Could the Nats Finish .500

At this point in the season it is a good question. In the month of May that is exactly what the Nationals have been. They have seemed to have found their footing and are playing competitive baseball. It does get tiresome repeating that over and over again but it is the truth and the team has looked downright competent at times. Lane Thomas and Jeimer Candelario have found their stride in May. Unfortunately those two are the top two trade candidates this coming deadline along with Trevor Williams and (fingers crossed) Patrick Corbin. I know Lane Thomas isn’t a free agent until 2026 but that is part of what makes him attractive and if you have an opportunity to oversell a Lane Thomas type you take it.

Accounting for the losses at the trade deadline some black magic is going to have to happen for the Nats to first get back to .500 and second to stay there. I do think that they will flirt with .500 at some point this season and quite honestly I wouldn’t be surprised if they stay there. What has to happen is simple. When they trade the players they are going to trade they have to replace them with players that are going to play that well or better.

In the case of Lane Thomas and Trevor Williams that is simple. Cole Henry is on a rehab assignment at AAA and pitching well and Robert Hassell III is at AA sporting a .400 OBP. If Hassell can get his hitting to match his batting eye then a promotion to the majors by the end of the season isn’t out of the question. We’ll definitely see him as a September call-up, and Cole Henry is likely to join the rotation even before the trade deadline.

The final piece of the puzzle is the most unlikely. First the July 9 draft has to fall the way as predicted and the Nationals take Paul Skenes and second he has to be as good as predicted and major league ready off the bat (pun intended). If that happens and those three players perform at the major league level then the Nationals have a very good chance of finishing at .500.

Let’s look at another scenario. This is a far fetched crazy thought but not that crazy given Mike Rizzo’s past of pulling a magic trade out of thin air. Let’s imagine the Nationals continue to play as they have and even have a hot June. By July they are flirting with .500 and spitting distance from a Wild Card position (they’re currently 3.5 games back but have 8 teams to leapfrog). So here it is the Nats are a game or two out of the Wild Card. They are sitting just a couple games under .500 but they aren’t about to trade any of the top prospects they just acquired and aren’t interested in any rentals. This works out to a Trea Turner trade type situation. The Nats wait, listen to the rumors, and when they see a team just not able to cross the finish line in a trade they, kindly, jump in to help. They offer to be the third team in the deal, and out of it they get a couple young major league pieces. Maybe one or two of the aforementioned players goes in a trade, but the Nats get players that help them now and in the future.

I hate when people throw out scenarios like this and don’t name names, and honestly it is an unlikely scenario. The first one is much more likely. The Nats get a little hot at home when it gets hot in June but still end up sellers and then don’t see a drop off in their level of play because of the players they promote. Either way this is going to be a fun season and I don’t think I’m going to get tired of saying that, at least as long as it remains fun.

Road Warriors

What a rush!!!! The Nats are at it again. After dropping a series to Arizona the Nats went into and took out the San Francisco Giants in a series to raise their road record to 10-9. Cobine this with their record at home and the team is…wait a second. This sin’t 2012. The Nats aren’t any good. How can this be possible when they’re over .500 on the road?

That one is easy. The Nationals are atrocious at home with a 6-12 record when they play in the not so friendly confines of Nationals Park. At this time a lesser scribe would start bashing Nats fans as fickle and fair-weather but why should people give their hard earned money to a team that lost 107 games last season and traded away their best player? The people not showing up to Nats Park are just as much in the right as the people still showing up. I love baseball and if I still lived in the area I’d be going. I was half tempted to stay an extra day this coming weekend and venture to Nats Park for a Sunday day game but decided I’d rather go to Kings Dominion the Wednesday before Father’s Day instead.

Being a fan is about choices and when your team stinks and has let fan favorite players go it is easy to turn around and spend your entertainment dollars elsewhere. The Nats poor home record has nothing to do with fans. After the Nats dropped three of four to the Diamondbacks and took two of three from the Giants I think the answer is quite simple. The Nats are better than we thought they’d be but are far from good.

