About an hour north up I-295, a rival organization provides a blueprint for the Nationals and their rebuild.
A few years ago, the Orioles began the process of rebuilding their own organization. Now they are starting to turn the tide into contention, finding themselves unexpectedly four games out of an American League wild card berth.
That path back to contention is a similar one the Nationals want to follow now that they have fully embraced their own rebuild. And perhaps reach that turning point sooner.
This week’s two-game series against the Orioles was a good chance for the Nats to measure their young players against some of the best prospects in baseball.
Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, Kyle Stowers and DL Hall were all at one time ranked in multiple publications’ top 100 prospects lists. They also headlined an Orioles farm system that has been one of if not the best in the sport since executive vice president and general manager MIke Elias took over in 2018.
All four players are currently on the active roster playing significant roles in the Orioles’ playoff pursuit. The Nationals are finding it hard not to compare their own young players to the young stars in Baltimore.
“Absolutely. I mean, you look at some of those guys and what they've been through over the last seven, eight, nine, 10 years and how they put their team together,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I see our guys, some of our guys, some of our young guys, and I think to myself this is gonna be good. We got some really good, young, talented players that are developing. And you're starting to see them now starting to really take their tools and put it into use. The kids that are coming are going to be good.”
The kids that are coming are the likes of Robert Hassell III, Elijah Green, James Wood, Brady House, Cole Henry, Jarlin Susana and Jackson Rutledge. The kids that are already in the majors are the likes of Cade Cavalli, Josiah Gray, MacKenzie Gore, CJ Abrams and Luis García.
The Nationals hope these young players bring the kind of excitement to Washington in the coming years that the Orioles have been developing in Baltimore for the past couple of seasons.
“I'm excited about having Cade and Josiah,” Martinez said. “Some of these other young guys that we have still in the minor leagues that have done well. Rutledge, who pitched (Tuesday), did phenomenal. Having an opportunity to get those guys all up here at one time is gonna be pretty, pretty exciting. So yeah, I'm definitely excited about our future and where we're going. And now it's just about putting it together here and getting all these guys here and putting everything together and getting them to compete.”
How well have they put it together and how have they competed against the Orioles prospects this week?
In these two games at Nationals Park, the young core of Rutschman, Ryan Mountcastle, Henderson and Stowers combined to go 9-for-28 (.321) with four runs, four doubles, six RBIs, three walks, a home run, a Little League home run and seven strikeouts. Hall pitched one scoreless inning with a strikeout Wednesday night.
The Nats’ young core of Lane Thomas, Joey Meneses, García and Abrams went 5-for-32 (.156) with two runs, two RBIs, four doubles, two walks and six strikeouts. Mason Thompson and Jordan Weems combined for two scoreless innings out of the bullpen Tuesday. But Thompson was charged with four runs in ⅓ of an inning last night.
“I think right now if you look at it, and I was talking about this this morning about, you know, we're competing, right?” Martinez said. “Now it's teaching these guys how to go that extra, you know, that extra one or two things that we got to do as far as the little things. Driving in runs from third base, moving guys over. Those little things in one-run games are really big things.”
Those little things haven’t resulted in too many wins right now. It’s still too early for that.
The Orioles are eight games above .500 at 75-67, while the Nationals are 45 games under .500 at 49-94. Baltimore is eyeing October while Washington is eyeing next July’s MLB Draft, in which they’ll have a good chance of at least a top-three pick in the new draft lottery. Something the Orioles utilized for years to build the contending team they have now.
“It's those one-to-two-run games that you can make a difference somehow somewhere in the game to help us win,” Martinez said. “And that's the difference of becoming a playoff team and not. So we'll get there. I really believe that we're going to get there, especially with the young group that we got because we're very talented and got a lot of energy when they play. We got some young guys that can do a lot of different, special things. So I'm really excited about moving forward.”
Perhaps just as hard as getting back to contention is the patience it takes to balance the desire to win now and understanding that the goal is currently about development.
“The whole motor behind what we're trying to do is get them to understand that we want to win,” Martinez said. “And we want to win, we got patience, but we want to win soon. We don't want to wait eight, nine, 10 years. So we push the envelope a little bit with these guys. We really do. We're trying to get them to understand the concept of winning and competing every day.
“Good things are coming. And we're going to continue to get better.”