Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It’s easy to forget the Washington Nationals won a World Series five years ago, let alone against the then-defending champion Houston Astros. The deafening clank of Howie Kendrick’s go-ahead and ultimately game-winning home run in Game 7 still sometimes rings through Minute Maid Park.

In the years since, the Nats have made that long, slow, almost excruciating march towards rebuilding. Key free agent signings haven’t worked out at all. Star player Juan Soto was traded after turning down a $440 million extension. It’s almost a miracle Washington actually won 71 games in 2023 after losing 107 the year before.

But amidst another relatively quiet winter, the Nationals can look forward to another autumn on the golf course. Not even their best players taking leaps forward can make the playoffs more than a pipe dream in DC.

Greatest Addition: Joey Gallo. This is a great signing for any team not spending much money in free agency. Everyone knows Joey Gallo’s game by this point and has made peace with it. He’ll be lucky to hit at or above .200, but makes up for it with home runs, taking his walks, and elite defense in the outfield. Gallo spent last year with the Minnesota Twins and hit .177 with 21 home runs in 111 games, and somehow posted an above-average 104 wRC+.

His defense took a back seat last year, but only because he played first base and all three outfield positions. He figures to stick primarily at first in Washington and though Gallo hit an awful .103 in spring training, the Nats guaranteed him $5 million. His reputation as an excellent teammate and overall nice guy is enough that he’ll get a fair shot in the regular season.

Greatest Loss: Stephen Strasburg. What a sad, sad end to what was supposed to be a long and successful career. Everyone remembers the Nationals drafting Strasburg with the No. 1 pick in 2009. The former San Diego State Aztec debuted the following year before needing Tommy John surgery, and he came back for five starts in 2011.

We didn’t realize at the time, but this became the theme of Stephen Strasburg’s all-too-brief MLB career. He probably would have been an all-time great if not for the injuries. Only twice did he pitch more than 200 innings in a season.

The saddest part is that in the Nationals’ championship run in 2019, Strasburg looked his absolute best. He had a 1.99 ERA in the playoffs and was the World Series MVP. The Nationals rewarded him with a seven-year, $245 million deal, making him the then-highest-paid pitcher in baseball.

And then, the wheels fell off. Thoracic outlet syndrome limited Strasburg to just eight starts and a 6.89 ERA for the next three years. Ongoing nerve damage from his recovery forced his retirement last year.

Strasburg was 113-62 with a 3.24 ERA in 13 years. We’ll probably spend the next 13 wondering what could have been.

Greatest Strength: Strong lineup core. If there’s one hope for the Nationals in 2024, it’s their youthful lineup. Washington ranked 12th in batting average and hit .254 as a team, but was second-to-last in home runs. In further irony, Washington had the second-fewest strikeouts as a team, but was the third-worst in drawing walks.

But again, that’s probably because this is a fairly young lineup that’s still developing. Lane Thomas is in a position to build off of last year’s breakout campaign of 28 home runs and a .783 OPS. Shortstop CJ Abrams could very well have a 30-30 year and switch-hitting catcher Keibert Ruiz could easily slug north of 20.

And if top outfield prospects Dylan Crews and James Wood find their way to the majors this year? Washington’s rebuild could be a short one. Except for just one small inconvenience.

Greatest Weakness: Pitching. The fact that the Washington Nationals won as many games as they did last season is nothing short of a miracle, especially when you consider the pitching staff. Washington’s arms ranked 27th with a 5.02 staff ERA and only one of eight pitchers who made a start in 2024 posted an ERA under 4.00. That honor goes to All-Star righty Josiah Gray, whose 3.91 mark was almost eclipsed by his 4.5 walks per nine innings (BB/9).

Aside from him, the Nationals’ pitching is a disaster. Lefty Patrick Corbin is finally at the end of a six-year deal after leading the NL in losses three years in a row. Top pitching prospect Cade Cavalli is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Second-year righty Jake Irvin’s progress suddenly seems a bit more urgent, doesn’t it?

What will the Washington Nationals look like in 2024? It’s like I said before. The best thing the Washington Nationals have going is the promise of its young lineup. The power potential is there, but not so much the patience. Imagine how many more games Washington could have won last year if they were better at drawing walks!

But even grand improvement from the lineup probably isn’t enough. Washington simply doesn’t have the pitching to keep up with Atlanta and Philadelphia in the NL East. Furthermore, general manager Mike Rizzo probably won’t trade prospects for arms in July.

Thus, expect the Nationals to stay the current course. They’ll keep developing their youth, spend in free agency if they feel like it, and otherwise hope everything works out for the best.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.