Thursday was an off-day for the Nationals, so I had far too much time to ruminate about the the relationship status of a professional baseball team. Yes, I am aware that this means my last two posts on The Nats Blog dot com are about assigning (b)romance-related characteristics to baseball relationships, but the Nationals and the Angels truly left me no choice. The two teams packed the most flirting into a two-game series since Alex Rodriguez asked a woman for her phone number during a game in 2012.
The Washington Nationals have followed up each division-winning/disappointing playoff loss season with an even more disappointing campaign. 2013 and 2015 were ravaged by poor performance, injuries, and a lack of overall depth. 2012 saw injuries to Jayson Werth and Michael Morse; Bryce Harper was a rookie. While we were relatively healthy, our bench was outstanding — “The Shark,” Roger Bernadina posted a career best 1.7 WAR, hitting .291/.372/.405. He was one of the best pinch-hitters in the league that year. Along with Bernadina, Tyler Moore had an .840 OPS; Chad Tracy posted a .784 OPS; post-deadline pickup and current Nat-killer Kurt Suzuki had a .725 OPS. All of them provided valuable, quality at-bats off the bench. They would all crater in 2013, as no one off the bench with more than 50 plate appearances had an OPS higher than .625. They did not have the depth to make up for injuries to Werth and Harper and the struggles of starters like Adam LaRoche. 2015 brought a mirror of 2013, with a struggling bullpen and horrible string of injuries that would see the opening day lineup together for just two games. They got a very good year from Clint Robinson annd a late season surge from Matt den Dekker, but they did not have enough to make up for injuries, under-performances, and Matt Williams.
Like myself, the average Washington fan likely watches 98% of Nationals games either on MASN with the beautiful and eloquent F.P. Santangelo and Bob Carpenter calling the game or at Nationals Park itself (that two percent discrepancy being those cursed Sunday nights on ESPN during which Aaron Boone and company talk about is the Strasburg Shutdown for three hours). While that is normal for any particular fan base, you can often end up somewhat stuck on certain narratives and ideas about your team. I had to opportunity to become quite attuned to this when I was able to go to Cincinnati to watch the first three games of the recent Nats-Reds series.
With the All-Star break a week behind us we’ve entered the dog days of summer, and the second half of the baseball season is in full swing. Most minor leagues are already well into their latter halves, but the beginning of the major league second half is nonetheless extremely significant for therm. The trade deadline is fast approaching, and the number one commodity moved at the deadline is of course prospects. Additionally teams will typically promote prospects around the time of the All-Star break, and when you consider September call-ups, minor leaguers are always a couple of phone calls away from a life-changing event. For an organization with as many major league needs and impact prospects as the Nationals the second half is especially uncertain; and so with that said I hope to give you a picture of what to look for and expect out of the Nationals farm over the course of the second half.
Mike Rizzo finally made the deal every single person in any way affiliated with the Nationals had been clamoring for since April, landing a pair of proven late-inning relievers in Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle from Oakland in exchange for proven not-late-inning reliever Blake Treinen and prospects 3B Sheldon Neuse and LHP Jesus Luzardo.
Finally… bullpen help is on the way. Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle immediately become the best two relief pitchers on the Washington Nationals, despite neither being their former team’s closer. The two only have 4 saves between them this year, but so what? The Nats needed help and they got it. But are these two enough? (Probably not.) And who on the team is worth keeping around and who needs to be voted off the island?
On Saturday, it was announced that Joe Ross, who left his last start after 3.1 innings due to an injury, would have season-ending Tommy John surgery to fix the tear in the ulnar collateral ligament of his right elbow. Ross had been experiencing some declining velocity in his pitches through his starts all season, so an arm injury isn’t all that surprising. But this sudden surgery will end his season and likely set him back for most of 2018 with no current timetable for return. This puts a pin into an up-and-down season for Ross, puts the Nationals down a fifth starter, and adds another item to their midseason wish list.
The Washington Nationals are doing impressive things in the first half of the 2017 season. The offense has been particularly dynamic, with standout performances from Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy, and Anthony Rendon placing the Nationals in the top five in multiple offensive categories such as wRC+ (4th), wOBA (2nd), average (2nd), on base percentage (2nd), runs (2nd) and stolen bases (5th).
The Nationals kick off the second half of the 2017 season tonight on the road against the Reds sitting 9.5 games up in the NL East. While the squad has sat in first place for practically the entire season, it hasn’t been an easy road getting there. Some players have outplayed their expectations while others have been disappointing so far this season.
The All-Star festivities are over and the league is settled into a lovely break until July 14th, but there is no rest for fans, media, and team decision-makers. This week you will see plenty of think pieces on what “Team X” or “Team Y” needs to do in the second half to find themselves playing October baseball. While many are looking ahead to the end of the month and the ever-interesting trade deadline, here we will look at what the next two weeks or so have in store.