Predicting the Second Half
Davey Johnson deserves a lot of credit for the Nationals success in the first half of the season. Any one of the injuries to Morse, Zimmerman, Ramos, or Werth could have de-railed the Nationals season and sent them into a tailspin. Any one of the number of tough losses they suffered could have done the same, but Davey Johnson kept his team level and focused, and it didn't hurt that guys like Adam LaRoche, Bryce Harper, and Ian Desmond stepped up to carry this team while they dealt with injuries. It also doesn't hurt that the Nationals have allowed the fewest runs in baseball and therefore didn't need that much offense to carry them. With Storen reportedly coming back tomorrow and Jayson Werth following close behind the Washington Nationals are getting healthy just as the second half begins.
At the time of his wrist injury Werth was having a much better season than he had in 2011 hitting .276/.372/.439 and being his typical nuisance at the plate fouling off pitches and when on the base paths jumping around to distract the pitcher. His presence back in the line-up will help the Nats and his defense in right field will be an improvement over Michael Morse. Drew Storen is also returning and while he isn't being handed back the closers role he will add one more shutdown reliever to a bullpen that has only blown nine saves all season.
Even with those two the Nationals can't be that much different than they have been which is why we can look to the first half to give us some answers about the second. The Nationals first half of the season was brutal. 33 of their 83 games were against teams that currently have losing records and the Nationals went 19-13 in those contests for a winning percentage of .575. Oddly enough this means that the Nationals have a .600 winning percentage against teams with a winning record. It is important to remember though that some of those teams, mainly the Phillies and Marlins, did not have losing records when the Nationals played them.
In the second half of the season the Nationals have 44 games against teams that currently have losing records including a stretch of 18 in a row dating from July 26 to August 12 against the Brewers, Phillies, Marlins, Astros, and Diamondbacks. If the Nationals can maintain their .575 winning percentage in such contests then they should go 25-19 in these games, and if they play the .600 ball they have against teams with winning records they should go 21-14 in those games giving them a final record of 95-67.
That is a good record but there are other ways to look at this. The Nationals are currently 24-16 at home and 25-18 on the road. With 38 road games left and 41 remaining at home and a winning percentage of .581 on the road and .600 at home the Nationals should be able to go 22-16 on the road and 25-16 at home for a final record of 96-66.
Both those records more than likely win the division, but there are other issues facing the Washington Nationals. They may have been unlucky when it comes to position player injuries, but have been extremely lucky when it comes to injuries to the pitching staff. The 15 pitchers that the Nationals have used is the second fewest in all of baseball, and of those 15 six have been starters. What the Nationals have done with health of pitchers is unprecedented and more than likely will not last. Even if it is something minor a pitcher is going to come up with some kind of soreness at some point in time.
Both Edwin Jackson and Gio Gonzalez have been workhorses for their career, but Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler have yet to pitch an entire major league season, and something is bound to happen before the year is out, and then there is of course the looming innings limit for Stephen Strasburg. With 79 games left the top three spots in the rotation will get 16 more starts while the bottom two get 15 more starts each.
Jordan Zimmermann is going to open the season in the number one spot for the Nationals and hopefully will make his 16 starts. The Nationals currently have a record of 9-8 in games that he starts and if that continues in the second half the Nationals should win nine of his remaining 16 games. When Gio pitches the team has a record of 14-3, and if that holds the Nationals should win 13 of the 16 games Gio pitches in. Edwin Jackson has been a bit unlucky in 2012 and the team is only 6-10 in games he starts, but if that holds in the second half expect a record of around 6-9. Detwiler got bumped out of the rotation for Wang, but if the Nats are smart that won't happen again and if his winning percentage from his 7-5 record in starts holds then the Nats should go 9-6 in the second half over his 15 starts.
Now that leaves only the Strasburg starts to cover. Using an innings limit of 170 Strasburg has just about 70 innings left and has averaged 5.8 innings a start meaning he has 12 starts left. The Nationals are 12-5 in games that Strasburg starts and if that holds they should go 8-4 in his remaining 12 games. The last four starts will be covered by some combination of Lannan, Wang, Duke, Maya, or a pitcher the Nats trade for. If we assume the worst and the Nats lose all four of those remaining starts that still gives them a final record of 94-68.
Interestingly enough all of my methods of breaking this down has given the Nationals between 94-96 wins total for the season. That should be enough to grab one of the three playoff spots the Nationals are contending for and make the second half just as fun as the first half. Things could be even better if something as small as Edwin Jackson or Jordan Zimmermann's luck turns around, or something big could happen and the Nats add a significant piece at the deadline.
But it could also be that bringing back Jayson Werth and Drew Storen help to push the Nats over the top and maybe Ryan Zimmerman stays hot and Bryce Harper fines his groove. There is a lot that could go right for the Nationals in the second half, and the only thing that can go wrong is a catastrophic injury, but the Nats suffered plenty of those in the first half and survived. One way or another the best season in Washington Nationals history looks to continue to be just that when the season resumes this Friday in Miami.