Ten Reasons for Nats Fans to be Optimistic in 2023
The Washington Nationals begin their 2023 season on Thursday vs the Atlanta Braves.
Since the championship season of 2019, reasons for pessimism continue to grow. On this opening week of the MLB season, I offer some reasons why Nationals fans can be optimistic about the upcoming season and beyond. Here they are in no particular order:
- Watching the future stars play now. There won’t be as many one-year retreads (from Philly no less!). Gone are Cesar Hernandez, Maikel Franco, and Alcides Escobar. Now an exciting double play combo featuring CJ Abrams and Luis Garcia will be on display for a full season. The continued development of RHP Josiah Gray, LHP McKenzie Gore, and switch-hitting C Keibert Ruiz should be fascinating too.
- The Nats will be stronger “up the middle.” With Abrams and Garcia as the keystones of the infield, you may be thinking stronger defensively, and you’d be right. But this could also mean stronger offensively. The middle includes CF, so I’m looking at Victor Robles and his .319 spring training batting average as a good sign of things to come in 2023.
- Better starting pitching. This is not just because it can’t get any worse. Josiah Gray looks much improved even if we take spring training stats with a large grain of salt. With a cutter added to his arsenal, Gray pitched 16.1 innings and had an ERA of 0.55 in West Palm Beach. RHP Trevor Williams and young lefty MacKenzie Gore are clear upgrades over Erick Fedde and Anibal Sanchez. Even the initial replacement for Cavalli, Chad Khul, is likely to improve simply by leaving the pitcher unfriendly Coors Field. My pick for mid-season call up is Jackson Rutledge. If we get to see Rutledge and his 6’8” 250 lb. frame, that would be something to get excited about.
- Improved bullpen. Last year the Nats bullpen was a pleasant surprise. This year, the bullpen could improve. Another year of experience for Hunter Harvey and the addition of Thaddeus Ward by way of the Rule 5 draft and the Boston Red Sox. In Florida, Harvey pitched in six games and recorded an ERA of 3.38 while striking out eight batters in 5.1 innings. Ward struck out 16 in 12.1 innings of work, won a game, and saved another. Ward finished the Grapefruit League with an ERA of 2.92 in 11 appearances. Hobie Harris is another reliever to keep in mind. For the spring, Harris gave up only one run in 10 innings. Harris also had a WHIP of .50 and opponents batted just .100 against him.
- The quantity and quality of the newest prospects group. The current group of top prospects has Nats player development staff very excited because of their plus personalities and athleticism. Add size to their attributes. Six of their top seven prospects are at least 6’3”. There is enough of these young dudes that the Nats will still thrive even if a few of these players don’t work out.
- Mike Rizzo. He’s done this before. There’s no reason to believe he can’t do it again. If Mike Rizzo is still the GM for years to come, I think the Nats will return to the postseason in 2-4 years. It’s just a matter of time and Nats fans can embrace and enjoy the rebuilding process that comes with annual improvement.
- Regional Sports Networks fuzzy future. If the trend of struggling regional sports networks continues, this can only help the Nationals cause. The Yankees YES network is offering a streaming service to fans who don’t have cable TV. I’m not counting on a court settlement and $100 million in favor of the Nationals. But any bit of daylight to see a way out from under the MASN umbrella would be a major leap forward for the Nats organization and a possible path for new ownership.
- Balanced schedule, NL vs AL style. In the very talented National League East, the Nats won’t have to face the Phillies, Braves, and Mets a total of 54 times. That would have been one-third of their entire schedule again. Cutting that amount down by roughly a third (18 games) to a total of about 36 games is likely to cause a positive impact on the Nationals winning percentage.
- Illegal Shift. According to baseball savant, Nationals’ lefties faced a defensive shift nearly 61% of the time in 2022. That was before they signed left-handed batters Corey Dickerson and Dominic Smith. Dickerson and Smith should benefit from the lack of shifts in 2023. So too could Luis Garcia, I think. Switch hitters Keibert Ruiz and Jeimer Candelario may also benefit from the outlawing of defensive shifts.
- Joey Meneses. Can soon-to-be 31-year-old Joey “Four Bags” follow his two-month rookie season at the same success rate? Probably not. But what Meneses did for team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic was a very good sign. Meneses tied for the WBC lead with ten hits. He also popped two home runs, knocked in six, and only struck out twice in 27 at-bats. For good measure, Joey even stole a base.
Maybe these 10 reasons aren’t enough to get your Natitude up to 100%, but the Nats will be back. It probably won’t happen as soon as we would like. But when it does, it will be very sweet. Nats fans know what that feels like.
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