With help from mom back home, Vargas making name with Nats

vargas robles blue

SAN DIEGO – He had talked about his home run off Yu Darvish, not to mention his subsequent single off the Padres right-hander. He had talked about his defensive work at third base and mentorship of rookie shortstop CJ Abrams. And he had talked about the opportunity he’s been given by the Nationals to play third base every day after spending the season’s first four months at Triple-A.

But when he was done with all that, once he had answered every question reporters had for him following Thursday night’s 3-1 victory at Petco Park, Ildemaro Vargas let everyone know there was one more thing he wanted to say.

“I want to dedicate this home run to my mom,” the infielder said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “Unfortunately, because of the visas, she’s unable to see me play. But when I talked to her today, she motivated me and said that I was going to have a great game today. So I want to thank her and tell her that this was for her.”

This revelation, of course, only prompted more questions, more answers and the sharing of a sweet (but in some ways bittersweet) story of a 31-year-old trying to stick in the big leagues while his biggest supporter can only watch from afar.

Gaudys Barreto lives in Venezuela. Her son has spent parts of six seasons in the majors with five different franchises, the Nationals representing only the latest to give him a shot. And because it has been difficult to secure her a visa, Barreto has been unable to come to the United States to watch Vargas play this year.

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Gutsy Nats hang around and beat Padres late (updated)

vargas home run

SAN DIEGO – The Nationals walked into Petco Park this evening and stepped right into a pennant race. No, the outcome of this weekend’s four-game series means nothing in the grand scheme to the team with the majors’ worst record, but try telling the 26 guys dressed in navy blue jerseys and curly W caps it meant nothing to go toe-to-toe with a star-studded Padres club that’s all-in on the 2022 season and desperately wanted to emerge victorious in tonight’s series opener.

And at night’s end, it wasn’t the home team celebrating victory, but rather the plucky visitors, who hung around for eight innings and then scratched across two runs against closer Josh Hader in the ninth to pull off a gutsy 3-1 win before a stunned sellout crowd of 41,820.

"This is what builds character," manager Davey Martinez said. "These guys were all jacked up. They were pumped up. Nobody was sitting there from the seventh through the ninth inning. All those guys were up on the fence, standing, cheering. It's awesome. This is what you play for: To play these kinds of games."

Stymied for eight innings by Yu Darvish, the Nationals finally broke through in the top of the ninth. They got singles from César Hernández and Alex Call (who replaced Yadiel Hernandez late after the left fielder's calf cramped up). That forced San Diego manager Bob Melvin to pull his starter to a standing ovation and summon Hader to try to keep the game tied.

Instead, Hader poured more gasoline on the fire and dealt Darvish the loss. The flamethrowing lefty hit former Padre Luke Voit with a 2-2 slider on the foot to load the bases, then walked Nelson Cruz on four pitches to force in the go-ahead run. And when Keibert Ruiz ripped a line drive to left for a sacrifice fly, the Nats had themselves an insurance run and a two-run lead.

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Fedde could return Tuesday, leaving Nats with rotation decision

fedde red

SAN DIEGO – Erick Fedde could return from the injured list and rejoin the Nationals’ rotation as soon as Tuesday after an encouraging rehab start Wednesday for Triple-A Rochester.

Fedde, who has been on the 15-day IL since July 27 with right shoulder inflammation, tossed four scoreless innings in Worcester, Mass., scattering three hits and a walk while striking out four. His pitch count was only 63, and he would’ve stayed in the game if not for a rain delay that disrupted the proceedings.

“Can’t escape it,” he said of the rain. “But it went really well. Was able to get through the start with no issues. And if anything, I felt like I was getting stronger throughout the outing. So I’m happy with it.”

Fedde was able to throw another inning’s worth of pitches in the bullpen after his start officially ended, building up his workload. And that appears to be enough to warrant his activation in the coming days.

Manager Davey Martinez said barring any setbacks the Nationals will consider activating Fedde in time for him to start Tuesday night against the Mariners in Seattle.

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Game 120 lineups: Nats at Padres

anibal sanchez pitching road

SAN DIEGO – This won’t be as notable or awkward as it was last week in D.C., but the fact that Juan Soto and Josh Bell are facing the Nationals again this soon after a trade that is still only 16 days old is pretty remarkable. Who’d have thought the only two series between these two teams would come right at this juncture of the season?

Can’t change anything about that now, though, so the Nats once again will be trying to figure out how to get Soto, Bell and the rest of the Padres lineup out over the next four days. They did a pretty good job against Soto and Bell last weekend, but they struggled to hold everyone else in check while losing two of three games.

We’ve got a rematch of the one game the Nationals won in that series tonight, with Aníbal Sánchez facing Yu Darvish. Sánchez gave up solo homers to Manny Machado and Trent Grisham in that game, but otherwise fared alright, allowing three runs over five innings to give his team a chance.

The Nats meanwhile, were shut out by Darvish for five innings before finally coming though with three runs in the sixth on back-to-back homers by Lane Thomas and Joey Meneses, then adding the go-ahead run in the seventh on Victor Robles’ RBI single to right, with César Hernández scoring only after it was determined Padres catcher Austin Nola was illegally blocking his path to the plate. Fun times.

Petco Park
Gametime: 9:40 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Clear, 74 degrees, wind 9 mph left field to right field

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Nats rally twice but still lose another in extras (updated)

corbin pitching home red

The Nationals managed to rally to get Patrick Corbin off the hook for his 17th loss of the season by scoring in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.

They managed to rally to tie the game again in the bottom of the 10th, thanks to CJ Abrams’ well-timed first hit since joining the club.

But because they couldn’t deliver one final clutch hit in the 11th inning, they were still left to suffer their 79th loss of the season, yet another one in extra frames.

After both teams pushed across their automatic runner in the 10th, the Cubs scored twice in the 11th, getting an RBI double from Patrick Wisdom and a run-scoring single from Seiya Suzuki off Victor Arano. And when the Nats failed to mount one last rally in the bottom of the inning, they wound up on the wrong end of a wild, 7-5 ballgame.

It was the Nationals’ seventh loss in eight extra-inning games this season. Over the last two years, they’re now 3-18 in extras. They’re still seeking their first walk-off win of 2022.

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Ruiz gets night off after taking a beating behind plate

ruiz gear cherry

Monday night’s game had barely begun before Davey Martinez found himself emerging from the dugout with director of athletic training Paul Lessard to check on Keibert Ruiz, who had just taken a foul ball off his facemask and appeared to be dazed to some extent.

Ruiz would remain in the game, and he would catch all nine innings of the Nationals’ 5-4 win over the Cubs, despite taking another foul ball off his mask later and then fouling a pitch off his right knee in his final at-bat.

Nobody said the life of a catcher is easy, but this was a particularly rough game for Ruiz from a physical standpoint. So it’s probably no surprise he’s not in the lineup for tonight’s contest.

“I talked to our trainers yesterday, and I just wanted to give him a little breather,” Martinez said. “Plus, we have a day game tomorrow, so I had to pick and choose. I thought today would be a good day to just let him relax. After the first one, he said he felt a little lightheaded and dizzy. That kind of scared me a little bit. Then he got hit again. So for me, it’s just about letting him take a break.”

Tough as it was to watch, Ruiz apparently did not suffer the kind of ailments that would’ve required him to undergo a formal concussion test or even be pulled from the game.

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Game 118 lineups: Nats vs. Cubs

Patrick Corbin throw white back

The Nationals had won the opener of only one of their last 12 series entering this one. And the single outlier, believe it or not, was against the Dodgers last month. That’s also the only series the Nats have gone on to win during this stretch. So perhaps Monday night’s victory over the Cubs portends even more to come before this series wraps up Wednesday afternoon.

Josiah Gray, CJ Abrams and Nelson Cruz were the story of Monday’s 5-4 win. The story going into tonight’s game is Patrick Corbin, who returns to make his first start since failing to get out of the first inning 10 days ago in Philadelphia, a disastrous outing that came only 10 days after he also failed to get out of the first inning in Los Angeles.

The Nationals are hoping this little break (which included two bullpen sessions to work on several things) will do Corbin some good. It better, because if he lays another egg tonight against the Cubs … well, who knows what the club’s next move would be?

Justin Steele makes his second straight start against the Nats tonight. The left-hander held them to two runs over six innings Wednesday at Wrigley Field, allowing an RBI double to César Hernndez and a solo homer to Joey Meneses.

Nationals Park

Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Partly cloudy, 78 degrees, wind 8 mph in from right field

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Kids impress, but veteran Cruz steals show in Nats win (updated)

cruz white homer

The night was supposed to belong to the kids. To CJ Abrams, the 21-year-old shortstop making his Nationals debut. To Josiah Gray, the 24-year-old right-hander who was given an opportunity by his manager to pitch his own way out of a jam at the end of his start.

And then 42-year-old Nelson Cruz decided to remind these young whippersnappers he’s still the most accomplished player on the roster.

With a pair of clutch hits – a two-run double in the fifth, then a solo homer in the eighth – Cruz lifted the Nationals to a 5-4 victory over the Cubs, stealing the show from his far less experienced teammates.

"He could be my son," Cruz said of Abrams, almost in disbelief at the thought. "It's nice to see those guys playing for their careers. I was in their shoes once, and I know what every game means, every at-bat. It is beautiful."

The eighth-inning blast, a 396-foot shot to left-center off Chicago reliever Brandon Hughes, was Cruz’s first home run since June 25 at Texas, an extraordinarily long drought for a guy who has launched 458 of them during a career that began in 2005 (the same year the Nats debuted in D.C.).

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Game 117 lineups: Nats vs. Cubs

josiah gray red

At this point, all you can ask as a Nationals fan is to see as many young potential building blocks as possible on the field at the same time. So that makes tonight’s series opener against the Cubs potentially a good night for everyone. That’s because Josiah Gray is on the mound. Keibert Ruiz is behind the plate. And CJ Abrams is starting at shortstop.

The Nats officially called up Abrams today, placing Luis García on the 10-day injured list with a left groin strain. The 21-year-old becomes the first of the five prospects acquired from the Padres in the Juan Soto-Josh Bell trade to play here in D.C., and expectations will be high for him to show us a glimpse of his potential game tonight.

It’s also a big start for Gray, who faces the Cubs for the second start in a row. The young right-hander had success at Wrigley Field throwing fastballs down in the zone more than he typically does, even though he still surrendered one home run in the seventh inning after six scoreless frames. Can he take that same approach and enjoy success again, or does he need to change anything up?

Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Cloudy, 72 degrees, wind 5 mph in from right field

2B César Hernández
RF Joey Meneses
1B Luke Voit
LF Yadiel Hernandez
DH Nelson Cruz
C Keibert Ruiz
SS CJ Abrams
CF Lane Thomas
3B Ildemaro Vargas

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Abrams will get first crack to prove trade was worth it


The final 46 games of a miserable season need to mean something to the Nationals. It’s far too late for the outcomes of these games to mean much of anything, but there’s still an opportunity to use what remains of the 2022 campaign on setting the stage for what’s to come in 2023 and beyond.

And the best way the Nats can do that is by getting a good look at any potential long-term pieces to the puzzle who are ready to play in the big leagues. Which makes tonight’s series opener against the Cubs as significant a game as they’ve played all summer.

With CJ Abrams set to be promoted from Triple-A Rochester and make his debut at shortstop, the first of five prospects the organization acquired from the Padres in this month’s Juan Soto-Josh Bell trade will be in uniform and in action on South Capitol Street.

Abrams is probably going to be the only one to play for the Nats for a little while longer. MacKenzie Gore, who was on the injured list with left elbow inflammation at the time of the trade, has begun throwing again but remains weeks away from pitching in a game. The three other prospects (Robert Hassell III, James Wood, Jarlin Susana) are still years away from making their major league debuts.

So that puts some significant pressure on Abrams, who is merely going to be asked to prove the trade was worthwhile via only his own performance on the field.

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Depleted Nats lineup shut out, plan to promote Abrams (updated)


Davey Martinez has written out more than his share of cobbled-together lineups this season, whether due to injuries, poor performances or (more recently) trades. The card the Nationals manager submitted for today’s series finale – a 6-0 loss to the Padres – brought his team’s current state of affairs into focus in a manner no previous one could.

Leading off was Alex Call, a 27-year-old left fielder claimed off waivers from the Guardians one week ago and called up from Triple-A Rochester this morning, having taken a 6:40 a.m. flight to Reagan National and come straight to the ballpark to take his team’s first at-bat of the game.

Batting second was Joey Meneses, the 30-year-old rookie sensation who entered with five homers in nine career games. Batting third was Luke Voit, the lone veteran with any track record, also in his first two weeks with the club after his acquisition from the Padres in the Juan Soto-Josh Bell blockbuster.

Lane Thomas, owner of a .673 OPS, was batting cleanup. César Hernández, owner of zero home runs in 489 plate appearances, was batting fifth. Maikel Franco, Tres Barrera, Ildemaro Vargas and Victor Robles rounded out the makeshift batting order, asked to score enough runs to beat Padres left-hander Blake Snell.

Few could have been surprised by the outcome.

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Nats promote Call from Rochester, option Palacios

call guardians

The Nationals called up another recent addition to the organization this morning, promoting Alex Call from Triple-A Rochester and throwing him right into the lineup as their leadoff hitter and starting left fielder for their series finale against the Padres.

Fellow outfielder Josh Palacios was optioned back to Rochester to clear a roster spot.

Call, 27, has only been in the Nationals organization one week. After making his major league debut for the Guardians last month, he was sent down to Triple-A Columbus, then designated for assignment. The Nats swooped in and claimed him off waivers, assigning him to Rochester, where he didn’t stay long.

In five games with the Red Wings, Call went 8-for-18 with two doubles, two homers, six RBIs, two walks and three stolen bases. The next thing he knew, he was on a 6:40 a.m. flight from Rochester to Reagan National Airport and came straight to Nationals Park for today’s 12:05 p.m. game.

“Honestly, anytime you’re in the big leagues, it’s pretty special,” he said. “I just think about all the work that’s gone in, all the people that have helped me get here. Ultimately, I’m just trying to stick with my routines and help this team win.”

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Game 116 lineups: Nats vs. Padres

meneses debut hr white

The Nationals have played two really long games the last two nights against the Padres. Now they’ve got a quick turnaround to this afternoon’s series finale. And it’s barely an afternoon game, with a 12:05 p.m. start thanks to the good folks at Peacock who are televising the contest.

After an emotionally uplifting victory Saturday night, the Nats will once again try to win the rubber game of a series, something they’ve struggled to do all season. They’ll need to keep it going offensively, this time against left-hander Blake Snell, who will try to keep Joey Meneses in the yard. (Which, as we’ve seen, is proving far more difficult than anyone could’ve ever imagined.)

There's a new name in the lineup: Alex Call. The 27-year-old outfielder was called up from Triple-A Rochester, where he had only been for five games after getting claimed off waivers from the Guardians. And the Nats are wasting no time throwing him into the fire: Call is leading off and starting in left field. (Josh Palacios was optioned to Rochester to make room on the roster.)

Paolo Espino gets the start for the Nationals, who used up four key relievers (Steve Cishek, Kyle Finnegan, Hunter Harvey, Carl Edwards Jr.) to pull off Saturday’s win. Davey Martinez might need to push Espino to go a bit deeper than he normally would in an attempt to save some bullpen arms.

Nationals Park

Gametime: 12:05 p.m. EDT
TV: Peacock, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Partly cloudy, 80 degrees, wind 9 mph out to left field

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Robles' clutch hit, controversial call, give Nats a win (updated)

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The throw from Juan Soto was perfect, probably the best he’s made all year, no matter which uniform he was wearing. The catch and tag by Austin Nola was on point as well, nabbing a late-sliding César Hernández, whose front foot crossed above the plate without touching it. And as Paul Emmel made the out signal, the crowd of 33,661 at Nationals Park groaned in agony, believing their former favorite player had just prevented his old team from taking a lead in the bottom of the seventh.

Davey Martinez, though, immediately yelled out to Emmel from the first base dugout. He wanted the play reviewed, not to see if Hernández had slid under the tag, but to see if Nola had violated Major League Baseball’s controversial rule preventing catchers from blocking the plate before they’re in possession of the ball.

"I always get up to the top (step of the dugout) to look," Martinez said. "And right away, I told (bench coach Tim Bogar): Check that, because I think he blocked the plate for sure."

And after an agonizing wait, Martinez and the Nationals caught a rare break. Officials in New York deemed Nola had indeed impeded Hernández’s path to the plate, so the run counted and the Nats had themselves a 4-3 lead they would hold onto en route to a wild victory over the Padres.

That victory also included dramatic, back-to-back homers by Yadiel Hernandez and Joey Meneses in the bottom of the sixth, plus the 2,000th hit of Nelson Cruz’s career. (He’s the first player ever to reach that milestone while wearing a Nationals uniform.)

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García day-to-day with groin strain, Cruz returns from dizzy spell

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Though he’s not in tonight’s lineup, Luis García said he’s fine after suffering a minor groin strain during Friday night’s game against the Padres.

The young Nationals shortstop had an MRI this morning to determine the extent of the injury, which he suffered while running out a groundball in the sixth inning of a 10-5 loss. Manager Davey Martinez referred to the ailment as “a little bit of a strain in his left groin,” and said García will be day-to-day until it heals.

“I want him to get treatment today,” Martinez said. “Hopefully later on he’s available to pinch-hit. We’ll see how it goes.”

The groin injury came only two days after Garcia had to leave a game in Chicago with a sore knee, creating at least some concern about the state of the 22-year-old’s legs, and raising the question of whether the organization might be on the verge of promoting recently acquired shortstop C.J. Abrams.

Had García gone on the injured list, it’s possible the Nationals would’ve replaced him on the roster with Abrams, one of the key prospects they got last week from San Diego for Juan Soto and Josh Bell. The 21-year-old shortstop entered the day batting .296 (8-for-27) with two doubles, two RBIs, four stolen bases and a .725 OPS in seven games for Triple-A Rochester.

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Game 115 lineups: Nats vs. Padres

anibal sanchez pitches red

The hubbub of Friday night should have dissipated now, so tonight’s game between the Nationals and Padres should feel a bit more normal. That is, as normal as it could feel with Juan Soto and Josh Bell playing for the opposition. Both former Nats should continue to receive nice ovations when they step to the plate tonight, but I wouldn’t expect nearly as much emotion or any formal acknowledgment of them in this one.

The Nationals were beaten around by San Diego’s lineup in the series opener, and that’s even with Soto and Bell playing only a minimal role in the proceedings. That’s an awfully tough lineup to contend with, and so the challenge tonight for Aníbal Sánchez is significant. The 38-year-old right-hander is still seeking his first win (or even his first no-decision) in his sixth big league start of the season. He was better in his last outing at the Cubs earlier this week, but he was done in by a pair of third-inning home runs, which continues to be his primary issue.

The Nats lineup faces a significant challenge itself in Padres starter Yu Darvish, who over his last 11 starts is 6-2 with a 2.68 ERA and 0.919 WHIP. It’s only the third time the veteran right-hander has ever faced Washington; he dominated here in D.C. way back in 2014 with the Rangers but was hit hard last summer at Petco Park in a game that became better known as the one when Max Scherzer gave up a grand slam to a relief pitcher.

Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Partly cloudy, 78 degrees, wind 5 mph out to left field

CF Victor Robles
1B Luke Voit
DH Nelson Cruz
LF Yadiel Hernandez
RF Joey Meneses
C Keibert Ruiz
2B César Hernández
3B Maikel Franco
SS Ildemaro Vargas

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Nats salute Soto and Bell, then get trounced by Padres (updated)

soto padres hi five

First came the video tribute, with plenty of highlights of Juan Soto and Josh Bell in Nationals uniforms, plus a taped message from Soto himself to D.C. fans, prompting a big round of applause. Then came the announcement of the Padres’ starting lineup, featuring Soto batting second and Bell batting fourth, each of them receiving more applause.

Then came the top of the first, with Soto stepping to the plate to a standing ovation, taking off his helmet and saluting the crowd. Two batters later, Bell got the same treatment and responded in kind.

It all made for a heartfelt reunion of former players returning to South Capitol Street, even if they were traded away only 10 days ago. And then ultimately yet another frustrating night of baseball for the Nationals and their fans, who watched as Soto, Bell and the Padres beat them 10-5 in a game that only looked somewhat close because of a bottom-of-the-ninth rally.

