Nats close season of growth with a win: 'We have a lot in store'

October 2nd, 2023

ATLANTA -- A rookie battery. A stolen-base record. A by-committee comeback win.

The Nationals’ 10-9 victory over the Braves in the season finale on Sunday afternoon at Truist Park demonstrated the direction of this young, developing team. They concluded the year 71-91, a 16-win improvement from 2022. It was the second-largest increase between full seasons in team history (2005-present) after the ‘12 club boasted an 18-win jump.

“This is how we played all year,” manager Dave Martinez said. “We battled back, we play hard, we play for 27 outs. And to finish up with a victory, it’s all good. It’s a testament to how hard these guys play, and they showed it again tonight.”

Facing the Braves, who finished with an MLB-best 104-58 record, the Nationals didn’t back down in Game No. 162. Atlanta was moving on to the postseason, but Washington was battling for offseason momentum.

In spite of trailing, 7-5, after seven innings, the Nats didn’t settle. They sent 15 batters to the plate across the eighth and ninth innings to piece together a rally that included RBIs from second-year shortstop CJ Abrams and rookies Jacob Young and Drew Millas.

“[Those at-bats] mean the world to you,” said Young, who drove in the go-ahead runs on an RBI single. “Those are the at-bats you look forward to as a kid.”

Within a game that saw rookie Jackson Rutledge make his fourth career start, Washington also set a new club record (2005-present). Abrams stole his 46th and 47th bases of the season, surpassing the mark of 46 set by Trea Turner in 2017. After the Nationals acquired Abrams from the Padres in August 2022 to be a centerpiece of their future, he broke a team record in his first full season.

“It’s an honor,” said Abrams. “It shows that the hard work pays off -- me and E.Y. [first-base coach Eric Young Jr.] are doing our homework. All the little things pay off in the long run, and next year we’ll see if we can get more than that.”

Abrams, who turns 23 on Tuesday, finishes the year as one of eight shortstops in Major League history to record at least 15 homers and 40 stolen bases in a season, per the Elias Sports Bureau.

“He’s been getting better and better every day,” Martinez said. “I hope he understands what kind of player he really, truly could be, because he could be an impact player moving forward.”

The Nationals wrapped their season having seen 10 Major League debuts, including three players still with prospect status. In addition to a middle infield that opened the season at age-22, five of the eight starting pitchers tabbed had three or fewer years of big league experience.

“I think we're in a good place,” general manager Mike Rizzo said on Saturday. “I like where our young core Major Leaguers are, and I like the developmental year that the Minor Leagues had. So I think that we're on track to turn this thing around in the near future.”

Asked to sum up the season in one word, Martinez chose “progress.” It was a sentiment echoed by the players throughout the clubhouse as they headed out for the offseason.

“It shows that we have a lot in store,” said Abrams. “We improved a lot from last year, and we know we’re going to do better next year.”