The answer to the Nationals home woes is simple. At home they have played the Braves, Rays, Guardians, Orioles, Pirates, and Cubs. The only series they have won of those was against the Cubs which accounts for half their home wins. The Braves, Rays, Orioles, and Pirates are all in either first or second place in their respective divisions with all but the Pirates being 10 games over .500.

When it comes to win/loss records in baseball strength of schedule is hardly ever mentioned, but it matters a great deal when deciding what tier of team a team is. The Nats are defiantly not a first tier team. They aren’t even a second tier team, but they might be in that lovely space between the bottom feeders and the contenders. The best of the worst teams. The type of team that consistently loses close games and appears to be just a player or two away from being in one of those top two tiers.

I do think the Nationals do deserve some praise for their rebuild. It takes guts to suck. The Nats pulled the trigger on not one but two fan alienating, wildly unpopular trades. for their effort they got a couple decent mid-rotation starters, a solid catcher, a serviceable short stop, and a few players to wish on in the minor leagues.

What do the Nats need to move into the tier of Wild Card contender. They need two middle of the order bats. Currently the Nats have none, zip, zero, not a single player even approaching an .800 OPS. Get two of those either through the farm system, from a trade, or via free agency and the Nats chances suddenly look a whole lot better in 2024, but that’s not all. They also need a true top of the rotation starter. You wouldn’t believe the difference Max Scherzer made when the Nats added him to their rotation and I wouldn’t put their crop of young starters in the same class as Strasburg and Gio were back then.

That’s it though. That’s three players. Get one more bat, another top tier starter, and a bullpen and the Nats won’t just be contending for a wild card but then that’s at least seven players we’re talking about now. Make a splash in free agency, make a trade, and then pin some hopes on the trio of House, Green, and Wood producing at least one middle of the order bat.

But that’s 2024. We still have a long way to go in 2023 and who knows how the rest of this year will play out. So far there have been promising signs and developments. If the season ends with the Nats in much the same position as they are in now then they are poised to be a player at the Winter Meetings if the Lerners are willing to open the purse strings. First the Nats are going to have to figure out the winning at home thing because I doubt they’re going to maintain an over .500 record on the road. It does benefit the Nats that Nats Park is much more of a summer park. As the weather warms up the bats will heat up and balls will fly out the yard.

For now sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride because the 2023 Washington Nationals aren’t good, but they are fun.

The Nationals Are Better Than Expected

After starting the 2023 season with one win and five losses against the Braves and Rays it looked like the 2023 Washington Nationals were going to be just as bad as the 2022 variety. Since that time the Nationals have put up a more respectable 11-13 record and been competitive in most of their games. In fact the Nationals pitching staff has allowed three or fewer runs in 11 of those 24 games. Because of that the Nationals are a smidge better than league average having allowed 4.57 runs a game on the season.

Unfortunately for the Nationals those first six games of the season count and they are going to have more against the Braves and teams as good as the Braves as it wears on. With that being said the Nationals have played better sense that opening series and it is because of a trio of starting pitchers. Josiah Gray, MacKenzie Got, and Trevor Williams have all looked good to great in recent outings and have become the backbone of the team.

Washington Nationals GM, Mike Rizzo, is often criticized for his over reliance on starting pitching at the detriment to the offense. In the year the Nationals won the World Series they had $90 million invested in Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin. Strasburg and Corbin remain the two highest paid players on the team and neither has lived up to their contracts.

The Nationals issue is offense and as good as Keibert Ruiz and CJ Abrahams have looked in recent games they are both sporting an OPS under .700 and the Nationals overall have only one batter, Victor Robles, that has played in at least 20 games with an OPS over .700. The word for that is pathetic, and it has lead to the Nationals scoring the fourth fewest runs per game in MLB.

