With the end of MLB's regular season coming next week, Bally Sports will review the performance of each club with an eye looking at what happened in 2021 and another at what could happen next season. Our next Exit Interview is with the Washington Nationals.
What went right
• Juan Soto has hit so well that he's put himself in the NL MVP conversation with just a week left to go in the regular season. He'd be younger than Bryce Harper was in 2015 when he won NL MVP, and the fourth-youngest MVP ever.
• Josh Bell was a good pickup, batting .257/.340/.482 with 27 homers in his first 467 at-bats. Worth about three wins.
• Team patriarch Ryan Zimmerman continues to contribute at nearly 37 years old, batting .243/.282/.473 with 14 homers in 259 plate appearances. His best at-bats come against lefties. With Bell being the guy at first base, it would be helpful if the NL brought back the DH.
• Outfielder Lane Thomas, brought over from St. Louis in the Jon Lester deal, emerged at age 25/26 with a.288/.379/.518 season in 161 plate appearances.
• Right-hander Paolo Espino, at age 34, has been a solid contributor as a swingman after spending most of his 14-year pro career in the minors.
What went wrong
• Unless they win out, the Nationals won't be able to avoid losing at least 90 games for the 14th time in franchise history and the fifth time since they moved to Washington in 2005.
• They couldn't come to an agreement with Trea Turner, shipping him off with Max Scherzer to the Dodgers for prospects. Moving Scherzer made sense given his age, but Turner is only 28, and Soto can't carry the offense himself. It's not basketball!
• They finally sent Victor Robles to the minors after he dealt with injuries and his own struggles at the plate. For his career, he's a .237/.317/.375 hitter in his first 1,268 plate appearances. He was better in the field than a season ago, but not as good as in previous seasons. He just turned 24, so there's still time.
• Aside from a brief hot streak, infielder Carter Kieboom struggled again at the plate, batting .208/.303/.323 in his first 221 plate appearances. He's a .197/.306/.285 hitter for his career in 386 PAs. He just turned 24 and hasn't had 350 at-bats yet, so it's not over, but he's only got 13 extra-base hits in his career.
• Left-hander Patrick Corbin hasn't been effective since the World Series season of 2019. He has the worst ERA (5.92) in the league in 2021, one of just four qualifying pitchers with an ERA higher than 5.00. He's got two years left on his $140 million contract.
Soto is the best hitting talent since Barry Bonds. It's a great place to start, even when you're starting over.
Reasons for optimism
• They've made the playoffs five times in the past 10 years, and GM Mike Rizzo remains the person in charge. They have four prospects among the top 100 or so in the majors — Keibert Ruiz, Cade Cavalli, Josiah Gray and Brady House. Ruiz and Gray are in the majors now.
What needs work
• The Nats are near the middle of the pack in runs scored, but they traded Turner, Kyle Schwarber and others who were having solid years, so they have some holes in the lineup. Their minor-league system was really barren before trades brought in reinforcements, but it’s going to be a while until, say, Brady House is ready to play shortstop.
• They need almost an entirely new pitching staff. It’s not something that can be overhauled in one offseason, but Gray is a solid place to start. There might not be any other pieces on the staff now that will be there when the Nats start winning again.
Check out our earlier MLB Exit Interviews: