24 March, 2022
The Nationals have had a couple of dismal, forgettable last-place seasons after surprising baseball with their World Series triumph in 2019, losing 97 games in 2021. Unfortunately for DC fans, a similar scenario seems to be in the works for 2022, although with a different cast of characters, after the team’s firesale in 2021, which saw practically everything not nailed to the floor being traded away.
Brad Hand was traded to Toronto in exchange for a young catcher, Kyle Schwarber was sent to Boston in exchange for a pitching prospect, and veterans Yan Gomes and Josh Harrison were traded to Oakland for a trio of prospects. The actual news came on July 30, when the Dodgers acquired franchise pillars Max Scherzer and Trea Turner in exchange for four players, including catcher Keibert Ruiz and pitcher Josiah Gray.
The Nationals are now entirely in “rebuilding” mode since their extensive league roster has been decimated in favor of the farm system due to all of this activity. Juan Soto, the finest hitter globally, is still a part of their offense. There’s no dispute about Soto’s ability, but one batter does not build a lineup, and the hitters surrounding him vary from average to terrible. Josh Bell is the lone returning player who has provided considerable lineup protection, with a 124 OPS+. After Bell, there’s a sprinkling of fresh talent (Keibert Ruiz, Carter Kieboom, and Victor Robles) and over-the-hill veterans (Keibert Ruiz, Carter Kieboom, and Victor Robles) (Alcides Escobar, Cesar Hernandez). The front office has been hectic for a club in such a state of flux. They’ve added Hernandez, as mentioned above, Dee Strange-Gordon, Maikel Franco, and Ehire Adrianza to the infield. The most noticeable acquisition has been DH Nelson Cruz, who will offer Soto further lineup protection and mentoring until late July, when he will certainly be transferred to the highest bidder. These are the kind of moves that rebuilding clubs should make, basically purchasing prospects for the same price as Cruz’s deal.
The starting rotation was the team’s calling card when it won the World Series in 2019, but it has struggled. Max Scherzer, the ace pitcher, was acquired in July last year. Since the start of the 2020 season, Stephen Strasburg has pitched less than 30 total innings. Patrick Corbin has been healthy but unproductive over the last two seasons, with a 5.50 ERA in 237.1 innings. Josiah Gray, who was acquired as part of the Turner/Scherzer transaction, will continue to get starts to improve on his 2021 debut (5.48 ERA in 70.2 innings, almost entirely after the trade). This winter, Anibal Sanchez was recruited as a depth option.
The bullpen is uninspiring, but a few players on the roster may be traded before the deadline. Will Harris and Tanner Rainey are among them. Harris has been a reliable bullpen arm for years, but he missed most of 2021, appearing in just eight games. Rainey dominated out of the bullpen in 2019 and 2020, but in 2021, he struggled with his location, walking 25 in only 31.2 innings. They’ll be attractive trade pieces if any of them can get back to form. Steve Cishek and Sean Doolittle, the Nationals’ offseason signings, are looking for a similar outcome.
After a dismal 2021 season, there’s little reason to expect the Nationals to improve in 2022. They’ll be a couple of games poorer without Scherzer and Turner for the next four months. For a team in this situation, the off-season acquisitions have been beneficial, but they won’t help them win many more games, and many of them will likely be moved off in late July. The actual thrill for Washington supporters will be seeing their youthful talent take the next step forward, rather than witnessing important victories and losses on the scoreboard (and watching Juan Soto wage war on the record books). Josiah Gray, Keibert Ruiz, Luis Garcia, Carter Kieboom, and Victor Robles have all given fans cause to be optimistic about their future careers, and any of them might take the next step in 2022.
Odds for Nationals to Win 2022 World Series
The odds are very long for the Nationals. At the best online sportsbooks, the Nationals are +12500 to win the World Series. This is 20th place out of 30 teams listed.