attention to this rebuild. It’s well underway. Starting pitching is king and we’ve got that. … It’s exciting to be here.”

— General Manager Mike Rizzo on @JunksRadio

Can you imagine what would happen if you improved the defense to make your pitching look even better? According to the FIP stats, MacKenzie Gore and Corbin have received below average defense. In fact, Gore’s defense behind him is the worst in the Majors for starting pitcher in the NL. So yes, there is a lot to be excited about, and it is fairly clear what and who has to improve.

Improve the product!

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