Tuesday, July 13, 2010 11:41 a.m.
By Holden KushnerCSNwashington.com
The Nationals are a better team this year at the All-Star break than they were at the break in 2009. Last year the Nats had a record of 26-61 and were 22.5 games out of first place in the NL East. In 2010 their record is 39-50 and they sit 13.5 games behind the first-place Braves.
Lets take a look at statistics to explain why the Nationals are better this year, but are still struggling as they sit in the division cellar.
Stephen Strasburg has not only been the best pitcher on his own team, but hes already ascended to being one of the 20-or-so best pitchers in the game just five weeks into his Major League career. Livan Hernandez leads the team with six wins, but after a great start to the season, he has been belted in four of his last six starts.
Washingtons starters compiled a first-half ERA of 4.57 and rank 13th out of 16 National League teams in the category. They are (22-30) in decisions and their .284 batting average against is the worst in the NL.
Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler cant arrive soon enough.
Along with Strasburg, the pen is the biggest reason for a slightly improved ball club. Nationals relievers, led by Matt Capps, have the third-most saves with 25. Their ERA of 3.64 is good for sixth in the league.
One alarming statistic is that the bullpen has already thrown 282 innings. This is an indication that the bullpen has been used too early in games and too often to this point of the year.
That being said, the arms have been effective when called upon, thanks in large part to the aforementioned Capps as well as Tyler Clippard (despite recent struggles), Sean Burnett, Doug Slaten and rookie Drew Storen.
This team's biggest weakness (outside of a defense that has committed a major league worst 75 errors) is at the plate. Adam Dunn, Ryan Zimmerman and Josh Willingham have carried the offense, and hit 53 of the team's 79 home runs.
The club has scored just 366 runs, which is 13th worst in the NL. A lack of production from the other five spots in the batting order are killing the Nationals' production at the plate.
That is no more evident than at the top of the order, where Nats leadoff hitters also rank 13th in on-base percentage.
Nyjer Morgan must improve his approach at the plate, and the team needs more power from right field to improve upon their first-half totals. Dont be surprised to see Roger Bernadina play some center field if Morgan does not get off to a good start in the second half.
If Dunn andor Willingham are traded, the offense will be stifled, but General Manager Mike Rizzo needs to use his two best trade chips to improve for the future.
I expect the heavy workload the bullpen arms accrued in the first half to negatively affect their second-half performance.
Success from young starters in Zimmermann and Detwiler as well as the possible additions of Chien-Ming Wang and Jason Marquis might lessen the bullpen's load.
This team is sure to exceed the 59 wins they tallied each of the last two seasons. With 79 games remaining, 31 wins would improve their record by 11 wins over last year. 70 wins would be marked improvement. This years Nationals are better than its last two predecessors. Thats not saying too much, but its a start.