There is no easy solution to that issue. There might be a prospect that emerges or Ruiz or Abrahams get hot or Meneses or Thomas get their grove back. If none of that happens the Nationals offense is going to continue to struggle. That doesn’t mean they won’t stay competitive as long as the pitching staff continues to keep the Nationals in games they have a chance to win. The issue is pitchers get hurt, go through bad stretches, get traded at the deadline, all sorts of things that mean the Nationals early 1-5 record deserves to be a part of their record as much as the more respectable recent 11-13 stretch.

Still at 12-18 the Nationals are on pace to win 64 games. A nine game improvement from the 55 games they won in 2022, and if Gray and Gore continue to pitch as well as they have for the rest of the season it might give the front office confidence enough to go after one of the big bats available in free agency. At this point the Nationals don’t have a single position player that isn’t replaceable and if a big bat can be gotten as a free agent or in a trade the Nationals should leap at it.

The first step to contending is being competitive and outside of a few games against two of the best teams in the league the 2023 Nationals have done that. It should give hope for the future, but by itself it isn’t enough. The Nats need a big bat and they can’t wait on the farm system to produce won if they want any improvements in 2023 to matter in 2024. The competitive nature of the 2023 Nationals gives me hope but it is ultimately meaningless if they don’t build on it.

Think about it like this. If the Nationals could average just one more run per game they would go from flirting with their second straight 100 loss season to contending for a Wild Card spot. It sounds a lot simpler than it is, but it is that simple. Get a couple guys with good bats to go with this pitching staff and suddenly the 2024 Washington Nationals are going to be a surprise team.

Married to The Narrative

It goes without saying that the Nats stink. They’ve won just about one game per week this season and if this were the XFL they’d be headed to the playoffs. Too bad they play in a sport that averages just over six games a week. The Nats, simply put, stink. They aren’t good, they are bad, they are a dead parrot in a Monty Python skit.

One of the most popular activities of Nats fans, myself included, is to attempt an autopsy on the corpse of the Nationals. The most popular narrative is that the Nats stink because Mike Rizzo is a bumbling fool with no ability to draft and develop players. I do not buy this. 2012-19 don’t happen if that is true. While the Nats didn’t use a lot of their prospects themselves those years they did use them as trade chips and while no one is singing the praises of David Frietas or Taylor Hearn they were prospects that helped the Nats acquire players that helped them win a couple division titles.

Then there are the guys like Jose Luzardo, Robbie Ray, Lucas Giolito, Nick Pivetta, and others that have had success elsewhere because the Nats couldn’t afford to wait around on their development or saw an opportunity to trade for a pitcher their analytics staff said was better than most believed like Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister.

Sure No Pick, Erick Fedde, No Pick, and Carter Kieboom, and Seth Romero didn’t work out as Mike Rizzo are Nats fans hoped but the reason the Nats stink isn’t that a bunch of magic beans didn’t turn to gold. It isn’t a drafting and development philosophy that is so behind the rest of baseball. It is quite simply that the Nats were very good, had late round draft picks, traded good prospects away, didn’t trade expiring contracts for prospects when they could have, ran into a bit of bad luck and blew everything up.

Imagine this. July 1, 2021. The Nats have climbed their way back over .500 and are 2.5 games out of first. Kyle Schwarber is on a tear and it looks like it could continue. The Nats are lead by a young led-off hitter named Trea Turner and a power hitting 21 year old outfielder named Juan Soto with veteran pitcher Max Scherzer leading the pitching staff. You know what happens next. Schwaber and Turner get hurt. The Nats season falls apart. In 13 months time not a single one of those players remain on the Nationals, and while Turner, Schwaber, and Scherzer would have required large contracts to be on the 2023 Nationals they could have afforded it.

The Nats aren’t bad because of poor philosophy and bad decisions on draft picks. They are bad because they decided to be, and I hate it. If you wanted to make the argument that Mike Rizzo should be fired because he traded away cornerstone type players instead of building around them, I’d listen, but I won’t listen to some narrative driven nonsense that the 2012-19 Nationals were a weird fluke.

