There’s no denying it whether you’re an optimist, pessimist, or anything in between: the Washington Nationals are a bad baseball team. But they’re not just a bad baseball team, they are one of the worst, if not THE worst in the sport. As of today, they are 12-26, tied with the Cincinnati Reds for the most losses in baseball and are only 1 game behind them for being tied for the worst record. They have a -46 run differential, fourth worst in baseball. They lead the MLB in both errors and double plays grounded into. They make brutal baserunning mistakes seemingly every game. This. Team. STINKS.
Seeing any kind of outrage on the team’s performance is a bit funny because this is exactly what fans should have expected. Not that anyone was predicting the Nats to make the postseason or anything, but I recall seeing some 70-80 win predictions that were just straight up laughable. After the team reached its peak of 2 games above .500 at 40-38 at the end of June during the 2021 season, the deadline fire sale happened and the Nats went 25-59 the rest of the season. In the offseason, the team made very little upgrades, if you can even call them that. Nelson Cruz was the only addition of note, and so far has been having the worst year of his career at age 41. How could you have expected anything different?
Let’s just take a look at this roster up and down, starting with the position players:
Cesar Hernandez – Cesar has essentially been who he has throughout his whole career: pretty high batting average, low slugging, average on-base percentage. He’ll make you some plays at second base. He’s an average baseball player at best, and the Nats needed a lot more than an average player.
Juan Soto – while I’ve seen a lot of takes about how “bad” Soto has been this year even though he still has a wRC+ in the 140s, he’s going to be fine. But playing on a godawful team and trying to carry them as a result has had a bit of an effect on his world-class plate discipline. He’s going to be fine, but again, the Nats had Soto and his NL MVP runner-up finish for the entire season last year and still won 65 games.
Josh Bell – Bell has been nothing short of extremely impressive this season, and it’s a shame his efforts have been going to waste on this team. His bat has been on fire essentially the whole year so far, and he’s made some strides at first base with his defense. But again, like Soto, the Nats had Bell for the whole season last year, including his impressive second half, and still won 65 games. They won’t be able to say the same this year when he is likely traded at the deadline.
Nelson Cruz – Just gonna say it: Nellie Cruz is looking pretty cooked up there. Sure, his bat has been heating up recently and he’s still clubbed some bombs this year despite his struggles, but his bat speed has been noticeably slower and he has whiffed a LOT this year. A 41-year old DH was just not going to move the needle very far for this team. And he won’t even be on the team come August 1st.
Yadiel Hernandez – Yadiel has been a great surprise this season, but with his track record and at 34 years old it’s almost inevitable that this production cannot be sustained, and he’s going to come CRASHING back down to the mean and it will be ugly. The Nats should move him while they can, but they won’t.
Keibert Ruiz – Ruiz is going to be special once his bat develops, but while he has shown some impressive flashes it is not there yet, and we still haven’t seen the power he possessed with the Dodgers in AAA. But he’s fantastic behind the plate and leads all catchers in caught stealing. But this is a classic young guy learning at the major league level on a rebuilding team situation, and I truly believe he will grow into being one of the league’s best catchers.
Maikel Franco – Franco has been essentially who he is throughout his career. He’ll make you some flashy plays and will have a few clutch hits, but he is what he is at this point: a below-average baseball player, and there’s a reason he was available on a minor league deal this offseason after both the Royals and Orioles gave up on him.
Alcides Escobar – I’d rather spend as little time on this one as possible. This guy sucks at all aspects of the game and needs to be DFA’d yesterday. Please make it stop and call up Garcia.
Victor Robles – Not really a good look when you go from the number 4 prospect in the MLB to essentially being Jackie Bradley Jr. 2.0 without the pop. Robles will continue to have a career in the majors because of his defensive value, but he is far from being able to be saved as a productive everyday starter at this point.
Lane Thomas – Anyone who thought Thomas could sustain what he did when he was traded to the Nats last season was kidding themselves. There’s a reason the Cardinals decided to get rid of him for 2 months of Jon Lester. He’s a 4th outfielder at best that is completely useless against right-handed pitching.
