Nationals 2016 Midseason Report
Biggest Surprise- C Wilson Ramos
Wilson Ramos narrowly won this Nationals midseason achievement. This was a two-man race between Ramos and Danny Espinosa, with Daniel Murphy a distant third. This isn’t a slight on Murphy, but in fact the opposite. Murphy’s feats are amazing, but not far off from his career numbers when compared to Ramos and Espinosa. Between the regular season and playoffs last year, he hit a combined 21 home runs and 84 RBI. Mets hitting coach Kevin Long looked to have helped his swing last year to allow for a more powerful stroke. Calling Daniel Murphy a surprise would be an insult.
Both Ramos and Espinosa are already nearing their career numbers in many categories and it is surprising to see them advance to this next level. Espinosa is batting .239/.334/.458 with 18 home runs and 49 RBI. Espinosa is on pace to set a new career high in all those stats, save batting average. Ramos is currently batting .330/.382/.536 with 13 home runs, 48 RBI, 39 runs, 88 hits, 16 doubles and 23 walks. Ramos is on pace to set a new career high in all the stats just mentioned.
The reasoning behind naming Ramos as the biggest midseason surprise comes from many areas. Ramos has gotten significantly better from the catching position; a position where offensive production is usually second to defense.
For Espinosa, he is actually doing significantly worse in a few categories. His five stolen bases are far from his career high of 20. The same goes for the doubles. He has eight doubles so far, compared to his career high of 37. He also has no triples, while his career high is five. Furthermore, Espinosa’s numbers recently spiked at once as he had an amazing four-game series against the Cincinnati Reds. He went 7 for 18 with six runs, five home runs and 15 RBI. This doesn’t diminish what he did, but it shows less consistency than Ramos.
Finally Ramos has been named to his first All-Star Game. Espinosa has been named in the past, but hasn’t been named this year. All these things combined leads to the conclusion that Ramos’ vast improvement was more surprising than Espinosa’s and therefore, the most surprising on the whole Nats team.
Biggest Disappointment- OF Michael Taylor
Michael Taylor slightly edges out Ben Revere for biggest midseason disappointment. A case can be made that Ben Revere is not as valuable or productive as Taylor. Revere however, has missed some time and now is starting to look better. When it comes to Taylor, it is a matter of underperforming rather than value or production which classifies him as the biggest midseason disappointment.
Taylor was a prospect that looked to be a piece of the future of the Nationals. Last year, his first full season, he hit .229 with 14 home runs and 63 RBI in 138 games. Although his average was low, his overall numbers weren’t too bad for a rookie season. In 60 games this season, he was hitting .225 with 6 home runs and 12 RBI. Furthermore he was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse recently, although for a short stint. He is currently back with the team and went 1 for 2 in his first and only game back. What it showed, however, is that the Nats have little faith in Taylor.
Midseason Team MVP- 2B Daniel Murphy
When the words “Nationals” and “MVP” are used in the same sentence, the first thing that comes to mind for a baseball fan would probably be Bryce Harper. In the case of the midseason team MVP for the Nats in 2016, that is not the case. Harper hasn’t performed as well as we know he can, while Murphy has done better than ever before so far.
The only other player deserving of this award would be Stephen Strasburg. So far Strasburg has gone 12-0 with 2.62 ERA and 132 strikeouts. The reasoning behind why Strasburg is not the MVP is mostly because he is surrounded by guys like Max Scherzer, Tanner Roark, Joe Ross, and Gio Gonzalez. These guys range from solid to amazing and could hold down the fort if Strasburg is out for awhile. While a guy like Ross is out now, the Nats have been able to show no need for panic as an internal replacement such as Lucas Giolito has held his own. In other words, Strasburg is replaceable unlike Murphy. Also Strasburg is doing what has been expected from him since he was called up, which is to be the ace. Murphy has simply been more valuable. This was a close call, but Murphy gets the nod here.
Murphy was signed in the offseason to play second base for the Nats. The Nats hoped his historic postseason wouldn’t be a fluke. Murphy has gotten progressively better over the course of his career. Last season was one of his best years and he is merely picking up where he left off.
Murphy is batting .348/.387/.598 with 17 home runs, 66 RBI, 117 hits and 25 doubles. He is currently the National League hits leader with 117. He also leads all hitters in the NL with a .348 batting average. He already broke his career-high of 14 home runs and tied his high for triples with four. He is on pace to break his career-high records for batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, hits, runs, and RBI.
What really makes Murphy valuable to the team is what he does against his former team. Murphy has haunted the Mets so far in 13 games as he has batted .423 (22/52) with seven home runs and 21 RBI. This is very important because the Mets are slightly trailing the Nats and their head-to-head matchups could very well decide who reigns as National League East champions. Murphy won’t be starting in the All-Star Game as he narrowly missed the start by only 88 votes. He will, however, be playing as a reserve for the second time in his career. In a few months Murphy will probably get NL MVP votes as well, but as for now Murphy is easily the Nats midseason team MVP.
What to Watch for in the Second Half
The Nationals are going to be one of the most exciting teams to watch during the second half. The National League East will be a battle between both the Mets and the Nats, with the Marlins also trying to make a play.
Right now the Nats only lead the Mets by six games. While it’s alarming that they only lead by that much, the Mets have not run away with the division either. Unlike this time last year, the Mets already have Yoenis Cespedes who made a huge difference once joining the team. While Murphy isn’t on the team, they have other players like Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera who would’ve made them even better last year. The Mets have not played much better so far, but rather have played very inconsistently. Sometimes they go into slumps and other times they play like the National League champs they were last year.
Nats fans have to look at what happens in July. Right off the bat, the Mets finished the first half pretty decently. They swept the Cubs and beat the Marlins, before losing a series to the Nats. Those 11 games were going to make or break the Mets and it was the former that occurred. When it comes to a team like the Mets, it’s just a matter of time when the whole team clicks. Those games were also different since the Mets were able to come back like they did last year. They also just called up Jose Reyes and now Wilmer Flores is hitting even better than last year.
If the Mets trade for somebody by the end of July they could improve their team. Also they have been connected to Cuban third baseman Yulieski Gourriel, who could help them tremendously if signed. In a more positive manner for the Nats, if General Manager Mike Rizzo lands any big names before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, the Mets may be the ones in trouble.
The Nats could have a very interesting and meaningful second half. They will battle for first place and likely have one of the Wild Card spots as a backup. One-game playoffs are not what teams look forward to, therefore if the Nats are locking horns with the Mets by the end of July, the Nats will likely trade for help. Every Nats fan will be eyeing the moves made by the Mets and how they will be faring. Perhaps the biggest focus will be on the rest of the head-to-head matchups with the Mets.