The Race Is On
It has been a thrilling first half of the baseball season in the Nation’s Capital, punctuated by tight, low-scoring games and wild finishes. There has been a multitude of different heroes, both household fixtures and under-the-radar names. Nearly every player on the Nationals roster can lay claim to a defining moment of the season. And we’re only halfway home.
With 83 games already in the rear-view mirror, there are still 79 remaining, a reminder that as far as this team has come, there is just as far still to travel. And while we were quite vocal in telling you that the window of opportunity was going to open this year, it is hard to imagine anyone expecting the Nationals to own the best record in the National League at this juncture in mid-July.
Let the numbers wash over you; take a moment to soak them in. A 49-34 record, best in the National League. A four-game advantage over the second-place Braves, the largest division lead in the NL. Seven walk-off wins, best in the National League. A 3.20 team ERA, the lowest in baseball. All of these are impressive feats, especially given the injuries the Nationals have faced this year, but they also only go to show just how much work still remains.
The Nationals have already employed 36 different players on their 25-man roster, and will add at least one more to that list soon, with Drew Storen’s impending 2012 debut. Chad Tracy and Jayson Werth are expected back in the not-too-distant-future as well, bringing plenty of value with them, but also questions about how manager Davey Johnson may, in turn, juggle his roster. Where will those who have filled in so capably – the Tyler Moore’s, Steve Lombardozzi’s and Michael Gonzalez’s of the world – find themselves upon these players returning? The surplus of talent is certainly a good problem to have.
One thing is certain: the road does not get any easier. Washington faces NL East foes in the first 14 games out of the All-Star break, beginning Friday night with four in Miami, a city that has been something of a house of horrors for the Nats over the years. The Nationals are just 24-42 in South Florida since 2005, and have won only three of their last 14 series on the road against the Marlins. They dropped three straight over Memorial Day earlier this year.
Of course, Washington will take on a Miami team missing its primary offensive weapon – Giancarlo Stanton – who Bryce Harper (ironically) replaced in the All-Star Game. With four days to rest up from the bangs and bruises of the first half, now is as good a time as ever to buck that trend and begin the second half on the right foot.
Has everyone had time to breathe? Good, because now the real fun begins.