"You never realize it until you're there," Soto said of the emotions he felt throughout the game. "When I stepped to the plate and saw all my teammates and everybody's clapping, it was a pretty cool moment."

Emotional as they both were to leave the Nats at the trade deadline, the two sluggers were equally excited to join a San Diego club in the thick of a pennant race. Soto went so far as to verbalize that before the game, saying: “When you’re on a winning team, the level of your game just goes higher and higher.”

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Soto, Bell ready for emotional return to Nationals Park

juan soto josh padres

Juan Soto was here in April 2019 when Bryce Harper returned to Nationals Park for the first time as a Phillie. He was here this April when Max Scherzer returned to Nationals Park for the first time as a Met. He was here this May when Trea Turner returned to Nationals Park for the first time as a Dodger.

It was strange seeing former teammates, superstars who made their names here in D.C. and in some cases won their first championships with him, come back wearing different uniforms, eliciting different reactions from fans that loved them when they played here and now had to get used to the idea of them playing for someone else.

Could Soto have imagined he’d find himself in that exact position so soon, as he will be tonight when the 23-year-old star takes the field on South Capitol Street not as a member of the Nationals but instead the Padres?

“At that moment, I never think about it,” he said today before a throng of reporters packed into the visitors’ dugout prior to batting practice. “As soon as I get traded, I really think about it, and how cool the fans were with them and how much they enjoyed it. And I’m just going to try to do the same thing.”

The scene tonight should be overwhelmingly positive, with Nationals fans showering Soto – and former and current teammate Josh Bell – with love in his return. That will help make it a little easier for them. But that doesn’t mean it will feel normal, not while the emotions are still so fresh from a trade that happened only 10 days ago.

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"Weird" scene awaits as Soto, Bell come to D.C. as Padres


On the afternoon of Aug. 2, only hours after the Nationals had finalized a deal to send Juan Soto and Josh Bell to San Diego for six players, Davey Martinez was informed the Padres were scheduled to come to D.C. in a mere 10 days.

“Thanks,” the manager said in a wry, sarcastic tone as he contemplated what that would entail. “We gotta to get him out. We’ve got 10 days to think about that.”

Martinez had far more pressing matters to contend with over the last week and a half, namely how to put together a lineup capable of giving his worst-in-baseball club at least a chance of winning some games. The Nats have gone 2-7 since the trade deadline, underscoring just how daunting that challenge has been.

And now comes maybe the most difficult challenge yet: Facing Soto and Bell so soon after trading them. The three-game series that begins tonight at Nationals Park will be filled with emotion, not all of it positive as the scars of that franchise-altering transaction still burn.

It was an odd fate of scheduling that created this scenario. The Padres come to Washington only once per season. That trip just so happened to come right now. On top of that, the Nats make their lone trip of the year to San Diego next week, cramming their only seven head-to-head games into a 10-day window.

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Nats now putting all their faith in restocked farm system


Jump back in time all of one month and make a mental list of the Nationals’ top prospects.

You’d start with Cade Cavalli, include Brady House and then try to come up with the names of other kids who may or may not develop into major leaguers some day in the short or long term.

Now consider what that list looks like in the wake of a dramatic (and, yes, controversial) overhaul of the organization that culminated with last week’s trade of Juan Soto and Josh Bell to the Padres.

Cavalli and House remain on the list, but not in the top two spots. Those now belong to the likes of C.J. Abrams and Robert Hassell III, two of the six players acquired from San Diego in the blockbuster deal. Right behind them are Elijah Green and Cristhian Vaquero, teenage sensations who were the organization’s top amateur draft and international signing additions of 2022. Also include James Wood and Jarlin Susana, two more younger prospects who came over in the trade with the Padres. And then don’t forget to keep Cavalli and House, the 2020 and 2021 first-round picks, in the mix as well.

What you now see is a farm system that no longer is dependent on the rise of one or two blue-chip prospects, but has enough depth to account for the inevitable injuries and/or struggles that are bound to occur when trying to turn players right out of high school and college into big league stars.

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