The first half of Danny Espinosa's rookie year couldn't have played out much better for him or the Nationals. He put himself on a trajectory to hit 30 home runs, when most thought he'd only be capable of 15-20 in a season. He played spellbinding defense at second base, with tough plays becoming almost second nature to him because of his upbringing as a shortstop.
He broke a major league record for homers by a rookie second baseman in the first half of the season, and looked like a clear choice for Rookie of the Year honors.
The cruelest thing about a baseball season, though, is its length, an unrelenting 162-game march that keeps punching at players with barking legs, nagging injuries or lingering slumps. The toll of that grind usually reaches its nadir right about now - in the dog days of summer, where the beginning is far enough away that the season isn't fresh anymore, and the end isn't quite approaching yet. It's here where Espinosa's impressive rookie season has hit a wall.
He is hitting .204 in August, with no homers and only five extra base hits. Since the All-Star break, Espinosa is batting just .174, having homered only once and striking out 34 times in 27 games. On Saturday, he went 0-for-3 in a loss to the Phillies, and made the first of the Nationals' three errors that led to seven unearned Philadelphia runs when the ball went off his glove on a backhanded play he's made dozens of times. As the ball skipped off the heel of his glove, Espinosa stood bewildered in the infield, wondering what had just happened.
He's played every game of the Nationals' season, both because he wants to and because the team's primary backup option (Alex Cora) works better as a utility player. And he's going to have to work through this part of a season so he can play through it with better results in years where the Nationals are counting on him to help them stay in the playoff chase.
The second half of this season, though, has been a lesson in baseball's unforgiving schedule. It's very possible it will cost Espinosa the Rookie of the Year award, but he wouldn't be the first rookie to lose that trophy in August.