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Washington Nationals carried by five Nats who surpassed expectations

The Nationals’ success in the first half of 2016 is owed in large part to a few players who really played above and beyond what was expected from them.

New York Mets v Washington Nationals Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images

The Nationals finished the first half strong and in large part their success this year is due to a wide variety of players stepping up and surpassing expectations. Here are five who really stood out in this regard. These players defied the expectations placed on them and produced above and beyond.

As a group they are instrumental in the Nationals' fantastic record as the team stands atop the National League at the All-Star break.

Daniel Murphy, second baseman

When the Mets opted to sign Neil Walker over Daniel Murphy last year they thought they were choosing between two roughly equivalent players. Walker is having a very good year but Murphy has been more than twice as valuable thus far.

Projections at the beginning of this year pegged him to repeat the .770 OPS he put up last year. His first half OPS of .985 is driven not only by his career HR numbers (he was projected to hit no more than a dozen home runs all year) but also by a batting average of .348 that his far higher than his career average of .294.

The Nationals were just looking for a steady left-handed bat to bring stability to the infield. Murphy has exceeded all expectations by a lot more than anybody could have predicted.

Murphy ZiPS projections: .285/.325/.423, 12 HR, 606 PA, 1.6 fWAR (full 2016)
Murphy actual production: .348/.387/.491, 17 HR, 362 PA, 3.7 fWAR (partial season)

Danny Espinosa, shortstop

When Danny Espinosa's season started the expectation was for him to hold down the fort at shortstop until top prospect Trea Turner arrived in June.

It took him a while to get started but Espinosa has exceeded expectations so much that it will be all but impossible to pry away the job of starting shortstop anytime in the near future.

Espinosa was more valuable in just the first half of this year than he was in all of 2015 when he surprised a lot of people by being the second most valuable position player for the Nationals after Bryce Harper.

Danny was projected to hit as many as 11 HRs this year in 120 games with an OPS around .660. He is currently sitting at 18 HRs and a .792 OPS after 88 games. This may be a good time to adjust expectations upward a little.

Espinosa ZiPS projections: .223/.286/.367, 11 HR, 27 BB, 435 PA, 1.0 fWAR (full 2016)
Espinosa actual performance: .239/.334/.458, 18 HR, 29 BB, 332 PA, 2.4 fWAR (partial season)

Wilson Ramos, catcher

Did you hear that Wilson Ramos got LASIK surgery? Seeing the ball better is apparently a big part of why Ramos is also exceeding expectations this year.

The Buffalo also has done more in half a season than was projected for his entire season. Ramos has stayed healthy and has hit 13 HRs with a .918 OPS in 75 games after averaging just 86 games a year in each of his five prior full seasons with the Nationals, seasons in which his OPS averaged about .200 below his 2016 numbers.

Expectations for Ramos were low due to a multi-year decline in offensive production but so far this year he is an offensive threat to be reckoned with (when he can see the ball clearly).

Ramos ZiPS projections: .249/.283/.390, 13 HR, 392 PA, 1.4 fWAR (full 2016)
Ramos actual production: .330/.382/.536, 13 HR, 293 PA, 2.5 fWAR (partial season)

Tanner Roark, starting pitcher

Tanner Roark is a workhorse who just refuses to be the #5 starter everyone expects him to be. After a 2015 where he was juggled between the starting rotation and the bullpen, and disappointed, projections pegged Roark to an ERA nearer 4.00 than the 3.01 that he sports here at the All-Star break.

Roark has joined teammates Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer in the list of top 20 MLB starting pitchers this season.

One might say that Roark is the yin to Scherzer's yang, an extreme ground ball pitcher to complement Scherzer's extreme fly ball ways.

Each approach comes with risks, but so far this season Tanner Roark is showing that he too is the real deal.

Roark ZiPS projections: 3.69 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 141.1 IP, 25 GS (full 2016)
Roark actual production: 3.01 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 116.2 IP, 18 GS (partial season)

Sammy Solis, lefty relief pitcher

A more unsung overachiever is bullpen lefty Sammy Solis. His rookie campaign in 2015 was a mixed bag. He had solid results with a 3.38 ERA but he struggled getting lefties out, which limited his value a little.

In 2016, he switched up his pitch selection a little, found a groove, and has been very dominant as a general rule.

With his fastball and curve now both plus pitches he has limited opponents to a .183 batting average.

His walk rate did go up dramatically this year, but he has effectively limited damage with a 2.43 ERA thanks in part to a healthy dose of strikeouts and fly balls staying in the park.

With just 51 major league innings under his belt, Solis may not yet have shown the best or worst he has to offer, but for the first half of 2016 he has certainly impressed.

Solis ZiPS projections: 3.86 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 44.1 IP (full 2016)
Solis actual production: 2.43 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 39.2 IP (partial season)

The Nationals certainly would not have gotten as far as they have without other players bringing their game like Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, Max Scherzer, Jayson Werth, Shawn Kelley and even Jonathan Papelbon, but it is breakout seasons by these players here that have made the Nationals' batting and pitching lineup deeper and scarier than anyone expected in 2016.

Here's hoping the Nationals surpass a lot of other expectations before this season is over. The talent is there.