The first half of the 2012 Major League Baseball season has just ended, so it’s time to reflect on how the Washington Nationals have done so far. The Nats are in sole possession of first place in the National League East with a record of 49-34, 4 games ahead of the second-place Atlanta Braves.
But how is it that the Nationals have maintained their solid lead in the NL East? It has been a little bit of luck, a lot of good pitching, and (finally!) some solid hitting. Despite injuries to catcher Wilson Ramos, outfielder Jayson Werth, and last year’s closer Drew Storen, the Nationals have managed to fill in with rising stars like Bryce Harper and Steve Lombardozzi, and have improved defensively from last year’s error-filled season.
So what’s in store for the Nationals in the second half of the season? Well Nats’ General Manager, Mike Rizzo, is faced with the dilemma of replacing ace Stephen Strasburg in the starting rotation. It has been said since the beginning of the season that Strasburg will be shut down when he reaches 160 innings, which looks like it will be around the beginning of September (this is Strasburg’s first full season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in August of 2010). Rizzo recently said that he will fill the void from within, possibly with former 10-game-winner John Lannan, who has been pitching relatively well in AAA Syracuse. So don’t expect a big trade for a starting pitcher before this year’s trade deadline; it seems like the Nationals are confident that a starting rotation of Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson, Ross Dettwiler, and John Lannan should be enough to get the Nats into the playoffs – especially if they keep hitting like they have been in the past couple of weeks. I am cautiously optimistic about that one.
Another interesting dilemma that Mike Rizzo faces is who to send down to the minors to make room for Chad Tracy, Jayson Werth, and Drew Storen once they return after the All-Star break. Storen has been chomping at the bit and is very anxious to return, though I doubt he’ll jump right into the closer’s role (since Tyler Clippard has been doing that well, aside from yesterday’s blown save against the Colorado Rockies). Tracy is invaluable as a pinch hitter, and Werth – well, he’s a good outfielder but has had lackluster numbers offensively since joining the Nationals in 2011. You can’t send rookie phenom Bryce Harper down to the minors – that would cause an uproar, bro! Do you send Rick Ankiel or Roger Bernadina down? There’s also Tyler Moore (no relation to Mary) who has been playing well – will they send him down to make room? Your guess is as good as mine - Rizzo has some tough decisions ahead.
So as you can tell, the Nationals have a lot of decisions to make in the next couple of months. In the meantime, they need to keep their bats hot, their pitching needs to stay solid, and they need to win most of the games left to play against the Braves and Mets. Enjoy watching the All-Star Game (where the Nationals will be represented by Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, and Bryce Harper), and stay tuned for an exciting second half of the season!