This past Thursday, we finally saw Major League Baseball make its glorious return after the entire baseball world held its breath for months as the lockout persisted. However, the two sides reached an agreement, and while Opening Day was delayed by a week, we are still due for a full slate of 162 games this season.
The Nats, coming into this season with essentially the lowest expectations they’ve had since before Bryce Harper’s MLB debut, opened their season with a 4-game set against the Mets in D.C. The series result was… basically exactly as you’d expect, as a solid Mets team that knows they have to beat up on terrible teams like the Nats to make noise in the NL East race took 3 out of 4 in the Nation’s Capital. The Nats played, well, like a team that is obviously rebuilding and/or tanking. There were a couple shining moments from this series, most notably in the series finale where the Nats won their first game of the season. However, for the most part, there were many, many moments that happened this past weekend that made me exclaim “This team REEKS.” Here is my analysis the good, the bad, and the ugly from the Nats opening series:
Keibert Ruiz – Ruiz wasted no time showing why the Nationals acquired him as the centerpiece in the trade involving two franchise cornerstones. On opening day, he caught Starling Marte stealing in the very first inning and showed off his cannon of an arm. He also made a great tag at home on Dee Strange-Gordon’s throw to gun Pete Alonso at the dish. At the plate, he went 2 for 4, including a double in his first at bat that just *barely* missed getting out into the Nationals bullpen. The following game, he went 2 for 4 at the plate again and was still showing off his excellent defense and arm behind the plate. Davey for some odd reason sat him in game 3 despite being the team’s best hitter at that point in the season, and I will attribute that to him going 0 for 4 in the series finale. I know myself and many other Nats fans are incredibly excited to watch a full season of this guy, and it’s looking more and more like he’s destined to be one of the league’s top catchers very soon.
Josh Bell – In contrast to his abysmally slow start last season, Bell has not only started off this season raking, but also playing great defense at first base. He made a great throw to second to nab a runner trying for two and has also made a bunch of great stops on hard-hit balls towards him. He has recorded a hit in every game so far and is batting .308/.438/.538 in 15 PA so far. He launched a game-tying absolute moonshot off Max Scherzer in game 2, accompanied by the worst home run call I have ever heard in my life. When Bell is on his game, we know this guy is a really good baseball player, and I am once again asking that we extend him. If not, however, we can be hoping for a decent return for him at the deadline.
Juan Soto – You might be surprised to see Soto here considering he’s only batting .214/.313/.429 so far this season, however this is obviously a small sample and there are still signs there that Juan Soto is still Juan Soto. He hit an upper tank shot for his first hit of the season on Opening Day, and aside from a couple other singles he is JUST missing solid contact. In the series finale, he flew out sharply twice, and one of the two would have been a home run if it were warmer out. Soto is close, and we know he occasionally goes through these stretches where he is JUST missing the barrel but getting the bat to the ball. We all know he’s due to go on a tear at any moment.
Lucius Fox – Fox made his MLB debut in the series finale and immediately made a positive impact on the team. While he did go hitless, he had a game-tying sac bunt that was huge in setting up Nelson Cruz’s go-ahead single. He also made a very nice defensive play at shortstop on his first ever attempt. While Fox might not be a possibility for a franchise cornerstone, he has already shown some flashes that I like a lot and is only 24 years old. He needs to be starting 90% of the time at shortstop over Escobar.
The Bullpen – I am not necessarily saying the bullpen has been perfect or even good, but I am putting them in this category because they’ve been much better than I’ve expected considering there are 1, maybe 2 MLB caliber arms total in there. Despite almost killing 4 Mets players with errant pitches, the bullpen has not been bad at all. They were nails in the series finale to help the Nats to their 4-2 win, with Cishek, Doolittle, Finnegan, and Rainey all tossing scoreless innings. While Mason Thompson landing on the IL stinks, he showed electric stuff and gave me hope he can be a great future 8th inning guy. While there have been a couple clunkers from guys like Voth, Arano, and Machado, I can’t say I expected the bullpen to hold up how it did in the series. Let’s see if it continues this season (HINT: it won’t, historically referring to past Nats bullpens).
Defense – The defense has also been a lot better than expected so far. Despite having possibly the worst defensive infield in baseball, guys have been making all the routine plays as well as some plus plays that have been made. Again, I expect this to regress like the bullpen, but it has been a nice surprise so far.
Nelson Cruz – This might be a little unfair considering Cruz essentially won the Nats their first game of the season on his own with a solo shot and a 2-run go-ahead single, but before this game it was looking at lot like Father Time might be finally catching up to Boomstick. He was only 1 for 12 in the first 3 games and was looking pretty lost at the plate. However, the series finale was an incredibly positive sign and I’m hoping he can carry that over to Atlanta. Cruz is a professional hitter and knows exactly when things are or aren’t working for him, the fear is just his body not cooperating like it used to in his 41-year-old season.
Starters not being able to go more than 4 innings – Besides Erick Fedde’s 5-inning solid start in the series finale, Patrick Corbin, Josiah Gray, and Joan Adon all failed to last more than 4 innings in their starts. All three were similar in that their stuff looked electric in the first 3 innings, and then they hit the wall and ran out of gas in the 4th, giving up multiple runs. For this first series, I will give them the benefit of the doubt with the circumstances that these guys arms are likely not built all the way up yet due to a short spring training, and we will see if they are able to go deeper soon. However, you cannot ignore this concern.
Bottom of the Order (in general) – The Nats 6-9 hitters went 3-52 in the opening series. That’s, how do I put it, an absolute embarrassment. The sad thing is though, we all saw it coming with this lineup that is just a complete black hole after Ruiz. There’s no way to sugarcoat it, the bottom of the order is going to blow a lot of scoring opportunities, and games, in its current form.
Maikel Franco – 4 games of Franco on my team and I’ve already had enough. When you pick up a guy that even the Orioles didn’t want, you know exactly what you’re going to get. Despite notoriously being a Mets killer, he batted .077/.077/.077 in this series. He is incredibly clunky at third base. I never thought I’d miss Carter Kieboom, but holy crap this guy makes me want him back so bad.
Alcides Escobar – Again, we all know what we were signing up for when the Nats re-signed this guy, and as our starting shortstop at that. He’s 1 for 10 to begin the season with 5 strikeouts. He also can’t hit the ball hard to save his life, and he’s 35 years old taking playing time away from younger guys that deserve it. Sorry Allison, but this guy sucks at baseball. I’ll celebrate when I see the DFA announcement.
Lane Thomas – Despite showing some impressive flashes in a short sample after being traded to the Nationals last year, Thomas is hitless to begin the season and has looked abysmal at the plate. This is exactly why you don’t dub guys the future after one short stint of impressing, you need to prove it over a full sample. And so far, Thomas is looking a lot like the guy the Cardinals opted to trade away for a 37-year-old washed starter.
Victor Robles – I just don’t even know what to say about Vic anymore. Yeah, he’s still great in the field and made a few nice defensive plays this series, but his ceiling is a defensive replacement/4th outfielder at this point. I’ve wanted him to succeed for so long, but I think the top 10 most frustrating at bats I’ve ever watched all belong to him. I mean, this guy just can’t hit to save his damn life. Shockingly, he’s also hitless to begin the season. He can’t even get a bunt down anymore. Robles fall from grace has honestly been sad, and I would pay good money for him to even return to the player he was in 2019. If nothing changes again for him this year, and odds are nothing will, I’m about ready to move on from him unless he’s fine with being a defensive replacement for the rest of his career in DC.