Nats fans should be encouraged by the team’s showing, and Matt Williams has got to be pleased with the team’s 51-42 record. When you consider all of the factors — offensive stagnancy for stretches, so many impact players missing time with injury, Bryce Harper struggling with both of the aforementioned, Ian Desmond spending time atop the leaderboard for fielding errors, Ryan Zimmerman being unable to play the position he’s held for years, a consistent inability to beat the Braves (3-7 so far) — it’s easy to see how the Nationals could be sitting at 42-51 (or worse).
But thanks to a bounce-back year from Adam LaRoche, a breakout season from Anthony Rendon (who’s apparently not a baseball fan), Desmond regaining his fielding acumen and some flat-out dominant pitching, the Nats hold a slim lead for first in the NL East, third in the NL and seventh in MLB.
Let me throw some numbers at you to show how good this team’s pitching has been compared to the rest of MLB:
*fewest walks allowed
*second in HRs allowed
*best strikeout/walk ratio
The Nats don’t have any impressive stats to show off when it comes to team batting or fielding, though, unless they’re bragging about how good their record is despite those things.
The first item to point to when discussing the fielding concerns is Desmond’s 15 errors, then will come mention of Zimmerman’s struggles at third. Thirteen of Desmond’s 15 errors came by May 25, though, when the Nats were 25-25. The other two came over the span of these past 43 games.
Zimmerman’s actually only got two errors for the season, it just feels like more because of the attention generated by his inability to throw. The fielding issues weren’t the big concern heading into the season, though.
The big concern, if there was one, was that the roster wouldn’t be able to generate enough run support. This was the big struggle in 2013, as it has been since baseball returned to D.C. The best the Nats have placed in runs scored since coming to Washington is 10th (2012).
The roster has offensive talent; the problem is consistency. Denard Span and Jayson Werth have both been streaky this season, Desmond has hit for power but his average is hurting, Harper has been nonexistent since returning from injury, Rendon is enjoying a phenomenal sophomore season but struggled in May (when the team went 11-15) and LaRoche is having a terrific season, but his average dropped almost 30 points in the first half of July.
What the Nats need most is for Harper and LaRoche to get back on track and close out strong, Span (who hit .349, .336, .333 last year in July, August and September, respectively) and Werth (.367, .380, .302) to rip off another second-half spurt and the rest of the team to stay healthy.
The pitching shouldn’t be any cause for concern with the current rotation and bullpen, and it’s safe to assume Desmond won’t put up the kind of errors he did in April and May. Injuries, on the other hand, are harder to predict.
Harper. Zimmerman. Ramos. LaRoche. Span. Gio Gonzalez. Doug Fister. The list goes on. The Nationals can’t stay off the DL. If they could, they might be a 56-win team instead of a 51-win team.
With a little luck with the injury bug, a return to glory for Harper, continued excellence from the pitching staff and maybe the addition of a left-handed reliever, the Nats could be poised to make a serious run.
The Nats get most things right but still struggle with injuries and the occasional slump, lose the NL East to the Braves but still make the playoffs via the Wild Card. Each of the five starters reach 10 wins. Desmond ties his career-high with 25 HRs. Rendon finishes with 150 hits and 20 HRs.
The Nats catch a few breaks and start playing to their potential, finishing the season on a 46-23 run and clinching the NL East title along the way. Harper raises his average from his current .244 to .286. Jordan Zimmermann falls short of a Cy Young, but earns genuine consideration.