We are now in the downswing of the bell curve that is the baseball season and more games have now passed than are to come. It is time for us to make absolute fools of ourselves by posting this again, that would be our bold predictions to start the season. Joe nailed some (LaRoche injury), I nailed some (Morse's HR total projection). Joe blew some (Zim's batting average), I blew a lot of them (Werth with 50 doubles). Enjoy laughing at us in the comments section below.
But today being a day of celebration, let's check out some of the biggest first-half surprises for the Nationals - good and bad.
The Unsurprising Duo- Danny Espinosa and Jordan Zimmermann
Everyone knew that these two were going to be outstanding this year. But I don't think anyone expected Espinosa to be the team's leader in WAR with a 3.1. He has definitely earned his way to the top of the Rookie of the Year leaderboards with his bat and stellar second base glove. Jordan Zimmermann has thrown 102 innings of stellar pitching, with a 2.71 FIP and a 2.63 ERA. His WHIP places him 7th in the NL among qualified starters.
I know that we were pumping Morse as the 2nd coming of Jayson Werth at the beginning of the year, so this could fall into that Unsurprising category. But what makes him stand out even more is that he started the year so terribly that his run in the past 2.5 months has been staggering. Through the first month of the season Michael Morse hit .211 with a whopping .521 OPS. The next month he started his tear hitting over .400 with a 1.196 OPS - and he really hasn't looked back since. His resurgence has placed him 5th in the NL in Slugging Percentage, 9th in OPS+, and 6th in HR/AB. Not to be overlooked, his defense has been outstanding - 3rd best Fielding Percentage of all NL 1B.
Make no bones about it, John Lannan is having himself a career year (just as Joe predicted in the previously alluded-to post). If Lannan is able to continue this pace he will finish the season with career highs in ERA, Wins, WAR, WPA, and FIP - and with a slight improvement he can have a career high in WHIP as well. Armed with a faster-than-ever fastball (89.3 or 1.5 MPH faster than his career average) Lannan has been the model of consistency - giving up more than 3 ER only 3 times in his 18 starts. Half of his starts have been quality starts (6+IP with 3ER or less).
We knew that Ramos would eventually take over the starter's role. We knew that the kid could hit. But no one expected him to develop into such a solid defender - throwing out 39% of would-be baserunners which is 2nd only to his teammate, Catching specialist, Pudge Rodriguez. I would be more than ok with having Pudge stay on for the rest of the year.
Laynce the Daynce-
I'll be honest, I didn't want him on the team to start the year (though it was less about him and more about Ankiel). Man has he proved me wrong though. Laynce Nix has the 2nd most Home-runs on the team in mostly part-time action - and man can he hit the ball a long way.
The team started the year with terrible defense, that much is true. Much of the issues were coming from pre-fatherhood Desmond, which definitely settled down after he had his first child. Since he came back the Nationals have rocketed to the top half of MLB in errors while setting their Franchise record error-less streak. Their 47 errors are the fewest they have had in the 1st half in the previous 5 years.
Lack of Stras and Zim-
Did anyone thing that they Nats could be at .500 through July without Strasburg, Zimmerman, or a competant Werth? I didn't. Kudos.
On pace for his worst year since '03, Werth has folded under the weight of a $126 million dollar contract. His fielding has suffered and his power has disappeared along with his confidence. What's even more stunning is that his 0.9 WAR ranks 5th best on the team.
What a strange day that was. Riggleman resigns from the team after winning 11 of 12. As Joe Posnanski wrote, the only thing missing from his career suicide was a note.
Lee Kuntz and his staff have had a rough year so far. LaRoche was supposedly alright enough to play through the shoulder injury, he wasn't. Zim was supposed to be just fine with his oblique strain, he wasn't. Ankiel was day-to-day, until he went on the DL for 3 weeks. Hopefully they can get a win in the form of Chien-Ming Wang - cause they sure need it.
Enjoy your 4th of July baseball, CapBallers! Share your surprises in the comments section between cold ones! But most importantly, be safe!