Happy All-Star break, my friends! As we look back on the first half of the 2014 baseball season, we Washington Nationals fans should be pretty pleased with our team. Not only are the Nationals in first place in the NL East (percentage points above the Atlanta Braves); the Nats have won 10 of their last 14 games, their bats have come alive, and their pitching continues to be solid. And I have to mention the Baltimore Orioles too - just because Chris Davis isn't hitting doesn't mean the team doesn't deserve to be in first place in the AL East - go Os!
While some ESPN critics claim that the Nationals have “under-performed” during the first half of the season, I have to say that these people are idiots and are only looking at statistics on paper. The Nationals are tenth in the National League in batting with a team average of .246, and their best average is held by cutie Anthony Rendón, who is batting .287 (number 22 on the NL list). But that doesn’t tell the whole story. The Nationals lead the NL in pitching, with a 3.08 team ERA, starter Stephen Strasburg leads the league with 149 strikeouts, and closer Rafael Soriano has 22 saves with a 0.97 ERA.
And how about all those guys on the Disabled List? Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, and Wilson Ramos all spent most of the first half of the season on the DL, and as far as pitchers, Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez also had short stints on the List. So chill out, critics; the Nationals are right where they need to be at the halfway point of the season.
But what do the Nationals need to do to remain on top? First, Bryce Harper needs to do some hitting. Since his return from the DL, Harper has gone 6-40 with one home run. Bryce is a talented kid – I know he can hit! Hopefully he can analyze his swing during the break (isn't that what they all do - "review the tapes?"), take some pitches from his dad, and come back ready to do some damage. Just think about your parents, Bryce; you're embarrassing them!
The Nationals also need to get rid of Danny Espinosa. Don’t send him down to the Minors – trade him for some prospects or some cash or for a nice hand-made Amish quilt. He calls himself a switch hitter but can’t hit from either side, and just being a good fielder is not enough if you can’t hit. Danny has to go - he plain old sucks.
Finally, the Nationals HAVE to beat the Braves. They have nine games left to play against the Braves this season, and they need to win at least 5 of them. The Braves aren’t all that – their hitting has been up and down and their pitchers aren’t as dominant (except for that Craig Kimbrel guy with his weird pitching stance) – so there’s really no reason why the Nationals can’t win most of their remaining games against the Braves. If anything, they need to win the games in Atlanta so I don’t have to hear that annoying “Tomahawk Chop” that their fans do when their team is winning.
How about the rest of the teams in the Majors - any surprises during the first half? Well I'm glad you asked! I'm surprised to see the World Champion Red Sox on the bottom of the AL East; I'm a little surprised that the Oakland A's have the best record in baseball; and I'm saddened that the Cardinals' Yadier Molina is going to be out for a while with a torn thumb ligament. Ouch! I was even sad to see a Yankee go down (and that's rare for me!) when rookie pitcher Masahiro Tanaka suffered a partial tear of the ulnar ligament in his pitching arm. He had my vote for Rookie of the Year, but now he has to undergo all sorts of aggressive rehab which will sideline him for a while. Luckily, he may be able to avoid Tommy John surgery because he had platelet-rich plasma injected into his elbow, and that's supposed to make the tear heal itself. Let's hope it works, but not if the Yankees make it to the post-season. :-)
So, my friends, the second half of the season should be a good one. Enjoy tonight's Home Run Derby (I'm rooting for Giancarlo Stanton) and tomorrow's All-Star Game (National League fan, obviously!), and may the second half bring good health and many home runs to the Nationals and Orioles. I, for one, would love to see a "Battle of the Beltways" World Series-style!