Nats reach midpoint on pace to win 98 with room for improvement

And so the baseball season is now half-complete. (Or is it half-unfinished?)

Whatever your perspective, this much you must admit: The Nationals are pretty good. After last night’s dramatic, 14-inning victory over the Reds, they now boast a 49-32 record. That’s the third-best record in the National League, the fifth-best in the majors. And it’s good enough for a six-game lead in the division.

It’s also the equivalent of a 98-win pace, which few could find fault with, even the most pessimistic of fans.

Now the kicker: The Nationals recognize they haven’t really played their best baseball yet.

Dusty-Baker-Nats-jacket-sidebar.jpg“I’m lying dead for the day that Ben Revere’s getting on three times a game, and (Anthony) Rendon’s hitting, and Michael Taylor’s playing and that day he’s hitting, and (Ryan Zimmerman) ... we’re a ways off,” manager Dusty Baker said. “(Jayson) Werth is right now so-so, but a lot better than he was. So, yeah. I see Gio (Gonzalez) is going to throw better. (Joe) Ross is learning. Yeah, there’s big room for improvement.”

The Nationals have reached this midpoint of the season in such a strong position on the backs of a pitching staff that has posted a 3.30 ERA, second-best in the majors. They’ve done it thanks in large part to a defense that has committed only 27 errors, fewest in baseball. And they’ve done it with a lineup that can bash with the best of them; they’ve hit 107 homers, tops in the NL.

But there are still potential areas to improve. The bullpen, while effective overall, remains inconsistent and lacking in depth with closer Jonathan Papelbon on the disabled list. Max Scherzer has given up a staggering number of home runs, Gonzalez has a 4.81 ERA and Stephen Strasburg (despite being 10-0) currently sits idle on the disabled list.

And then there is the biggest area of concern from Baker’s perspective: The lack of consistent hits with men in scoring position.

“I’m not displeased with anything, other than us getting some clutch hits, some hits with runners in scoring position,” Baker said. “The same thing I’ve been saying the whole time. And I know we’re going to get them.”

In spite of those issues, the Nationals have been remarkably consistent when it comes to their won-loss record. They won 16 games in April. They won 16 games in May. They won 16 games in June. Keep doing that, and you end up with 96 at season’s end.

“I would like to just continue,” Baker said. “I said (I wanted to win) 15 games a month, but we’ve been 16 games a month. And then I’d like to hopefully throw in a 20 somewhere. You stay on them. That’s what a race is.”

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