The Natspos come to town, as the Braves are fresh off a glorious sweep of the Metropolitans that pushed them into fourth place, just narrowly ahead of the Nats. But while the Mets have a payroll of more than one-third of a billion dollars and appear crushed under the weight of their expectations, the Nationals are neck-deep in their teardown rebuild and blissfully free of any expectations.
So, Who Am They, Anyway?*
In that context – and not in the context of them having won the World Series in 2019 – these particular anonymous 25-36 Natinals are pleasantly terrible, very unlike the disappointingly terrible 26-34 defending world champion 2020 Nationals, whose crappiness presaged the firesale that sent Trea Turner, Max Scherzer, Juan Soto, and Josh Bell to the West Coast.
Now, the Nationals feature some of the fruits of that bloodless teardown: in particular, catcher Keibert Ruiz, shortstop CJ Abrams, and pitchers Josiah Gray and MacKenzie Gore. They also have the classic cellar-dwelling menagerie of “oh, he plays for them now?” guys — Dominic Smith, who couldn’t catch on in Queens; Jeimer Candelario, who was really good in Detroit in 2020-2021 but not really before or after; Michael Chavis, who looked like a pretty good Red Sox prospect until he flamed out like most of them do; and so forth. (And they also have a well-traveled blink-and-you-missed-him former Brave, Carl Edwards, Jr!)
* Note: “Well… who am us, anyway?” is a random line from a 54-year-old comedy album by the Firesign Theater. I am generally a man who makes obscure references; this might be my obscurest ever. Apologies in advance.
This has all the feeling of a classic trap series. After the emotional high of three comeback victories against our divisional rivals, a three-game set against the worst team in the league could feel like a chance for a breather.
But… tonight’s starter, A.J. Smith-Shawver, is a two-pitch pitcher making his second major league start. His opposite number, Gray, is a former top prospect who seems like he’s been coming into his own this year, even if the advanced metrics suggest that his 3.09 ERA is nearly two runs lower than the true quality of his performance.
So – as Han Solo might have said to A.J. after learning about his opponent for tonight’s matchup:
What’re They Good For?
That said, the Nationals are what their record says they are: not very good.
- They’re not very good at hitting – though their team wRC+ of 96 ties them with Juan Soto’s new team, the crushingly disappointing Padres, at 11th out of 15 teams in the National League.
- They’re not very good at pitching – though their 2.6 pitching fWAR, 14th out of 15 teams, still keeps them one spot above the Mets, who are in last place.
- And they’re not very good at fielding – though their -9.7 fielding runs, 14th out of 15, is just barely worse than our -9.1 runs – so, either being that bad at fielding isn’t that dangerous, or Fangraphs fielding stats aren’t that meaningful.
The Scouting Report
I’ll close out this series preview and game thread with a classic television-style “scouting report”: no mercy. Smash them in the mouth and keep them down all weekend. The best way to win these games is to outscore the Nationals. Let’s go!
Here’s a cool band from Asheville to play us out: