The Washington Nationals are six games back of the Atlanta Braves in the NL East, and have spent time in third place as well as second place — not exactly what was expected of the Nats at the All-Star Break.
Needless to say, the team expected to pace the National League as well as represent it in the World Series against the Detroit Tigers has seen just about every possible worst-case scenario play out, from Stephen Strasburg spending time on the DL to Bryce Harper being ejected from a 1-0 game and spending over a month on the DL himself.
Washington suffered from an inconsistent offense, scoring as many as 13 runs in one game, then two over the course of the next three. Basically, Washington was never able to find a rhythm, whether it was offensively, pitching-wise, defensively or in the bullpen.
The Nationals did have some bright spots, however, with names like Ian Krol, Fernando Abad, Anthony Rendon and Taylor Jordan coming up from the minors and making huge contributions.
If there was one specific reason as to why Washington struggled so mightily, one would have to look at their constant slew of injuries. Guys like Harper, Strasburg, along with other names like Jayson Werth, Dan Haren, Ross Detwiler and Wilson Ramos all have spent some amount of times on the DL, with Werth and Ramos having multiple stints. This was the main reason why Washington still has not hit an offensive rhythm.
Another major issue has been Washington’s bench. Even with the addition of Scott Hairston, the “goon squad” has been pretty much a no-show. Chad Tracy has been the only home run threat off the bench, having a couple clutch home runs, but other than that, everyone has been abysmal. That needs to turn around, and fast.
Washington has faced more adversity in the first half than most teams face in multiple seasons. Last year, everything went right. Strasburg was healthy all year going into the shutdown, no pitcher suffered a major injury, young players came up and the bench produced, whether it was pinch-hitting or working as a stand-in for a starter.
The team will face a big test and a lot of pressure in the second half. Many, myself included, are seriously starting to question whether this team was only a one-year wonder taking advantage of a weak NL East, or if they are simply being faced with adversity for the first time in most of their young careers. The leadership of both the players and coaches will be tested.
Harper and co. has four days to sit back and think about the first part of their season. What they need to do on Friday when they return to Nationals Park is turn the page and start off anew. Each series is a must-win, and Washington needs to play like that.