Imagine a team with a dynamic lead-off hitter that gets on base, hits for occasional power, and is a plus defender at an up the middle position and a .300/.400/.500 outfielder that is a perennial MVP candidate. Those are building blocks of a good offense. Then you have a pitcher that is arguably the best of this generation and a guaranteed first ballot Hall of Famer. Sure he’s in the twilight of his career but wouldn’t it be nice for him to sunset with the team he had his best career moments with and players can be added around this core over the next couple seasons for one or two more bites at the apple.

Instead of that the Nats blew it all up. Traded Scherzer and Turner to the Dodgers and Soto a year later to the Padres. I’ve often compared the Juan Soto trade to the trade of Mark Teixeira from the Rangers to the Braves, and while Elvis Andrus, Jarod Saltalamacchi, Matt Harrison, and Neftali Feliz helped the Rangers reach two consecutive World Series they would never have done it without Josh Hamilton. The Nats had their Josh Hamilton in Juan Soto and elected to trade him away for a bunch of maybes and might bes. In baseball, like any sport, it’s a lot easier to find the roll players than it is the stars. The Nats had the stars and they choose to give them up for the roll players.

That’s why the Nationals are bad. Not because Mike Rizzo failed to pull an Ace out of a seven deck shoe, but because they folded with two aces already in hand.

Road Trip Blues and Other Ramblings

Is a 3-4 road trip good for a team projected to barely dodge a second hundred loss season or is it still bad because it could have been better? That answer to that comes from how closely one wishes to examine things. It is certainly easy to be upset that every game the Nats lost on their road trip they could have and, maybe, should have won. They blew a couple late leads in a couple and got no run support in a couple others. All that might make someone want to yell dang them suckers at their TV, tablet, iPhone, or radio, and if it is more a case of missed opportunities or signs of things to come is yet unknown.

With a team like the Nationals they have to get their wins where they can get them and they had wins. They had them ripe and ready for the taking and they failed to take them. They couldn’t solve Ohtani, but few can. Now if Gore and Gray keep pitching like they did on this road trip then the Nats are going to win more of those games than they lose. It is the nature of baseball. Even with a team that is going to struggle to score runs they are going to win more games than they lose when the starting pitcher allows only a couple runners to cross home plate.

I have a confession to make. With three toddlers at home my life is much more Rosie’s Rules and Super Why than it is MLB Network, and when nighttime rolls around I’m more inclined to sit down and read or turn on my PS5 than I am the Nationals, and this doesn’t even mention the fact that I can’t turn on the Nationals due to blackout restrictions. I am, literally, the nerd that watches games on a spread sheet, though we used to call them box scores and they were printed in the Washington Star.

With that brief confession of faith out of the way I accept the grace that is offered to me and move on by saying not watching each individual game makes it far easier to take a farther away view. Not so much a long term view as I am still doubtful that Nats have chosen the correct path in their rebuild. The long term will prove out in the long term, but for this season where someone watching every individual game is going to see frustrating losses I see narrow defeats that could be victory if repeated over a 162 game season.

There are lesses from both the shows my kids watch and the video games I play. The first is sometimes you need to flop. Life can get tough and Rosie from Rosie’s Rules deal with this by flopping. Then she takes a breath, wiggles it out, and faces the problem following a formula she has deemed Rosie’s Rules. This is where the Nats are. They had a good run, they faced a problem, and they flopped. What we’re watching now is the breath and wiggling it out face. This season we are going to see a lot of players come and go. The Stone Garretts and Jeter Downses of the world. They are going to come up, burn up, and either flame out or figure it out. This is going to be a long season full of frustration, but if you watch with one eye on the game at hand and another on the future it makes things slightly easier.

