After enjoying their first winning season since making the move to D.C. from Montreal, there were high hopes for the 2013. Most thought all the Washington Nationals would have to do to make the playoffs would be to turn up for 162 games. It hasn’t quite gone according to plan, though, and the doom-mongers were predicting bad things from early in the season. Now that things are gearing back up again for the second half, it’s a good chance to look back on how the Washington Nationals find themselves six games back in the NL East and five out of the two wild card places.
The rotation was the big hope this year with the addition of Dan Haren. Jordan Zimmermann has been the surprise package of the squad, with the best WAR (3.4), WHIP (0.97) and ERA (2.58) of the five main starters. Stephen Strasburg has shown flashes of his capability — on a couple of occasions his off speed deliveries have been completely unplayable — but has been far from dominant. Strasburg also has failed to get past the second inning in two of his last seven starts, once due to injury and once after being lit up by the Marlins. Gio Gonzalez has continued to show command issues, walking 47 batters in 19 starts, Strasburg is the next highest with 38, but no other Washington Nationals pitcher has walked more than 18. Haren and Ross Detwiler have been the disappointments in the first half, both have struggled with injuries and poor stuff. Haren continues to give up more than a home run per start, has an ERA well over five and looks much more of a liability, which is something the Nats can’t afford as they look to make up ground on the Braves. Grade: B
The fact the rotation hasn’t been able to take as many games deep as they should have done, extra pressure has been placed on the bullpen to keep things under control. New closer Rafael Soriano has been largely reliable, saving 25 games so far and blowing four. The other mainstays of the bullpen have been Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Craig Stammen, and Clippard has led the way with a WHIP of 0.90 and an ERA of 1.99. Consistency has sometimes been a problem, but these three have played their role well in the first half. Grade: B+
Only two teams have made more errors and have a lower fielding percentage than the Washington Nationals in the first half. There were important errors from Ryan Zimmerman, which cost the team three games in May and, of course, Bryce Harper running into a wall and then flinching later in the road trip to the West Coast. The errors have continued in recent times, six in the last 10 games and are an area they have to work on if they have any chance of taking the season deep into October. Zimmerman seems to have his groove back and Anthony Rendon continues to improve at second base, and with Ian Desmond continuing to be a total stud at shortstop, there are signs the second half could be a big improvement, if everyone stays healthy. Grade: C-
The Washington Nationals have struggled with the long ball this year, registering only 86 homers in the first half. Harper was leading the team for a good part of the first half despite missing a good amount of time. Desmond has been doing his best with his extra-base tally, he’s the only batter with 100 hits, and he’s got 37 more bases than anyone else on the team. As a team, though, the Nats find themselves with the fourth worst batting average in the major leagues and the third worst OBP. The rate batters are striking out has improved since Danny Espinosa was sent to triple-A, he had a strikeout rate of around 30 percent. There have been positive signs in the batter’s box; Jayson Werth and Harper have looked fine since coming back from injury, and Adam LaRoche is known for being a second-half player. If the pitchers continue to keep up their end of the bargain, then the bats could make all the difference coming down the stretch, but they’ll need to be swinging better than they have so far. Grade: B-
Davey Johnson has made some strange decisions, to say the least, in the first half, but perhaps the strangest one was during the last game of the first half. There have been many discussions about the Washington Nationals’ lineup, and more specifically the need to do something about the top of the order. Not many people would have disagreed with the decision to move Harper into the leadoff spot and have Rendon behind him, but the wisdom of doing it for one game before the team takes a week off must be questioned. There have also been some overly aggressive base-running plays, particularly at the start of the season, which smelled suspiciously of desperation. Some fans have even been asking how much say Johnson has over the setting of his lineup, especially in relation to Harper, who apparently told the skipper to play him or trade him. Grade: C+
It’s hard to quantify exactly whether the first half of the season has been a disappointment because of the level of performance or the relative performance compared to expectations. There have been flashes of brilliance from all departments, and enough standout performances from individuals to make you think all might not be lost for the second half. There’s no escaping the feeling there is more to come from, and they’ll need to show it if they are to have any chance of catching the Braves or even making the wild card. Grade: B-