The halfway point of the season is an ideal time to take stock of what the Nationals have accomplished so far and what they need to improve. Here are the grades so far:
Starting Pitching: B-plus. Jordan Zimmermann (11-3, 2.28 ERA) is the main reason the Nats are still in contention in the National League East. He has accounted for 11 of their 41 wins and only 29 of their 283 earned runs. He is unbeatable (8-0, 1.09 ERA) at home and has given up more than three earned runs only twice this season, against good-hitting American League teams (Baltimore and Cleveland) in AL parks.
Dan Haren, on the other hand, has dragged the grade down from an A. He is responsible for nine of the team's 40 losses, and his 6.15 ERA has raised that of all the team's starters from 3.02, which would lead all NL staffs, to a middling 3.56.
Of the other starters, only Gio Gonzalez has been healthy, and with a 3.09 ERA and 1.14 WHIP deserves even better than his 5-3 record. When not injured, Stephen Strasburg (4-6, 2.41) and Ross Detwiler (2-6, 4.13) have pitched as well as they are capable, though Detwiler's back is a concern now. In spot starts, Ross Ohlendorf was outstanding, Taylor Jordan was victimized by poor defense and Nathan Karns showed he needs more seasoning.
Relief Pitching: B-plus. Again, a couple of bad apples, Zach Duke and Henry Rodriguez, have made the bullpen look worse than it really is. No need to dwell on their stats. As a whole, though, the relief staff has some room for improvement. Its ERA is a middle-of-the-pack 3.50 (seventh in the NL), and opponents' .253 batting average ranks 11th in the league.
Tyler Clippard (6-1, 2.41 ERA) is the star pupil here, leading all major league relievers in wins. Young lefties Ian Krol (0-0, 1.54 ERA) and Fernando Abad (0-1, 1.23 ERA) have also been outstanding. Krol's first runs of the season came while mopping up Sunday's 13-2 win over the Mets, and Abad has struck out 16 and walked just one in 14 2-3 innings. Rafael Soriano (1-1, 2.38 ERA) has been as good as expected, with 21 saves in 24 chances.
Craig Stammen (4-3, 3.16 ERA) has performed well in in long relief, but did not come through in extra innings against Minnesota and Arizona. Drew Storen (2-1, 3.86 ERA) has been decent in a setup role, but the team's lack of hitting has magnified his failures, such as yielding the tying run in an eventual 2-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs on May 12.
Hitting: D-minus. If not for a few outbursts like Sunday's 13-run effort against the Mets and some seven- and nine-run games in June, it would be an F. The .236 team average is 13th in the NL and 28th in the majors. The Nats rank 12th in the NL in slugging at just .384, and are tied for ninth in homers with 75.
A subcategory of clutch hitting gets an F. The Nats hit just .247 with runners in scoring position, 11th in the NL, and with two outs and RISP, the average falls to just .215, ninth in the league. Productive outs are hard to come by, too. They have just 17 sacrifice flies, ninth in the NL.
No sense calling anyone out. Everyone has been inconsistent, except Bryce Harper, and a knee injury has kept him out of the lineup for more than a month. His return is welcome at a time when the rest of the team might be heating up.
Defense: F. The Nats can't muster even a barely passing grade. They are next-to-last in the majors with a .980 fielding percentage. Their 59 errors are the fourth most in baseball. Ryan Zimmerman has committed 13 at third base, although his throws have improved in the past month. Also a concern, Anthony Rendon has eight miscues in 23 games so far of his baptism-by fire at second base. The Nationals are also statistically the easiest team to steal a base on in the major leagues, with opponents swiping bags at an .864 rate.
Management: C-plus. Don't blame Davey Johnson for all the Nationals' problems, but for some reason he hasn't been able to light a fire under the players yet. And we have seen too many inning-ending outs come on 3-0 counts with men on base. He could flash the take sign once in a while. Also, was it wise to keep Harper and Danny Espinosa in the lineup with injuries? On the plus side, Johnson and general manager Mike Rizzo have done an excellent job of restocking southpaws in the bullpen. Sending Tyler Moore to the minors to find his stroke looks like it has paid off, too.
Overall: C. That's what a 41-40 team with obvious weaknesses deserves. The Nats have shown some separation from the worst teams in the league, like the Mets, but are just now starting to beat good teams like Arizona with some consistency.
The good news is that in just about every area, the Nats have shown signs of improvement lately. Sitting second in the NL East and third in the wild card race, they can still accomplish everything they've set out to do this season, and make their final grades much better than these interim marks.
Marty Niland blogs about the Nationals for D.C. Baseball History. His thoughts on the Nationals will appear here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.