Nationals Notebook: Tracking ‘The Trade’

File photo of Washington Nationals' CJ Abrams being greeted in the dugout after his solo home run during the third inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers, Wednesday, June 12, 2024, in Detroit. He and MacKenzie Gore came to DC in the Juan Soto trade. They're both shining, while Soto is no longer in San Diego.(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)(AP/Carlos Osorio)

The summer of possibilities is officially underway for the Washington Nationals, who took two of three games from Colorado over the weekend to move within one game of .500 and one-half game of the third Wild Card spot.

Their 12-9 mark in June has this team on the precipice of just their third winning month since the 2019 World Series (1-0 in October 2023 doesn’t qualify).

The series against the Rockies delivered a little bit of everything, from Sunday’s ninth-inning rally to Saturday’s loss due to a pitch-clock violation. Series against San Diego and Tampa Bay wrap up the month, before the club comes home.

Speaking of San Diego, the Padres are the very team that’s holding the final playoff spot in the National League. And they’re doing so minus the big bat the Nats traded them almost two years ago.

The Padres went all-in for 2022 with the deal for Juan Soto and that resulted in a trip to the NLCS. Soto drove in 109 runs last season for an underachieving .500 team (the 82-80 Padres had a +104-run differential), before he was traded to the New York Yankees for multiple players.

It’ll be a while to see how the likes of Jhony Brito, Kyle Higashioka and others shake out on the West Coast (Drew Thorpe was already traded to the White Sox).

But what is clear is the haul the Nats got in return for Soto two years ago: MacKenzie Gore is a front-of-rotation starter, while C.J. Abrams is the team’s best offensive player this year.

At the minor league level, James Wood is the team’s top prospect and is likely arriving in Washington in July or August, while Robert Hassell III is hitting .278 with 30 runs in 49 games for AA Harrisburg this year.

Even with slugger Luke Voit long gone (22 games with Milwaukee last year, Mexican League this year) and Jarlin Susana a long way from D.C. (the pitcher is currently in A Fredericksburg sporting a 5.44 ERA), the deal that jumpstarted the current Nationals run is paying off dividends.

Digesting the Division: Philadelphia (51-26) owns a seven-game lead in the NL East, and while Ranger Suarez is the Phillies pitcher everybody has their eyes on, Christopher Sanchez is maintaining his strong start (his 2.67 ERA is eighth-best in MLB).

Atlanta (43-32) took two of three in the Bronx, hitting six homers in their series win over the New York Yankees. Washington (38-39) remains in third place, one-half game ahead of the New York Mets (37-39) who won seven-straight after having the Grimace character from McDonald’s throw a ceremonial first pitch.

Unfortunately, fast food can only sustain one so much and the Mets have dropped two of four. Miami (27-50) is comfortably in the cellar, which is exactly where you’d expect a team that ranks 29th in runs and 27th in team ERA.

O’s Woes: Yes, the Orioles (49-28) took two of three from the AL East-leading New York Yankees, including the series finale, where they put 17 runs on the board.

But they then went into Houston and got swept by the Astros, allowing 27 runs over the weekend. So despite winning another series against the Pinstripes, the Birds remain 1.5 games back in the AL East — exactly where they were last week.

Diamonds Direct Diamond King: Lane Thomas scored six runs while driving in eight. Last year the outfielder set career highs in just about every offensive category and was off to a somewhat slow start (batting .182 in 22 March/April games) in 2024, before missing a month with injury.

It looks Thomas is back on track now (.295 with 17 RBI in 20 June games).

Last Week’s Heroes: C.J. Abrams, despite missing multiple games with a cyst on his hand, hit .444 while Jesse Winker batted .313 with a pair of homers. Dylan Floro went 2-0 while tossing 3.1 scoreless innings, while Patrick Corbin allowed just one run over five innings in his lone start.

Last Week’s Humbled: Six days after striking out 13, DJ Herz allowed four runs (three earned) over 3.2 innings Friday in Colorado, while MacKenzie Gore allowed four runs over five innings. Nick Senzel hit .176 while striking out five times in 17 at bats and Ildemaro Vargas batted .111.

Game to Watch: Jake Irvin may not be the splashy centerpiece to the Juan Soto trade (MacKenzie Gore) nor one of this year’s rookie phenoms (DJ Herz and Mitchell Parker), but the righthander owns the best June ERA in the rotation and is coming off of a 10-strikeout performance. Irvin pitches in San Diego Wednesday.

Game to Miss: Tampa Bay is a sub-.500 team playing in a substandard ballpark. Sunday the Nats wrap up the month by pitching Patrick Corbin against the Rays. Enjoy the pool…

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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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