Riley Adams – Adams is a prototypical power hitting backup catcher. Lots of strikeouts, but when he connects, he’ll give it a ride. He’s shown some flashes behind the plate but still needs some work. He’s a fine backup catcher.
Dee-Strange Gordon – when you’re switching off between Dee Strange-Gordon and Alcides Escobar at shortstop in our year of the Lord 2022, you stink. He’s not what he used to be and again, there’s a reason why he was available on a minor league deal.
Now let’s take a look at the rotation. OOF.
Josiah Gray – Gray has taken steps forward this season and is showing some very encouraging signs. The Nats have won 12 games this season and 1/3 of those were Josiah Gray starts. That isn’t to say, however, that Gray isn’t still having some growing pains getting himself acclimated at the major league level, but that’s to be expected from a 24-year old starting pitcher. He’s been the team’s best starting pitcher this season and it’s not remotely close, but the bar has also been the floor.
Erick Fedde – I mean, Erick Fedde just is who he is at this point at almost 30 years old, and that’s a 5 starter at best. The guy has been a nibble machine throughout his entire career and while he’ll give you the occasional gem, he just refuses to go deep into games and/or put hitters away. He’s a 5 starter, nothing more and nothing less.
Patrick Corbin – Corbin has looked a lot better in his last couple starts and is finally starting to get more whiffs on his slider again, but he’s still having those blowup innings he had last season and that contract is going to continue to destroy this team if they are unable to move it. It’s been ugly to say the least.
Joan Adon – Adon is just straight up not ready for the major leagues yet, and that’s okay. He’s only 23 years old and is still incredibly raw, and with that comes poor command. His last start against the Marlins wasn’t too bad and it was encouraging to see 0 walks compared to when he walked 5 in 2 innings in his previous start. His fastball was touching 98 which was a little surprising to see, and he has a good combination of off-speed. But again, he is just not going to succeed in the majors at this time without a little more seasoning. It’s an interesting question as to whether or not he goes down when Strasburg/Ross return.
Aaron Sanchez – Again, like a lot of other guys I previously mentioned, Sanchez is who he is throughout his career and there’s a reason he was available on a minor league deal. Pretty good stuff but can’t locate it and it leaks out over the heart of the plate for hard contact. It is what it is with him.
And finally, the bullpen:
Steve Cishek – this guy just stinks. Nothing more to be said.
Victor Arano – Arano has been fairly solid this year. A couple bad outings that have inflated his ERA, but he’s been one of the Nats better relievers this year.
Carl Edwards Jr. – See Steve Cishek
Tanner Rainey – Rainey has been solid for the most part so far this season. He had the one hiccup blown save against the Angels, but other than that has given up no runs in all of his other appearances and he has kept the walks down. I like what I’ve seen from him.
Josh Rogers – Rogers was a nice surprise to begin the season when he was in the rotation, but it was downhill from there. He’s been a bit better in the bullpen, but still nothing to really shout at, which is the theme for many of the players on this team.
Austin Voth – See Steve Cishek, but add on “how the hell is this guy still on the team after being given a billion chances across 5 seasons and sucking every time.”
Erasmo Ramirez – Again, he’s been a nice surprise with a 2.25 ERA in 10 appearances so far, but this feels like another classic case of coming crashing back down to the mean.
Sean Doolittle – he was off to very surprising amazing start before Davey ultimately fried his arm and landed him on the IL, and who knows when we’ll see him again.
Mason Thompson – Also on the IL, very raw young guy with electric stuff that could be a good 8th inning guy once he learns to control it.
After taking a look at this roster, what are the common patterns? There have essentially been 2, maybe 3 outstanding players on the team, and other than that it’s mediocre-to-below-average-to-bad. And the “depth” that they have is basically just as talented as most of the starters. Combine that with Davey Martinez as your manager, who very obviously lacks the necessary skills for management of a bullpen and establishing baseball fundamentals (as evidenced by the Nats being the worst baserunning team in the league and having multiple careless, comedic strings of errors), that is exact the formula for creating a terrible baseball team. And it’s going to be a long, LONG season. But this is exactly what they signed up for after the offseason (or lack thereof) that was had, and it’s a little crazy that not everyone saw this coming.