Connect with us


The Nationals Showed Some Progress in 2023, But How Much?

Lane Thomas stands ready at the plate while playing a home game for the Washington Nationals.

The Nationals exceeded expectations due to one good month, while the youngsters turned in a mixed bag of results.

The Washington Nationals finished the 2023 season with a record of 71-91, beating preseason projections and Las Vegas odds by more than ten wins. That is all well and good, but the Nats are still at least a year away from contending in earnest. With a lack of stuff on the mound and a lack of power in the lineup, Washington is waiting for their top prospects to arrive before making a real push. This will likely be another quiet winter of one-year deals for bounce back candidates.

The Nationals got some transaction business out of the way early, as they avoided arbitration with INF Ildemaro Vargas. More importantly, the organization is overhauling its front office and making some changes with the coaching staff in order to catch up to the rest of the league. The Nats have used less analytical data than just about anyone up to this point, and they might finally be realizing their mistake.

While that is welcome off-the-field news, the ownership group also deserves some flak for how they have handled SP Stephen Strasburg recently. While reports from August said Strasburg would be retiring and likely reaching a financial settlement with the team, Mark Lerner backed out and said there was no agreement. It makes no sense for the Nationals to force Strasburg to remain active and keep him on the roster. He now has trouble doing simple tasks with his arm, so it is hard to imagine he will ever pitch again.

How the Core Performed

Yes, the Nationals employ 26 big leaguers at a time, but only the performances of a handful of them are really crucial. SS CJ Abrams had an average-ish season at the plate, which is a huge improvement for him. Abrams finally showed some of the power scouts have been hoping to see for years. He improved his OPS by over 100 points from 2022 and led the team with 3.4 WAR. SP Josiah Gray and MacKenzie Gore both had promising seasons, as well. Gray lowered his ERA by over a full run and made his first All-Star team. Gore is still struggling to limit walks, but he proved he can hold onto a rotation spot.

Meanwhile, C Keibert Ruiz and 2B Luis Garcia both had frustrating years. Ruiz has cemented himself as a capable catcher, but the Nats are surely expecting above-average offense going forward. Garcia made dramatic gains in the plate discipline department, but his overall output declined somewhat. 2024 will be his last chance to show he is an important part of the team.

A couple veterans played surprisingly well this year. OF Lane Thomas emerged as the best player on the team with a .783 OPS while playing every day. OF Stone Garrett surpassed that figure while playing in a platoon role, and he should get more opportunities next year. 3B Jeimer Candelario indeed rebounded, and the Nats traded him for two prospects at the deadline.

Excitement in the Minors

Fortunately for the Nationals, the makings of a competitive team are nearby. Many of the team’s top prospects are close to debuting or already have. SP Jackson Rutledge made four starts down the stretch and will compete for a rotation spot come March. Generational talent OF Dylan Crews is already in AA after being the second pick in this year’s draft. OF James Wood, the main return from the OF Juan Soto trade, spent most of the year in Harrisburg and will likely begin 2024 in AAA. OF Robert Hassell played for the Senators as well, but he looks more like a role player at this point.

Some of the complementary pieces are also looking good. The Senators finished the year with a stacked lineup, and 3B Brady House raking was part of that. Second rounder 3B Yohandy Morales also reached AA at the end of the minor league season. SP Jarlin Susana is still wild, but that is to be expected of a 19-year-old in A-ball. OFs Elijah Green and Cristhian Vaquero both struggled in Low-A, but they have time to turn it around.

Measured Progress

The Nationals certainly exceeded expectations in 2023, but it is fair to wonder to what extend. In the middle of the season, they were playing just like the team we thought they would be in Spring Training. Washington ended up above that due to a great month of August. Two months ago, the Nationals went 17-11, their only winning month of the season. They even briefly passed the New York Mets for fourth in the NL East. Take out that good month, and the Nats would be in the same spot as the All-Star break. Of course, that month of strong play did happen, but it shouldn’t greatly alter how people view the team.

The Nationals then went 8-18 in September to negate whatever good feelings they had mustered in August. Bad teams often play worse than their true talent when they have nothing to play for. But this Nationals team was as punchless as they looked all season. They hit the second-fewest homers in the Majors at 151, and they had the third-fewest strikeouts. Washington simply needs to find more power at the plate and on the mound to get back in the playoff race. That is easier said than done, but the Nationals are hoping the next wave of talent will bring winning baseball back to the nation’s capital.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Featured Articles

Featured Writers

More in Features