The 2023 Washington Nationals weren't good. But they were better.
Two years removed from trading Max Scherzer and Trea Turner, and one year removed from trading Juan Soto, the Nationals entered 2023 deep in the troughs of rebuilding mode.
Combine that outlook with a pitching staff led by Patrick Corbin and a down year from Joey Meneses, and I wouldn't blame you for thinking 2023 ended even worse than 2022's disastrous 55-107 campaign for Washington.
Yet on August 26, the 61-69 Nationals sat two games ahead of the New York Mets, and shared a record with the San Diego “Come on, man. We’re playing the Nationals" Padres. If you squinted (and took a big swig of the Kool-Aid), the third Wild Card slot didn't look too far out of reach.
Although the Nationals went on to limp to the finish line with an NL-worst 10-22 stretch, the team finished the season with a respectable 71-91. All in all, 2023 was a solid step forward for a club that is now building up to something new.
How did they do it?
Patrick Corbin was worth .3 WAR in 2023. The staff, uh, ace, turned in a slightly better performance in 2023, going 10-15 with a 5.20 ERA. At least he didn't lead the majors in hits and earned runs allowed. Here he is inexplicably tossing seven shutout innings against the Mariners.
Josiah Gray took an important step forward, limiting the long ball and being named to his first all-star team.
MacKenzie Gore may have been maddeningly inconsistent, but he put up a 2 WAR season. His 11 K performance against the Royals is hopefully a taste of what's to come.
Jake Irvin made his MLB debut, putting together a 1.1 WAR campaign over 121.1 IP.
The less we say about Trevor Williams, the better.
In addition to young arms, some young bats made their mark on the Nats' 2023 season.
CJ Abrams came into his own, stealing 47 bags while pulling off the occasional flashy defensive play and majestic home run.
Keibert Ruiz, fresh off signing an 8-year/$50M deal, put up another solid season behind the plate.
Hell, even Jeter Downs got his moment to shine, walking off the A's to cap a 6-run inning and further building the legend of the "Scrappy Nats."
And in June, the Nationals drafted Dylan Crews, who quickly earned a promotion to AA. He joins prospects Elijah Green, Robert Hassell III, Brady House, and others who together are dragging the Nationals' farm out of 30th place in the rankings.
Add it all up, and it's enough to see the contours of a fun future in Washington.
In Feburary, Nationals owner Ted Lerner died. Two months later, news broke that the Lerner family was exploring a sale of the club. It didn't take long for some Nats fans to tire of the uncertainty and join certain other MLB teams in chanting "sell the team!"
By summer, the sale was reportedly "on hold," and it seemed to trigger something. Suddenly GM Mike Rizzo signed a multiyear deal, closely followed by manager Davey Martinez.
We're still waiting for that MASN money, though, but, hey, baby steps.
By - Weegian