On Sunday, the Washington Nationals ended the first half of their season in a very, very familiar position. Last place in the NL East. In their 6 seasons in DC, the Nats have spent the last 5 in last place with 50 or more losses at the All-Star Break. Number of Nats losses at the All-Star break by season:
The obvious exception is the Nats magical 2005 run, when they were in 1st place in the East with 52 wins before they imploded in the 2nd half. But just look at the losses above. The Nats were the closest to breaking the 50 loss barrier than they had been since 2005, and compared to the last two first halves under Manny Acta, baseball fans in DC should be thrilled.
It is easy to be disappointed, especially after the Nats promise at the beginning of the season, but while everyone was excited, most knew that the team would come down to earth eventually. And they did just that. Let's talk about a few specifics about the team ended the first half:
Bullpen: While the Nats are sending closer Matt Capps to the ASG this year, other aspects of the pen are a bit concerning. Certainly, this bullpen is a leaps and bounds better than the 2009 barely AAA quality staff that the Nats had there last season. Clip and Save has become "Watch Clippard Implode while Capps loses a save opportunity because he gets no support in front of him" very quickly. Since June 25th, Clippard has given up a run in every outing but two of them, and gave up 4 runs in 2 appearances. Not encouraging from your set up guy. The Nats may have to hold off on trading Capps, even though his value is sky high right now, if they plan on winning many close games in the 2nd half. Even if Storen is ready for the closers role, doesn't look like the setup guy is as ready as many thought.
Starting Pitchers: Stephen. Strasburg. And... I think I'm done with this category.
No seriously though, Strasburg has obviously been the story of the 1st half for the Nats in all aspects of the game. He, alone, has gotten the Nats onto the national stage this season, something that they had sorely lacked in their short existence. Livan Hernandez has had a resurgent year, despite his rough outing on Sunday to end the first half. He has a 3.37 ERA before the break and is 6-5.
Meanwhile, J.D. Martin has come out of nowhere to post a similar 3.35 ERA. He could be an important part of the 2nd half. And then there's the what-ifs: Jordan Zimmermann (Strasburg before there was Strasburg) is scheduled back this summer, just 12 months after Tommy John surgery. Ross Detwiler is progressing and could be back soon after the All-Star break. That will be helpful to help get Atilano (4.85 ERA) and Stammen (5.79 ERA) out of the starting rotation and either to the bullpen or to the minors, where they seem to belong. There is promise here.
Offense: Zimmerman. Dunn. Willingham. No matter what your neighborhood baseball fanatic says, this among the best 3-4-5 combos in baseball.
Zimmerman, the best 3rd basemen in baseball who did not make the All-Star team, is sporting a .294 average, an OBP of .383, is slugging .526, and has hit 16 home runs this year. Behind him, Adam Dunn is tied for 1st in the NL in home runs with 22, is 2nd in slugging, and is 3rd in OPS. These stats make him one of the best offensive 1st basemen in baseball. Josh Willingham is 3rd in the NL in OBP with a staggering .411, and is in the top 10 in OPS. He is barely a liability in the field, and his production provides Dunn superb protection.
Unfortunately for the Nats, there are just under 3 weeks until the trade deadline. In all likelihood, Rizzo, Kasten, and Co. are looking to be sellers, not buyers, this season. Fans just have to hope that they don't end up selling Dunn or Willingham. When you get two top quality offensive players who both continue to express how much they would like to stay in DC, a minuscule baseball market thus far, you don't let that go.
I could have gone on and on, and I may still do that over the next few days while the Nats have a few days off in favor of the break. But more than likely, I will recharge my batteries to prepare for the 2nd half to keep Capitol Baseball going strong. Enjoy watching big guys kill the baseball tonight in the Derby and the Midsummer Classic tomorrow! I appreciate the increase in readership lately, I hope you all will join me for the 2nd half.