The other lesson comes from the video game I’ve been playing, Wo Long Fallen Dynasty, the story of the game matters little but it is a souls-like set during the Three Kingdoms Period of Chinese history. It is a game filled with tough bosses and complicated systems. A lot like baseball. In fact the boss fights sometimes feel more like MLB The Show than any action RPG has a right to. I really feel like the parry timing is like the home run derby timing in The Show games. Here is the thing. The bosses are difficult. They are designed to cause pain and frustration, but they are challenges that can be overcome. I’ve overcome most of them so far and am very near the end. The lesson is a lot like the one from Rosie’s Rules. The Nats are in the stage of discovery and like bosses in a souls like game it is a series of trial and error. The Nats are going to throw a lot of players against the wall and few will stick. The thing with a boss in a souls like is you might lose a whole lot, but you only have to win once to move onto the next stage. The vast majority of players the Nats tryout this season aren’t going to workout, but it only takes finding one diamond to deem the effort a success.

For the Nats I view this recent road trip a success. 3-4 isn’t a good record, but it is an expected record on a road trip, and the Nats showed a lot of positives. If they get the pitching they got during this road trip then they are going to start putting together some winning stretches and cause a little excitement.

How to Root for a Bad Team: 2023 Washington Nationals Edition

In the Holy Week tradition of the Christian religion today is the day of Jesus’s betrayal and arrest, and just like Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane many Cats fans are asking for this cup to pass from them. It isn’t easy rooting for a bad team and the 2023 Washington Nationals are bad. They are averaging just under three runs a game while allowing close to seven. Both stats are in the bottom five in baseball.

If you’re a person that likes to look on the bright side I will offer you this; it is a small sample size and the Nationals have played two of the better teams in baseball. At the same time it is nothing that is unexpected. The Nationals line-up and pitching staff consist mainly of youngsters learning at the major league level. While the plan is good for future success it isn’t good for current results and playing the Braves and Rays is only going to make everything look worse.

Here is the big question. How can you root for a team you know is terrible? If you’re one of the five people reading this then you are a super fan beyond compare. Who else would be reading the ramblings of a 42 year old blogger coming out of blogging retirement writing about one of the worst teams in baseball? So some of this might not apply to you or you may already know it. The first thing to understand is watching baseball is a pleasure. If it isn’t pleasurable don’t watch it. If the Nats stinking up the joint makes your life less satisfying then there is no need to torture yourself. It doesn’t make you less of a fan to skip a game, a week, a month, or even a year. Taking time away from the might even deepen your enjoyment of baseball when you do tune in for a game or make it out to the park.

After that caveat the next step to enjoying a bad team is pick the games you watch carefully. If you want to see the Cats have a better shot of winning then only watch when they are playing their fellow below .500 ball clubs or choose the games you watched based on players on opposing teams you like. You might still be a fan of Bryce Harper and like watching him play. The Nationals play the Phillies enough that it is perfectly possible to watch lots of Bryce Harper, and believe me watching an opposing player destroy your favorite team isn’t fun. I used to go to the ballpark every time Cliff Lee pitched against the Nationals and as much as I enjoyed watching him pitch I hated that it came at the expense of the Nationals, but I wasn’t there to see the Nats win. I was there to witness the greatness that was Cliff Lee’s curveball.

As Charlie and Dave used to say in the last stretch of bad Nats baseball, “Come hungry, leave happy.” That’s right, before, “Remember where you are so you remember where you were,” the Nats radio broadcast was an extended commercial fo IHOP and it was one of the most entertaining baseball broadcasts you could listen to. Charlie and Dave are two of the best radio announcers in baseball, and they can make the worst, most dreadful season enjoyable. Turn off the TV and tune in to Charlie and Dave for awhile. Maybe even grab a sweet tea and go sit on your front porch for a bit to really feel like you’re enjoying a Washington Senators game in the 1950’s (they were in last place then too).

