As the first half of the 2014 MLB season ended on Sunday in a Nats 10-3 victory over the Phillies, Tanner Roark picked up his long awaited 8th victory after two losses against the Cubs back to back. He tied Doug Fister for the Nats team lead in wins. When the season began, who would have thought the #4 and #5 starters would lead the rotation in wins, behind Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann?
That was 0nly one of the many surprises that came the Nats’ way during the first half of the season. They have overcome injuries, switched players around the diamond and the batting order, and still found a way to end the first half in a tie for a first place. The Nats kept winning even as the Braves won 9 in a row, and the streak, which ended on July 6, only helped the Braves gain a half game on the Nats. Here are some of the surprises that I’ve noticed throughout the first few months.
Number 1- Anthony Rendon as the young star on the team, not Bryce Harper
When most people hear anything about the Nats’ young talent on the big league squad, chances are that Bryce Harper is the main part of that discussion. But the real star this year has been Anthony Rendon. Sadly missing a well-deserved trip to Minneapolis for the All Star Game, Rendon is hitting .287 with 13 home runs and 53 RBIs, compared to Bryce’s .244 average with 2 home runs and 11 ribbies. Harper did go on the DL from April 27 to June 29, a big chunk of time due to a thumb injury. That may have affected his success in the weeks since he came back, with the hurt thumb getting in the way of his swing. Harper did tater on Friday’s contest vs. the Phillies in the City of Brotherly Love. But most people were expecting to see a monster junior season from Bryce, but Rendon has a sophomore surge going in to the game on Friday.
Number 2- Tanner Roark and Doug Fister- Tied for Team Lead In Wins
A baseball fan who knew the Nationals rotation would probably say “Strasburg” if asked who they thought who would have the most wins on the team, probably also adding a “duh.” They would be stunned to hear that Nats clutch men Tanner Roark and Doug Fister have had monster seasons. They have been spectacular and they are making headlines. Fister, acquired in a deal with the Tigers for now-AAA Oriole Steve Lombardozzi, Ian Krol, and minor leaguer Robbie Ray, has been top-notch. He’s never or scarcely faced most of the opposition hitters, since he changed leagues. Roark, on the other hand, was acquired from the Rangers with minor leaguer Ryan Tatusko in exchange for infielder Cristian Guzman. Roark has had some struggles lately against his hometown Cubs, but he has been a great piece to a ballclub that has been winning, thanks to these two guys.
Number 3- Ryan Zimmerman- First Baseman, Left Fielder, or Third Baseman?
Ryan Zimmerman, since coming off the DL June 3, has been sort of a utility man. Coming back before Bryce Harper, Ryan was asked to play left field- and did very well. He made his first play in left field on a hit by Chase Utley that hung up just enough that Zim could jog over and make a two handed catch. His breakout game was in Milwaukee on June 24 (or 25th because it ended in the middle of the night). Anyway, he homered in the sixteenth inning to break the 2-2 tie at 1:20 AM ET and made a diving catch later that inning to seal the 4-2 win. But on June 15, Zim played a different position- 1st base. In the 5-2 loss against the Cardinals, Zim made his first career start at first, and did pretty well. And since Bryce Harper has returned, Zim is again a 3rd baseman. We will see what position Zimmerman will play if injuries strike again.
Number 4- Bullpen Has Been Awesome
One main factor in the Nats’ success is their bullpen. Everyone has been lights-out. Aaron Barrett is 3-0 with a 2.64 ERA, Tyler Clippard is 6-2 with a 2.03 ERA and is an All-Star, Rafael Soriano is 1-0 with a 0.97 ERA and surprisingly did not get a trip to Minneapolis, Craig Stammen has an unconvincing 0-4 record but a nice 3.78 ERA, Drew Storen is 2-1 with a 1.20 ERA, and Blake Treinen has been really good in and out between the bullpen and rotation. The bullpen has been so good that all of it should have made it to the Twin Cities. Instead, only one, Clippard, made it.
Number 5- Contending Despite Injuries
My last surprise is that the Nats have been contenders or on top the NL East with somebody hurt since the 7th inning of Opening Day, as Jose Lobaton took over Wilson Ramos’s spot catching. Sandy Leon and Loby did a great job switching off catching in Wilson’s two DL stints. The Nats kept fighting off injuries. The combo of Nate McLouth before Zim came back and Mr. Walkoff himself played the position for a month was very good. McLouth wasn’t as helpful offensively, though. For a while he had one home run and a solo RBI coming on that homer vs. San Diego. Anthony Rendon played stellar 3rd base filling in for Zimmerman while he was hurt and when he was in left field, and a combination of Danny Espinosa and Kevin Frandsen played great 2nd base. Tyler Moore and Greg Dobbs played good 1st base while Adam LaRoche was out, and Taylor Jordan and Blake Treinen proved to be good rotation fillers if a starter was injured.
Like my picks? If you can name anymore surprises, be sure to tweet to me @MattsBats.
Also, check out some of my favorite posts from the first half of the 2014 season: