Don't Call it a Comeback

 

Before any baseball season begins writers and bloggers sit down and pound out their bold predictions. So now as the second half (a 95/67 split isn't really half) is about to be upon us I am going to make a bold prediction of my own. I have conversed with the muse, read the tea leaves, and even talked with the voices in my head to reach this conclusion: the Washington Nationals will make the 2013 playoffs. If you aren't a DC sports fan reading this you may be a little confused as to why it is a bold prediction to predict that a team second in their division and first in line to catch the Reds for the second wild card spot could make the playoffs. Live here for a couple months and you'll understand.  

There are many things about the Washington Nationals that point to them having a better second half than first half. The chief complaint everyone has had about the team is that they don't score enough runs, but for more than a month now they have averaged over four runs a game. The 4.2 runs they've averaged since Rendon came up to play second and Werth returned from injury would have them tied with the Diamondbacks for fifth in the NL. That isn't bad and with the Nationals pitching that should be more than enough runs to win most games. Now I can see a few people reading this have stopped and screamed at their computer, "You are what your record says you are, numskull."

That is true but it is more true at the end of September than in the middle of July, and it is even more true that a team is who their talent is and that water finds its level and that a line-up of Span, Lombardozzi, Zimmerman, LaRoche, Desmond, Espinosa, Bernadina, Suzuki is not the same as one of Harper, Rendon, Zimmerman, LaRoche, Werth, Desmond, Span, Ramos. The second line-up is going to score vastly more runs, and so far it has. Injuries are no excuse for the Nationals, but they are a reason. The bigger issue with the injuries wasn't that guys were hurt, all teams deal with players being hurt, but more who was filling in during those stretches. Bernadina, Tracy, Lombardozzi, Moore, and Suzuki haven't been close to adequate replacements for when starting position players got hurt, and their failure has led to the overall run scoring of the team to look bad, but the run scoring with certain players to be good.  How this all plays into the second half is that the Nationals now have their full line-up, and if it stays on the field they can continue to score runs at the pace they have since June 8.

There is also evidence to suggest that the Nats offense could be even better in the second half. Adam LaRoche is a notorious slow starter, but after a .473 OPS April he managed a .756 first half OPS. For his career LaRoche typically has a .766 first half OPS and .886 second half OPS. In other words LaRoche is fully capable of carrying the Nats offense in the second half of the season, but he isn't the only one. Jayson Werth has a career first half OPS of .809 and second half of .841. Not nearly as significant a difference as Adam LaRoche or even a significant difference on its own, but he does have better second half numbers than first half numbers. Ryan Zimmerman is the same way: a first half OPS of .790 and second half of .877. That is a significant split and if he can do something close to that again this season the Nationals offense has three of its best players performing much better in the second half than the first, but it doesn't end there. Ian Desmond has a split of .733/.780 first half to second half and Denard Span .727/.750, and let's not forget about the Nats biggest offensive contributor, Bryce Harper.   

Harper hasn't had nearly enough of a career to give any meaning to any of his splits, but consider that in the month of April he had a batting line of .344/.430/.720 and since then has run into a couple walls, spent some time on the DL, and hit .194/.323/.352. While it is unlikely for Harper to get back to his April numbers it is hard to imagine him hitting to such a low level over the second half of the season. With how Harper has performed since April and how his replacements performed when he was out of the line-up his career numbers of .268/.349/.489 would be more than adequate to give the Nationals the offensive boost they are seeking. Combine it with the fact that Adam LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Ian Desmond, and Denard Span all have better second half splits over the course of their careers and the Nationals line-up, a line-up that already has improved and features six of eight position players with an over .800 OPS, is poised for a big second half.   

With the Nats top three of Strasburg, Gonzalez, and Zimmermann, if the Nats hit they win. For more than a month leading up to the break they have score 4.2 runs a game, and from now until the end of the season they have the talent to be one of the better line-ups in the NL. If things play out as the numbers indicate they should, then the Nationals will make the playoffs.  

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