Tuesday, Major League Baseball will be holding its annual “Mid-summer Classic,” the All-Star Game, which means that the first half of the 2013 baseball season is officially over. So how are the Washington Nationals, last season’s Eastern Division Champions, doing? How was the first half of their season? Let’s delve into the numbers, shall we?
The Nationals head into the All-Star break with a 48-47 record. They went 27-18 at home, 21-29 on the road, and have gone 17-20 against teams within the National League East, which I can say is the worst division in baseball. The Nationals are currently six games back of the Braves in the NL East, and five games back of the Reds for the final wild card spot (no, it’s not too early to start looking at wild card positioning!).
Do these numbers seem surprising to you? Add to the list the fact that that the Nationals are fifth in ERA but 27th in hitting among all 30 Major League teams. Yes, it’s surprising!
We all know the expectations surrounding this team and its players this season and the “World Series or bust!” attitude during Spring Training. Sadly, to this point, most of those expectations have not been met. The Nats have been in first place in the division for a total of seven days to this point. Their high point came all the way back on May 10, when they were five games over .500.
On an individual level, there have been positives, for sure. Jordan Zimmermann (2.58 ERA), Stephen Strasburg (2.99 ERA) and Gio Gonzalez (3.03 ERA) have become one of the top starting pitching trios in the majors. Tyler Clippard (6-1, 1.99 ERA) has again showed that he's one of the most reliable set-up guys you'll find around the league, despite usually walking a batter and stressing me out to no end. Lefties Ian Krol (1.80 ERA) and Fernando Abad (1.83 ERA) have been tremendous since their promotions to the big leagues, giving the Nationals a reliable and trustworthy bullpen.
Offensively, Anthony Rendón has been kicking butt in his first major league season, batting .297, producing anywhere from second to seventh in the order. He's also given the Nats an everyday second baseman who has adapted quite nicely to his new position. Jayson Werth missed a month with a hamstring injury, but he's hit 10 homers in 64 games. Ian Desmond has been a consistent force all season long, leading the Nats in home runs (15) and extra-base hits (41), and ranking second in RBIs (49).
When healthy, Bryce Harper has been tremendous, but injuries have limited him both in terms of playing time and production on the field. He finishes the first half with a .264 batting average with 13 homers. Another guy who has battled injuries, Wilson Ramos, has again flashed the power that has the Nats so excited about his future. Let’s just hope he stays healthy; he seems to be so fragile for being nicknamed “buffalo” by his teammates! And then there are Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman, who don’t have impressive numbers but have been solid and productive.
But you know; the glass may be half full, but it’s also half empty. Where do I start? Well, Danny Espinosa battled injury and ineffectiveness this season, and was sent down to Triple-A after hitting a lowly .158 in 44 games. Denard Span has had issues finding his swing this season and is hitting .260 with a .317 on-base percentage, numbers that got him dropped from the leadoff spot in Sunday’s game for the first time this season (though it did seem to work, since he went 3-5 and drove in the winning run in the tenth inning). The bench guys have largely struggled too. Tyler Moore hit .151 in two stints with the Nats. Chad Tracy is hitting .157 and slugging .289, and Roger Bernadina and Steve Lombardozzi aren’t consistent either.
Then there’s poor Dan Haren, who has had a handful of really strong starts, but he has a 5.61 ERA in 17 outings. Ross Detwiler has struggled staying healthy and has made just 13 first-half starts, going 2-7 with a 4.04 ERA. Ryan Mattheus broke his hand punching a locker and hasn’t returned, Drew Storen has been up and down and takes a 4.81 ERA into the break, and Zach Duke and Henry Rodriguez were let go after struggling mightily out of the 'pen.
The playoffs, believe it or not, are still within reach for the Nationals, both because of the Braves' injuries and inconsistencies and inability to create more separation within the division, and the addition of the second wild card spot last year. But the Nationals will need to play much better ball at a much more consistent level to even have a chance at the postseason, and they need to see major improvements from an offense that has scored two runs or fewer in 43 percent of their games this season. I’m not giving up on the Nats, but I’m also rooting for the Orioles!