While the Nationals' pitching staff excelled throughout the season's first half and was the primary reason for this club's 49-34 record at the All-Star break, the performance from Washington's lineup and bench were more sporadic.
Things did take a nice upward turn over the last month, especially once Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse returned to their peak forms. Those two stalwarts combined with veteran Adam LaRoche, emerging star Ian Desmond and dynamic rookie Bryce Harper to give the Nationals a formidable quintet in the heart of their lineup.
With the All-Star Game now completed and everybody enjoying two more days off before the second half opens in Miami, it's time to hand out some midseason grades. We'll start with the offense. Check back this afternoon to see how the pitching staff rated...
RICK ANKIEL -- C-He's got maybe the best outfield arm in baseball, and that counts for something. He also occasionally runs into a pitch and hits it over the fence. But that doesn't happen nearly as often as he swings through a fastball up out of the strike zone.
ROGER BERNADINA -- C-The opportunity for an everyday job may finally have run out for this talented athlete who is prone to too many streaks at the plate and too many mental mistakes in the field and on the bases.
MARK DEROSA -- D-After a spectacular spring, it looked like he'd become a major contributor. Instead, the veteran utilityman struggled to maintain a .100 batting average and then missed two months with an oblique strain.
IAN DESMOND -- AWhat a breakthrough first half for one of the organization's longest-tenured players, who leads all MLB shortstops in a bunch of offensive categories. The Nats have to hope a lingering oblique issue that kept him out of the All-Star Game doesn't become anything more serious.
DANNY ESPINOSA -- CIt almost feels like you need to give him separate grades for his right-handed game (an A) and his left-handed game (a D-). To his credit, he's shown improvements from the left side of the plate and always contributes in the field.
JESUS FLORES -- B-Pressed into a starting role after Wilson Ramos got hurt, he's done an admirable job behind the plate and at the plate. But can he hold up physically for another three months?
BRYCE HARPER -- A-Nobody expected the 19-year-old to be such a major contributor so early in the season. And nobody expected him to conduct himself in such a veteran manner. He's still prone to the occasional mistake, but he's been a real catalyst for a team that has needed the energy he brings.
ADAM LAROCHE -- BThe team's MVP through the season's first six weeks, he produced clutch hit after clutch hit. He then fell into a tailspin at the plate and has seen his average drop nearly 100 points, though he continues to drive in big runs and play sterling defense.
STEVE LOMBARDOZZI -- B-He was supposed to be a backup infielder who would get about 250-300 at-bats. Instead, the rookie became a regular in left field and in the leadoff spot. After a hot start, though, he's perhaps being exposed now and might be better served with less playing time.
TYLER MOORE -- BAfter slugging 62 homers in two years in the minors, he's flashing some of that power at the big-league level and looking more comfortable with each passing day. Davey Johnson must now find a way to keep him fresh when there's not an everyday spot for him.
MICHAEL MORSE -- Inc.Expected to duplicate his 31-homer, 95-RBI performance from a year ago, he wound up missing two months with a torn lat muscle. After a sluggish start, he's beginning to rediscover his stroke. The Nats will need him to produce over the second half.
XAVIER NADY -- DA surprise member of the Opening Day roster after signing late in March, he's done little to justify the spot. He's now rehabbing from a lingering wrist injury.
WILSON RAMOS -- Inc.Got off to a solid start and was beginning to flash his power. Then he suffered a heartbreaking, season-ending, knee injury in May.
JHONATAN SOLANO -- BLittle was known about "The Onion" before injuries to four catchers ahead of him on the depth chart led to his promotion. He's been a surprising force at the plate in limited playing time as Jesus Flores' backup.
CHAD TRACY -- BWho knew the journeyman corner infielder would become baseball's most-productive pinch-hitter? And then who knew his groin injury would prove so costly to the Nats, who hope to have him back within the next few weeks?
JAYSON WERTH -- Inc.He certainly looked more comfortable in his second year in D.C., and his play in April suggested that. Then he suffered a nasty wrist injury that will sideline him until at least August 1. What he's able to do at that point remains to be seen.
RYAN ZIMMERMAN -- C-It's tough to blame the guy for his terrible numbers for much of the first half because he was playing with a bad shoulder. But the fact remains he wasn't producing at the plate until he finally got a magic cortisone shot that has allowed him to rediscover his hitting stroke.