Nats Notebook: Baseball’s biggest month could help Washington for years to come

Washington Nationals' Lane Thomas hits a two-run double against the Seattle Mariners during the 11th inning of a baseball game Tuesday, June 27, 2023, in Seattle. The Nationals won 7-4. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)(AP/Lindsey Wasson)

July is baseball’s fulcrum month. There may be as many days as May and August and just one more than April, June and September, but the stretch before the trading deadline can be the most franchise-altering month of the regular season.

A bad July can end eras (witness the Nationals’ 8-18 slide before the selloff in 2021) while a dynamic one can usher new ones (look at the Baltimore Orioles 16-9 roll that turned them from pretenders to contenders last year).

It’s a moving month in more than just the standings, as rosters are often remade in July with the trading deadline looming. And the question facing a non-contending team like the Washington Nationals (sorry to break it to you, but this is not going to be their year) is what sort of payout can they get for expendable pieces? And which players might be heading elsewhere?

A player such as Jeimer Candelario can fetch more than a few prospects while relievers like Hunter Harvey and Carl Edwards Jr. can be helpful to contenders trying to patch up leaky bullpens (see the Nationals in 2015-17 and 2019).

But how about a player like Lane Thomas, who’s having a career-best season (he currently leads the team by hitting .299 with 14 homers and 44 RBI)? Is this his peak season like Victor Robles’ 2019? And will he be this good when the team is a contender 2-3 years from now? Could there be a pitching-poor contender who wants a Patrick Corbin who’s coming off of his best start since June 28, 2022, and whose contract expires next year?

We’ll see which teams play their way into contention and which players find themselves in different uniforms next month.

Digesting the Division: Atlanta (56-27) increased its NL East lead by sweeping second place Miami (48-37) over the weekend, outscoring the Marlins 28-7 in the three games. Philadelphia (44-39) posted an 18-8 June but just dropped two of three at home to the Nats. They visit AL East-leading Tampa Bay and Miami before the All Star break.

The New York Mets (38-46) suffered through a 7-19 month, and even though they took two of three from San Francisco, one feels that an expensive underachiever is a prime candidate for late-June payroll purging. Rounding out the quintet, Washington (34-49) may be in last place but they’re coming off a road trip where they won back to back to back series.

Break up the Birds: The Baltimore Orioles (49-33) ended a four-game losing streak with Sunday’s 2-1 win over Minnesota. They also learned that four of its players are heading to the All-Star Game: catcher Adley Rutschman, outfielder Austin Hays plus relievers Yennier Canó and Félix Bautista. Each will be making their first appearance in the mid-summer classic. But before they get to enjoy their trip to Seattle and the rest of the team gets a few days off, the O’s play road series at the New York Yankees (they’ve split their six games in 2022) and Minnesota (witness this past weekend).

No Gray Area for Washington’s All Star: You could have made the case for Thomas or Candelario, but it’s Josiah Gray who is the Nationals’ All-Star representative. The right-hander is pacing the rotation in wins (six) and ERA (3.30) while ranking second in strikeouts (86 to MacKenzie Gore’s 107) and innings pitched (95.1 to Patrick Corbin’s 96.2). Here’s to seeing his growth over the next 16 or 17 starts in 2023.

Last Week’s Heroes: Stone Garrett hit .455 with two homers and seven RBI (including Sunday’s go-ahead grand slam at Philadelphia). Dominic Smith batted .321 with a pair of home runs. Lane Thomas hit .333 with six runs and six RBI. Patrick Corbin tossed seven scoreless innings in his lone start, while Josiah Gray allowed one run over six frames. Hunter Harvey threw four scoreless innings over four outings, while Kyle Finnegan posted five scoreless frames over two appearances.

Last Week’s Humbled: MacKenzie Gore allowed seven runs over 2.2 innings to record an ERA of 23.63. Multiple relievers posted double digit ERA’s, from Cory Abbott (10.38) to Mason Thompson (13.50) to Thaddeus Ward (27.00). Joe La Sorsa was the high man after coughing up four runs in 0.1 inning for an ERA of 108.00. Corey Dickerson hit 0-12, while Darick Hall batted .091 and Joey Meneses posted a .125 average with 10 strikeouts.

Game to Watch: On Tuesday, the club plays its traditional Independence Day game. Rocking America — Fifty States! The NL Central co-leading Cincinnati Reds are in town. Rocking America –Five Great Lakes! Patrick Corbin is making his first start after his best outing of the season. Rocking America — Red White Blue! It’s an 11:05 a.m. start, giving you enough time to enjoy the rest of the holiday. Rocking America — how about you!

Game to Miss: Normally, I’d be concerned about Thursday’s game with MacKenzie Gore pitching (one win since the end of April and a 5.13 ERA in 12 starts since the start of May), but the Nats are 15-12 in series finales this year. I’m going to skip Saturday’s game with rookie Jake Irvin on the mound against AL West-leading Texas. Did you know the Rangers lead the majors in batting average and runs scored? With a 4:05 p.m. start in the D.C. July heat, Irvin could melt in more ways than one.

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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