Washington Nationals: First Half Recap

Washington Nationals Bryce Harper (34) waves to fans during the MLB Home Run Derby, at Nationals Park, Monday, July 16, 2018 in Washington. The 89th MLB baseball All-Star Game will be played Tuesday. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

By: Jason Smith

The first half of the Washington Nationals season has not quite gone as expected. A team that was picked as potential World Series participants finds themselves on the outside of the playoffs looking in. Fortunately baseball is a long season and the Nationals still have 66 games to make up five and a half games in their division. Besides being riddled with injuries throughout the first half of the season, the biggest let down has been the offense. The Nationals scored 819 runs with a .266 team average last season when they ran away with the NL East. This season the Nationals are on pace to score 700 runs and only sport a .244 team batting average. Outside of Max Scherzer, the Nationals pitching staff has struggled as well. Stephen Strasburg has been on the disabled list for a little over a month (last start was June 8th). On top of Strasburg being out, Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez have under performed. Add these struggles together and it’s not really a surprise that the Nationals find themselves battling around .500 and third place in the NL East.

Looking ahead the Nationals have plenty of opportunity to get back ahead in their division. With 18 games still left to play against the Braves and Phillies, you could say they control their own destiny. However they also play another 13 games against teams that are currently hold playoff spots in the National League. The Nationals are not going to have an easy road to the playoffs, but with almost half of their remaining games against teams that are ahead of them in the standings, they will have plenty of opportunity to make their case.

In order for the Nationals to get into the playoffs they first of all need to get healthy. Getting Strasburg back will be a big help for their pitching rotation. Strasburg is currently out on a rehab assignment and should be returning to the Nationals rotation just after the All Star break. Matt Wieters just returned from the disabled list and Daniel Murphy has gotten enough games under his belt now that we should begin to see him return to form. Ryan Zimmerman is still out with an oblique injury, however recent news surfaced saying that he is also dealing with a calf injury. At this point there is no timetable on when we could see Zimmerman back in the Nationals lineup.

It hasn’t been all negative for the Nationals during the 2018 season. Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner each had a great first half of the season, both on offense and defense. Rendon is sporting a .285 average to go along with 15 home runs while Turner is second on the team in runs scored with 55 and has swiped 22 bases on the season. Another positive storyline from the Nationals this season has been the emergence of their 19-year old phenom, Juan Soto. Soto was highly sought after during the trade deadline last season by opposing ball clubs but Mike Rizzo constantly shot them down. In 2018, Soto is making Rizzo look like a very intelligent man by batting .301 with nine home runs in just 51 games this season.

The Nationals are not out of this thing yet. Five and a half games is not unachievable at this point in the season and this team is capable of going on a tear. It’s going to take a lot of hard work from guys like Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy to turn their seasons around. It’s going to take Roark and Gonzalez finding their groove on the mound again. It’s also going to take guys like Scherzer, Rendon, Turner and Soto to continue playing the way they did the first half of the season. The Nationals are loaded with talent. They’re an exciting team to watch when they start rolling. If Monday night’s Home Run Derby is any indication of the excitement this team can brings to the table, then I have little doubt it could be the spark they needed to get this ship back on track.