Don’t Call it a Comeback

 

Before any baseball season begins writers and bloggers sit down and pound
out their bold predictions. So now as the second half (a 95/67 split isn’t
really half) is about to be upon us I am going to make a bold prediction of my
own. I have conversed with the muse, read the tea leaves, and even talked with
the voices in my head to reach this conclusion: the Washington Nationals will
make the 2013 playoffs
. If you aren’t a DC sports fan reading this you may be a
little confused as to why it is a bold prediction to predict that a team second
in their division and first in line to catch the Reds for the second wild card
spot could make the playoffs. Live here for a couple months and you’ll
understand.  

There are many things about the
Washington Nationals that point to them having a better second half than first
half. The chief complaint everyone has had about the team is that they don’t
score enough runs, but for more than a month now they have averaged over four
runs a game. The 4.2 runs they’ve averaged since Rendon came up to play second
and Werth returned from injury would have them tied with the Diamondbacks for
fifth in the NL. That isn’t bad and with the Nationals pitching that should be
more than enough runs to win most games. Now I can see a few people reading
this have stopped and screamed at their computer, “You are what your
record says you are, numskull.”

That is true but it is more true at the
end of September than in the middle of July, and it is even more true that a
team is who their talent is and that water finds its level and that a line-up
of Span, Lombardozzi, Zimmerman, LaRoche, Desmond, Espinosa, Bernadina, Suzuki
is not the same as one of Harper, Rendon, Zimmerman, LaRoche, Werth, Desmond,
Span, Ramos. The second line-up is going to score vastly more runs, and so far
it has. Injuries are no excuse for the Nationals, but they are a reason. The
bigger issue with the injuries wasn’t that guys were hurt, all teams deal with
players being hurt, but more who was filling in during those stretches.
Bernadina, Tracy, Lombardozzi, Moore, and Suzuki haven’t been close to adequate
replacements for when starting position players got hurt, and their failure has
led to the overall run scoring of the team to look bad, but the run scoring
with certain players to be good.  How this all plays into the second half
is that the Nationals now have their full line-up, and if it stays on the field
they can continue to score runs at the pace they have since June 8.

There is also evidence to suggest that
the Nats offense could be even better in the second half. Adam LaRoche is a
notorious slow starter, but after a .473 OPS April he managed a .756 first half
OPS. For his career LaRoche typically has a .766 first half OPS and .886 second
half OPS. In other words LaRoche is fully capable of carrying the Nats offense
in the second half of the season, but he isn’t the only one. Jayson Werth has a
career first half OPS of .809 and second half of .841. Not nearly as
significant a difference as Adam LaRoche or even a significant difference on
its own, but he does have better second half numbers than first half numbers.
Ryan Zimmerman is the same way: a first half OPS of .790 and second half of
.877. That is a significant split and if he can do something close to that
again this season the Nationals offense has three of its best players
performing much better in the second half than the first, but it doesn’t end
there. Ian Desmond has a split of .733/.780 first half to second half and
Denard Span .727/.750, and let’s not forget about the Nats biggest offensive
contributor, Bryce Harper.   

Harper hasn’t had nearly enough of a
career to give any meaning to any of his splits, but consider that in the month
of April he had a batting line of .344/.430/.720 and since then has run into a
couple walls, spent some time on the DL, and hit .194/.323/.352. While it is
unlikely for Harper to get back to his April numbers it is hard to imagine him
hitting to such a low level over the second half of the season. With how Harper
has performed since April and how his replacements performed when he was out of
the line-up his career numbers of .268/.349/.489 would be more than adequate to
give the Nationals the offensive boost they are seeking. Combine it with the
fact that Adam LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Ian Desmond, and Denard
Span all have better second half splits over the course of their careers and
the Nationals line-up, a line-up that already has improved and features six of
eight position players with an over .800 OPS, is poised for a big second half.
  

With the Nats top three of Strasburg,
Gonzalez, and Zimmermann, if the Nats hit they win. For more than a month
leading up to the break they have score 4.2 runs a game, and from now until the
end of the season they have the talent to be one of the better line-ups in the
NL. If things play out as the numbers indicate they should, then the Nationals
will make the playoffs.  

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