Nats hold down fort as reinforcements arrive

In the 9 games since the All Star break, the Nationals have only won 4 of those games.  Yet things are looking up for the team as the team starts to get healthier by the day and some players are on the verge of turning their seasons around.  With a three game lead over the New York Mets for the division lead, these developments are vital to hold off the upstart Mets.  2014 MVP candidate Anthony Rendon returned to the lineup on Saturday after missing 25 games with a strained quad, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman are days away from returning and Stephen Strasburg is possibly 2 weeks away as the Nats could be the healthiest as they have been all season.

One recent development could alter the season as well and that is the recent renaissance of Ian Desmond.  Desi has been in a season long funk, he has seemingly turned things around with a 6  game hitting streak.  During that streak he has homered four times and has 10 hits in his last 19 at bats, small sample size obviously, but he looks very confident at the plate and everyone hopes he can continue this torrid pace for the stretch run.  But before we can hope for the positives, one pressing issue must be addressed, and that is the bullpen.  Right now, this bullpen is not capable of being trusted in tough situations.  They have had issues keeping close deficits, they have had issues keeping close leads, and at times they have just imploded.  General Manager Mike Rizzo knew going into the season that the ‘pen was a question mark.  The question has been answered.  Now with the Trade Deadline in less than a week, will Rizzo sacrifice some of the young talent in the minor leagues to acquire a veteran bullpen arm or two?  I certainly hope so.  The losses of Tyler Clippard (off-season trade) and Craig Stammen (season long injury) have been the preeminent scapegoats for most fans, I, for one, believe more than those losses, you can attribute their struggles to youth.  Most of these guys just havent been in this situation before and maybe the “trial under fire” will help the franchise in the long run, its not helping TODAY unless they make a quick turnaround.

After facing pitching rich teams like the Dodgers, Mets and Pirates in consecutive series, the season long road trip continues with a 3 game set in Miami vs the Marlins and a 3 game set vs the aforementioned Mets.  It would be nice to add a couple of games to the division lead, but we don’t live in a perfect world, the way this season has gone, splitting the 6 games would suffice any Nats fan.

Amid a myriad of injuries, the Nats steady the ship at the All Star break.

Sometimes with massive expectations, fans tend to over analyze team issues throughout a season.  Case in point, the 2015 Washington Nationals.

If you were to take the view from some one who knows what the expectations were coming into the season, that person could look at the first half of the year with slight disappointment.  Yet, if you were to look at the team and its myriad of injuries throughout the lineup and pitching staff, you could say that this team has somehow exceeded expectations.

The top story of the season so far not named Bryce Harper, has been the injury bug.  The Nats still haven’t been able to field their projected Opening Day roster so far this season and at this juncture, who knows when, and if, this is possible this season.  Injuries have basically rendered the services of Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmermann ,Anthony Rendon and steady reliever Craig Stammen (out for season) virtually worthless.  Along with nagging injuries to Denard Span (two DL stints, missed most of April), Stephen Strasburg (two DL stints, having worse season of career prior to DL stints), Doug Fister, Casey Janssen, and a couple of bench producers in Reed Johnson and Nate McClouth, the team has had to rework the lineup on a daily basis it seems and for the majority of the games, players have stepped up in their absences. The emergence of Michael Taylor in the outfield and Clint Robinson at 1st along with a bounce back campaign from free agent acquisition Yunel Escobar has kept the offense at bay and the rejuvenated Danny Espinosa with his sterling defense, versatility and clutch hitting has been quite possibly the third best player on the team this season.

But before all of those stories are mentioned, you have to acknowledge one thing.  Bryce Harper has arrived.

Harper has become the once-in-a-generation talent that was thrust upon his feet since high school.  Harper has single-handedly carried the offense for most of the season, so much so that he is the runaway National League MVP at this point.  The numbers he has produced are the stuff of legends.  In his first healthy campaign since his rookie season, Harper is second in the National League in homers with 26, batting average at .339, fourth in RBIs with 61, first in W.A.R (wins above replacement) with 6.2, first in OBP (.646), first in Slugging (.702) and OPS by over .100 points (1.168).  Saber-metric numbers aside, those are Barry Bonds-level type numbers and he’s only 22 years old.  He is locked in as I’ve ever seen a batter in my life, it will be so much fun to see if he can keep up this torrid pace and hopefully add an MVP award to his mantle.

The rotation is still a work in progress, trending upward.  Max Scherzer has been as advertised, the best pitcher in the National League this season with a no hitter under his belt so far.  Jordan Zimmermann has seemed to turn the corner on a sluggish start by his standard but sub par seasons from Fister, Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez are a bit discouraging.  Rookie Joe Ross and others have picked up the pieces of a ravaged staff and delivered when it was time to tote the rubber.

You have to give Matt Williams a ton of credit so far to keep the playoffs within reach with all that been thrown at his plate.  Its got to be hard to juggle a lineup constantly with players such as Tyler Moore and the aforementioned Taylor and Robinson in your everyday lineup while the whole league is gunning for your status every game.  Coming out of the break with a 6 game home stand vs the Los Angles Dodgers and the second place Mets, then an extended road trip, the team hopefully can muster up a few wins and get healthy at the same time and by the time October comes, the team will be just healthy enough to secure a playoff spot and make the deep run we all envisioned at the outset.