Nationals head to Cincinnati with high hopes for continued improvement in 2024

The Washington Nationals begin their 2024 campaign in Cincinnati this Thursday against a Reds team that went 82-80 last season and 11-15 this spring. The Nats’ 15-12 spring record built nicely on the improvement the team showed in winning 71 games last year. Righty Josiah Gray gets his first Opening Day start, facing Reds’ righthander Frankie Montas.

While fans will see many new faces in the Nats’ dugout this year, we won’t see the team’s hottest young prospects on Opening Day, despite the fact that the spring performances of Dylan Crews, James Wood, Trey Lipscomb and many others suggested that their Major League debuts may not be far off. Wood was perhaps the most impressive; he hit .364 and slugged .705 with 4 homers. Lipscomb got less attention, but quietly led the Nats with 20 hits and a .400 batting average.
“The fans have a lot to be excited about,” said manager Dave Martinez.

Spring stats don’t mean much once the regular season starts, of course, and the Nats’ top prospects may or may not be ready for Major League action. What’s indisputable, though, is the fact that prospects who are on the big club’s roster for fewer than 172 days in a season do not get credited with a year of service time, so teams aren’t likely to bring such players up until mid-April.

The new faces fans WILL see on the Nats’ roster include some solid veteran acquisitions with decent upside potential and reasonable salary cap implications. Former Red Nick Senzel will man the hot corner for Washington. Ex-Brave Eddie Rosario adds pop, depth and playoff experience to the outfield. Joey Gallo, last seen hitting 21 bombs for Minnesota last season, is an all-or-nothing kind of guy at the plate, but plays excellent defense and will see time at first base and in the outfield. Nasim Nunez, a Rule 5 acquisition (meaning he must stay on the Major League roster or be offered back to the Marlins), is a slick-fielding utility infielder with great speed.

Meanwhile, the starting rotation will be unchanged from a year ago: Gray, Patrick Corbin, Jake Irvin, MacKenzie Gore and Trevor Williams. Still, if Gray, Gore and Irvin continue to improve (and Corbin and Williams don’t get worse), the rotation overall could be better.

The bullpen will be noticeably different, at least until the late innings, where Kyle Finnegan and Hunter Harvey will handle the eighth and ninth innings. Some interesting arms have been added to the bullpen: Matt Barnes (R, Marlins), Dylan Floro (R, Miami and Minnesota) and Derek Law (R, Reds). The pen will be heavily right-handed: the only lefty is Robert Garcia.

The ”experts” are not expecting much from the Nationals this season. But if the offseason acquisitions benefit from their new surroundings and live up to their potential, and if the core youngsters from last year’s squad (CJ Abrams, Keibert Ruiz, Luis Garcia, Lane Thomas, Joey Meneses, Gore, Irvin and Gray) continue to improve as expected, and if the team avoids serious injury to key players, and …

OK, a lot has to go right. But I think it will. Your 2024 Washington Nationals will win 85 games and contend for the playoffs.

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