The Washington Nationals are 51-42 at the Break after beating up on the Philadelphia Phillies in the first-half finale on Sunday afternoon. The Nats are in a virtual tie (is that what you call it?), percentage points ahead of the Atlanta Braves in the NL East. The Nationals' rotation has the second-lowest collective ERA (3.28) behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers (3.08) among National League staffs. The Nats' starters have the lowest FIP (3.27, ahead of LA's 3.46), second-lowest xFIP (3.43 to the Dodgers' 3.20) and the highest combined fWAR +9.7, ahead of the Cubs' +8.9 (the Cubs?) and Dodgers (+8.0).
The Nationals' relief corps has the second-lowest combined ERA (2.67), behind only the Padres' relievers' 2.56, the second-lowest FIP (3.08) behind only the Braves' 3.05 and they're tied with Atlanta for the highest fWAR (+3.2) among National League bullpens.
Offensively? The Nationals' .246/.313/.385 line has them 10th/8th/7th across the line amongst NL offenses, with their 95 wRC+ the seventh-highest among National League offenses, their .310 wOBA tied for sixth (with the Marlins?) and their combined +11.7 fWAR 10th out of 15 among NL teams.
"Considering everything that's gone on," first-year skipper Matt Williams said on Sunday, "we're okay. We're right in the thick of our division and we've got a chance, so that's all we can ask for considering what's gone on. So, happy about it."
The All-Star Break, Williams said, "... comes at a good time for us. We've got some guys who have played a lot of innings and they'll use those few days off and rest up a little bit. So, comes at a good time, but overall we're happy with where we're at."
The Nationals are 24-15 since a rough 11-15 month of May and they went into the Break with wins in 10 of their last 15 games after taking 2 of 3 from the Phillies this weekend. The win in the first-half finale in Philadelphia lifted the Nats to 23-23 on the road so far this season. The 5-2 first-half-ending homestand against the Rockies, Cubs and Orioles left the Nationals 28-19 in Nationals Park.
Williams has refused to look back or too far forward throughout his first 93 games as a major league manager and he declined to speculate about what's to come when asked on Sunday.
"I don't know about looking too far ahead," he said. "We've got to win the first game first. So enjoy the family, rest, make sure that you get some active rest as well, and we'll have a workout on Thursday and get ready for Friday."
In order to succeed in the second half, Williams said, "I think it's important for us to continue to do things right.
"Offensively create opportunities and deliver on those opportunities. The bullpen has been good and our starters are giving us a chance. That combination works, and we have to execute though and do things right."
What the Nationals really need to do is find a way to beat the Atlanta Braves this season. In the first half versus the rest of the division, the Nats were 5-3 against the Marlins, 5-1 against the Mets and 6-3 after nine games with the Phillies, but just 3-7 against the Braves so far this season and 9-20 against Atlanta over the last two seasons.
Williams was asked last week about battling it out with the Braves atop the division, but he declined to comment, saying that he would wait until they face Atlanta to worry about them.
"I'm not peeking around any corners," Williams said. "And neither are these guys. We have to play tomorrow against a very difficult team. And that's what we concentrate on. We can control our game and that's it, so I'm not worried about that other than we need to play well tomorrow."
The next series with the Braves takes place on August 8-10 in Atlanta.