As I write this, Nats fans are expectant for the upcoming series with the Yankees starting tonight. For those who have read my previous articles it should be clear that I do not simply extrapolate from recent performance into the future. Since I last penned a fanpost at the 20 game point of the season a lot has happened and I wanted to make a few observations:
I usually stay more reserved about evaluating new players like Harper based on a short stint, but I cannot in his case because---the guy stands in so well against left handers and some of the ones he has faced are quite good esp. against lefty hitters, he is patient and lays off the breaking ball that is about to dive down and out of the strike zone, and his foot speed combined with his raw power and bat speed is rare. As I have said elsewhere we are witnessing another Mickey Mantle.
The breakout season for the Nats was not surprising to me, as I posted a reasoned prediction of 93 wins back in March after they had lost 11 ST games in a row. A breakout for a sports team often happens from a combination of talented young players maturing together and a few new pieces being added. Desmond, J. Zimm., and Stammen are the best examples of the former and Gio and Harper are significant pieces that have been added. Gio coming to the Nats is like Maddox coming to the Braves in a trade to go with the other pitching studs that were already there. The result was a quantum improvement in Braves team performance.
The Nats record so far reinforces my outspoken belief that pitching and defense can carry a team a lot further than most fans think even when the hitting is anemic. In an earlier discussion I agreed with RobBob that it is improbable for a championship team to have a near bottom offense. The Nats are currently near the bottom in several offensive categories, so some improvement may be needed to keep the high winning percentage going. That brings me to my next point and a short term prediction. I am encouraged by the fact that the Nationals are winning without much contribution from Zimmerman or Morse. Since I am a firm believer that both will have strong second halves I think the Nats will hang on to win the division title. Here is the short term prediction: Zim. and Morse will do well against the Yanks.
I am also encouraged that the Nationals have exceeded my expectation of playing .500 ball from game 20 to game 60. I believed back at game 20 that after a ‘rough' period to about game 50 to 60 they would then get back to a good winning pct. This would be due to the return of some injured players and a weaker schedule. The addition of Storen by late July and the emergence of Morse as an offensive force are going to make a huge difference. As I have said Morse is very close to having his timing back. A core lineup of Harper, Zim., LaRoche, Morse, Werth, and Desmond can and will be quite formidable. I now think that if the offense improves, as I think it will, the Nats may rip from July through Sept. and get to the 100 game winning mark.
A few very quick comments:
Espy should try batting right handed all the time.
Flores is doing well and will get better with the bat. It is not a slam dunk that Ramos will be the no. one catcher next season.
Desmond, LaRoche, and Stammen are the biggest surprises to me. I was not surprised by Burnett and Lombo to be good contributors. H. Rod. was another one of my predictions for best surprise, but after a great start he has reverted to the Henry of last year. Hang on-he may still be a positive factor late in the season.
I doubt the Nats will resign LaRoche. Moore, Marrero, or Morse is likely to be at 1B next year.
Magical years for teams are sometimes accompanied by unlikely heroes. The tone for this season was set from the start when Chad Tracey hit the pinch hit triple in the opening game at Wrigley Field. And Tyler Moore rocked against Toronto on Wednesday.
It is still early in the season but since the Nats are not really clicking on all cylinders, so it bodes well for their fate come late September.