The last thing I will say about enjoying a bad baseball team is have fun with friends. The 2010 Washington Nationals baseball season remains one of the highlights of my life. I made a lot of good friends I’m still in touch with that year. I’m not sure how it happened as I’ve lived in Virginia Beach since 2015 and don’t have a single friend in this city, but during the 2010 Washington Nationals baseball season I met a lot of people and had a lot of good times at the park and in bars watching baseball. The real lesson of today is this is meant to be fun and if it isn’t stop doing for a bit. Keep in mind that on the night of Jesus’s betrayal and arrest three disciples failed to sit and wait with him, one betrayed him, one denied him, and all of them fled and scattered to the winds. The Nationals aren’t Jesus and you aren’t a disciple. Hold yourself to a lower standard. Not watching this dreadful excuse for the American pastime doesn’t make you less of a fan.

Happy Opening Day

Photo by Steshka Willems on

Happy Opening Day. It is the most glorious of days in baseball. All teams are even in the rankings and everyone has hope. We know that by the end of the day some hopes will rise and others will fall. Some teams will get off to hot starts and others will fall flat on their faces. A pennant can’t be won in April but it can be lost. Fortunately the 2023 Washington Nationals don’t have to worry about any of that.

The 2023 baseball season isn’t about the Washington Nationals. The exist to be fed on and play spoiler in a loaded NL East. The defending NL Champion Phillies have unfinished business, the 2021 World Series Champion Braves are looking to run it back, and the $4 billion payroll Mets are trying to figure out how to spend enough money not to finish third. Meanwhile the Nationals and Marlins will be competing to try and stay out of the basement.

In 2022 the Washington Nationals were one of the most disappointing teams in baseball. They lost 107 games, traded away their best player, were rumored to be on the auction block, and couldn’t be sold because their TV rights are owned by another team. Everything that could go wrong did and then some. That is how a team ends up losing 107 games. More things go wrong than the normal amount of wrong that is predicted to happen. It’s the same way talented teams win 107 games, and the 2022 Washington Nationals weren’t a talented team.

Is 2023 going to be better? It is rare for professional baseball teams to have back to back 100 loss seasons. By the force of shear luck and happenstance it shouldn’t happen. On paper the 2023 Washington Nationals are not better than the 2022 Washington Nationals. Juan Soto and Josh Bell are big holes to fill, and the pitching staff is still the disappointing Patrick Corbin and a bunch of maybes with Cade Cavalli already lost for the season and Stephen Strasburg or permanent IL.

Starting pitching for the Washington Nationals comes down to Joshiah Grey finding a third pitch and MacKenzie Gore living up to his pre-injury hype. If those two things happen then the Washington Nationals pitching staff still won’t be great but they will have two guys that you know are going to take the ball and be competitive every fifth day.

As far as the offense goes it as far as the bats of Luis Garcia, CJ Abrams, and Joey Meneses. If the two younger guys can get their OBP up and hit for moderate gap power while Meneses proves that 2022 wasn’t a fluke then the Nationals batting order will have a couple guys that will at least make pitchers work to get them out which will mean players like Dominic Smith, Jeimer Candelario, and Corey Dickerson can provide solid veteran at bats and not try and put the team on their shoulders.

All of this sounds optimistic. Two solid pitchers and three above average hitters. If things go right. The opposite could always be true or we could see something completely unexpected like James Woods or Elijah Green speed through the minors and carry the team through the latter half of the season. Baseball is unpredictable. It is the beauty of the sport, and what makes today so great.

Enjoy these remaining hours where anything is possible, because sooner rather than later Patrick Corbin is going to take the ball and the 107 loss Washington Nationals are going to face off against the juggernaut Braves and all the bright and sunny talk of the young players figuring it out and putting it together will meet the buzzsaw of reality.


The Citizens are back to discuss the fact that the Washington Nationals are your WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS!!

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Episode 182

Episode 181 – Strasmas Eve

It’s a tale of two podcasts as the Citizens return to discuss the Nats outstanding first two games of the World Series and then proceed to gloss over the next three games while discussing what went wrong for the Nats in their three home games of the series. Also robot umps!

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Episode 181