Washington Nationals: 5 Biggest Surprises Through First Half Of 2014 Season

Washington Nationals: 5 Biggest Surprises Through First Half Of 2014 Season

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The Washington Nationals are in second place as of July 3, a half-game back of the Braves in the NL East. With outfielder Bryce Harper having missed 59 of their 84 games, Ryan Zimmerman missing 45 and starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez missing about six weeks. How are they doing it? Who and what are their biggest surprises?

5. Rafael Soriano

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Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

5. Rafael Soriano

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Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Through the first-half of 2014, Rafael Soriano is the most valuable closer in the NL. Granted, Houston Street has slightly better numbers, but closing games for a bad team is akin to being a darn good kickball roller. With a 1.03 ERA and a 0.85 WHIP, Soriano is having a career year. He's keeping batters guessing by mixing his fastball, slider and cutter at a nearly even ratio, something the veteran did not do in his previous 12 seasons.

4. Anthony Rendon

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Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

4. Anthony Rendon

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Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

With Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and Ryan Zimmerman being the faces of the Nats, it's easy to forget that in 2011, Anthony Rendon was the sixth overall draft pick out of college baseball powerhouse Rice University. The natural second baseman took over at third when Ryan Zimmerman got hurt, and was a cornerstone of their offense in April and June.

3. Tanner Roark

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Jack Gruber-USA TODAY Sports

3. Tanner Roark

tanner roark
Jack Gruber-USA TODAY Sports

Tanner Roark exceeded his rookie eligibility last season by 3.1 innings. Otherwise, the Rookie of the Year Award would be a two-horse race between the righty and Cincinnati Reds OF Billy Hamilton. Roark is leading qualified Nats starters with a 1.15 WHIP and 2.1 WAR. His last start against the Chicago Cubs broke a string of nine straight games where he gave up three runs or less. In those nine games, he allowed three runs only once.

2. Adam LaRoche

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Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

2. Adam LaRoche

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Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

If it weren't for journeyman first baseman LaRoche and Rendon providing monster-sized band aids while Harper and Zimmerman were hurt, there is no way they'd be only half a game out of first. In 2009, LaRoche played for three different teams, and his .357 OBP was a career-high. So far this season, he's reaching base at a .408 clip. LaRoche is slashing .302/.498/.906, leading the team in all three categories.

1. Team Unity

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Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

1. Team Unity

Team Unity
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

In 2013, nearly every preseason publication predicted Washington to win the NL East. They finished 10 games behind the Braves and four games behind in the Wild Card standings. The 2014 Nationals have dealt with lengthy injuries to key players. Yet they've managed to stay in the hunt. Now Bryce Harper is back. Will he keep his mouth shut and just play ball, or will he be a clubhouse cancer who breaks the club's unity?

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