Expectation Versus Reality: Revisiting Wins Predictions For The Nationals

Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals tosses a ball in the dugout during the game against the Miami Marlins at loanDepot park on June 27, 2021 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals tosses a ball in the dugout during the game against the Miami Marlins at loanDepot park on June 27, 2021 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

It has been a season unlike any other in recent memory for the Washington Nationals. With 15 games remaining in the season, Washington sits at a lowly 51 wins, which is good for worst not only in the National League, but all of baseball as well. Just three years removed from a World Series title, the Nationals are now behind the likes of the perennial bottom dwellers such as the Pirates, Rockies and Athletics. Now, none of those teams have been able to win a World Series in recent years, but it just goes to show how quickly things have changed in DC. It is also worth noting that the Nationals are also 12 games worse than the Chicago Cubs, who were in a very similar position to the Nats after the trade deadline in 2021 that saw both franchises sell once prominent pieces to their World Series winning teams.

Did anyone really see this coming? I don’t think anyone was seriously predicting the Nationals to be a playoff team or even above .500, but it is a bit surprising to see this once great team, albeit now gutted team, so easily destined for 100+ losses. Even the pre-season predictions done by MASN Sports, which polled several Nationals media members, didn’t have a single prediction with the Nationals losing more than 100 games, and they all had fairly low expectations for the team.

Now we do have to address the elephant in the room, as I don’t think anyone would have ever predicted the Nationals would trade Juan Soto, at least so soon, so that certainly could have changed people’s minds when making a pre-season prediction. However, even before the trade the Nationals only had a .337 winning percentage. They have actually had a higher win percentage since the Juan Soto trade oddly enough, going 16-26 in their 42 contests for a .381 win percentage.

I put a poll up on Twitter to gauge fans’ pre-season expectations and predictions for the Nationals win total in 2022. Assuming the Nationals lose 105 or more games this year, which seems likely, how would that compare to their expectations prior to the season?

61% of the vote said that the Nationals performed worse than expected.

I don’t think this is necessarily surprising, as it seems a majority of Nationals fans, at least on social media, are generally optimistic and hopeful regarding the team, but I do think this season in particular has been a wake up call to many. I had a good feeling this team would struggle mightily, but worst in the league is a bit surprising.

I would argue that this is the third season in a row that the Nationals have underperformed. In 2020, the follow-up campaign to their World Series win, the Nationals failed to make the postseason despite expanded playoffs and a shortened season due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, going 26-34 and last in the NL East. In 2021, despite having four all-stars, the Nationals went 65-97 which was also last in the NL East. In fairness, they did trade three of those all-stars at the trade deadline, but they were still only 47-54 at the time of the trade. And of course, in 2022 the Nationals are the worst team in baseball and seem a safe bet to finish that way.

I know flags fly forever, and if you presented me with the popular hypothetical question prior to 2019, “Would you trade 10 years of bad baseball if it meant you won a World Series?” I would have said yes, but this team has generally made its name in underperforming over the past decade. The Nationals were one of the best teams in baseball from 2012-2019, which is not an easy task to accomplish, but not only had just one World Series title and appearance, but only one season with a playoff series win (2019).

I agreed with the decision to trade Max Scherzer and Trea Turner and wasn’t even against trading Juan Soto, but it is alarming to see a franchise so frequently fall short of where they should be, even when expectations are as low as they were coming into the 2022 season. It is very difficult to believe in the process when the majority of what we know is disappointment. It is going to be a long rebuild and I just hope we see some positive steps from this team in 2023.