Nationals Notebook: Springboard or ceiling?

Washington Nationals right fielder Lane Thomas makes a sliding catch of a ball hit by Cincinnati Reds' Jake Fraley during the fifth inning of an opening-day baseball game in Cincinnati, Thursday, March 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)(AP/Timothy D. Easley)

Welcome back! Did everyone have a nice offseason?

The Nationals are back in action after dropping two of three in Cincinnati (yet to enjoy the Skyline Chili, although Donato’s Pizza still delivers happy memories) and there’s at least a little more excitement surrounding the 2024 club as opposed to last year’s team.

The 2023 team actually won 16 more games than its predecessor, and while I’m not saying this bunch will win 87 games, one feels they’ll be more competitive and perhaps even pesky during the month of September as teams try to wrap up playoff berths.

But there are questions regarding those who made an impact last year for the Nats: Was 2023 a springboard (preview of possibilities) or a ceiling (a maxed-out career year)? Josiah Gray pitched in the All-Star Game, while Lane Thomas posted career highs in hits, runs, doubles, triples, homers, and RBI.

Were those campaigns the start of something special or a career outlier? C.J. Abrams and Keibert Ruiz had solid seasons at the plate while playing defensive positions. Do both players continue to grow in the field and in the lineup this year?

If you want the classic “ceiling vs. springboard” season, look no further than center fielder Victor Robles who hit 17 homers in 2019 and has belted 11 HR over the last four seasons. We’ll be watching while enjoying the possibilities each new season brings.

Digesting the Division: Atlanta (2-1) leads after one weekend (surprise, surprise). The Braves were out of first place for one whole day in 2023 (one half game back on April 2). Philadelphia (1-2) dropped two of three to Atlanta to begin the season and drop by the district for a series this upcoming weekend.

Washington (1-2) was in last place for the bulk of the season last year, but this spring they find themselves ahead of the New York Mets (0-3) and Miami (0-4).

Break up the Birds: The Orioles (2-1) began the year by taking two of three from the Los Angeles Angels, posting 25 runs while allowing eight. Anthony Santander already has a pair of homers with seven RBI and offseason acquisition Corbin Burnes (1-0, 1.50 ERA, 11 strikeouts) looked great in his Baltimore debut.

Last Week’s Heroes: Jesse Winker hit .455 while C.J. Abrams from atop the order scored four runs while stealing three bases. Keibert Ruiz batted .333 with a homer and three RBI. Hunter Harvey recorded a win in relief while Kyle Finnegan saved that game. Jake Irvin posted the best start on the team (three runs allowed over five innings).

Last Week’s Humbled: Patrick Corbin (four runs allowed over 4.1 innings) and Josiah Gray (seven over four) had less than ideal 2024 debuts while Kyle Finnegan allowed consecutive homers in Sunday’s loss at Cincinnati. Luis Garcia hit .182 while Lane Thomas batted .083 and Joey Gallo went 0-12 at the plate.

Game to Watch: Philadelphia wraps up its weekend in Washington with a 1:35 p.m. Sunday matinee. It’s a matchup of lefties (MacKenzie Gore and Christopher Sanchez) who are slated to make their 2024 debuts Monday afternoon. It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame, with a nightcap of hockey (Caps host Ottawa) to boot.

Game to Miss: The Nats play Pittsburgh to start the week, and while I’ll be all-in at the ballpark for Monday’s opener, I won’t be hurting to miss Wednesday’s game that pits Trevor Williams (5.55 ERA in 2023) against Mitch Keller (6.35 ERA last year).

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Dave Preston

Dave has been in the D.C. area for 10 years and in addition to working at WTOP since 2002 has also been on the air at Westwood One/CBS Radio as well as Red Zebra Broadcasting (Redskins Network).

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