The big remaining questions

For those questioning the decision to name Mariano Rivera the Most Valuable Player of last night’s All-Star Game, let me ask you this: Who would you have selected?

No player on either team had more than one hit. Two of the three runs that were scored all game came in on a sacrifice fly and an RBI groundout. Should Jose Bautista earn MVP honors for flying out to center, plating the game-winning run in the fourth inning? The only run-scoring hit came off the bat of Jason Kipnis, whose ground-rule double in the eighth provided what ended up being a useless insurance run.

Only two pitchers worked more than a single inning - Matt Harvey and Chris Sale. Harvey allowed a double and hit a batter, although he did strike out three. Sale struck out two in two perfect frames, but no way is that an MVP-worthy performance.

Sure, Rivera was one of five American League pitchers who notched a hold, and his clean eighth inning didn’t exactly play an integral role in the AL’s 3-0 win. But with a lack of worthy candidates out there, I have absolutely no problem with this MVP award being a lifetime achievement MVP award, of sorts.

Anyway, now that the All-Star Game is in the rearview mirror, we can turn our attention back to the Nationals and their attempt to turn things around and make a postseason push in the second half of the season.

The way I see things, there are two key questions that will determine whether the Nats are able to heat up and make a legitimate push for a playoff spot: Can the offense find a way to be more productive; and can the Nats get more out of the back of their rotation, either through internal means or external means.

Obviously, the main issue thus far this season has been the offense, and that’s the key area of concern going forward. The Nats will simply have to score more than 3.76 runs per game in the second half in order to make a run at this thing.

They need Denard Span to get on base more frequently than 31.7 percent of the time. They need Adam LaRoche to hit one of his hot streaks and avoid the dry spells that can make him a non-factor for a span of multiple weeks. They need Bryce Harper to hit like he did over the first month of the season, and to stay healthy over the final 67 games.

Oh yeah, they need Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos and just about everyone else to avoid the disabled list, as well.

The top of the rotation has been dominant and the bullpen - while shaky at times - has largely done its job. Outside of the offense, the only major question in my mind is what, if anything, the Nats will do to address the back of their rotation.

Dan Haren has made two starts since coming off the DL, allowing just two runs over 11 innings, but he was a bit shaky in the first of those two starts, and had a really rough first half of the season. Ross Detwiler is on the disabled list for the second time this season, this time with a lower back strain, and it’s unclear whether he’ll be ready to take his first turn in the rotation on Tuesday.

The way I see it, the next 10 days or so will be crucial in determining whether general manager Mike Rizzo decides to make a move to add another starter. If Haren can follow up his last strong outing (six scoreless innings against the Marlins) and show that he might be hitting his stride a bit, and if Detwiler can come off the DL and prove he’s healthy and can be effective, then there’s no need for the Nats to trade away prospects in order to land another starter before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

But if Haren gets hit around his next time out and again leaves his team in a big hole, or if Detwiler’s back injury lingers and forces Taylor Jordan (who is on an innings limit this season) to take his turn in the rotation, then a move might be necessary.

The Nats still have all the talent to make a run at this thing, as evidenced by the fact that the sportsbook Bovada has given the Nats 15/1 odds to win the World Series and 9/4 odds to win the National League East.

They just need their offense to be more productive and find consistent options towards the back of their rotation that can give them a chance to dig out of the hole in which they’ve put themselves to this point.

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