Nationals’ first-half report card

The first half of the season officially ended nearly two weeks ago, when the Nationals played their 81st game. They’ve played eight more since then, which means the season’s already 55 percent complete.

But this being the All-Star break, and this being the longstanding tradition, everyone just refers to this week as the midway point of the season. Which means this is the time to hand out midterm grades.

What a wild first half it was for the Nationals, who looked dead in the water in late May but then went on a staggering 28-11 run to close things out and went into the All-Star break holding the top wild card position in the National League.

That roller coaster 3 1/2 months made it difficult to come up with grades for some of these players, who like the team went through some awful stretches early on but have been tremendous since. This is a purely subjective exercise, keep in mind, so there’s no right answer.

But here’s one not-so-casual observer’s take on each individual’s performance so far in 2019 ...

Yan Gomes: C-
Came to D.C. with a reputation for pop at the plate and good skills behind the plate. Hasn’t lived up to the reputation. His OPS has dropped 156 points from last year. His eight passed balls are already a career high.

Kurt Suzuki: B+
Turns out his offensive surge in Atlanta the last two years was no fluke. His .828 OPS ranks 11th out of 36 MLB catchers with at least 150 plate appearances. Defensively, he still leaves something to be desired (14 percent caught stealing rate).

Ryan Zimmerman: INC
Was off to a dismal start to the season when plantar fasciitis landed him on the IL for 8 1/2 weeks. He’s 7-for-21 with three doubles since his return, but it’s way too soon to draw any real conclusions.

Matt Adams: B-
He’s slugging .515, which is great. And he’s got a .958 OPS vs. lefties (albeit in only 32 plate appearances), which is astounding. But his .275 on-base percentage is abysmal, and down 57 points from last season.

Brian Dozier: B
A dreadful start to the season left many wondering if his signing was a bust. But look at him now: .322 OBP, .444 SLG, .767 OPS. All of those are within two points of his career averages.

Howie Kendrick: A
It’s easy to forget how big a question mark he was back in April, returning from major surgery. All he’s done is put together the best first half of his already impressive career, with 47 RBIs in only 233 plate appearances.

Trea Turner: A-
How much did the Nationals miss him while he was out with a fractured index finger? When he’s in the lineup, they’re 10 games over .500. When he’s not, they’re five games under. He’s arguably this team’s most important player, given his wide-ranging skills and the lack of depth behind him.

Rendon-Soto-High-Five-Gray-Sidebar.jpgAnthony Rendon: A
Speaking of really important players ... the Nats are nine games over when he plays, four under when he doesn’t. He just completed the best first half of his career at a most opportune moment. There’s only one thing left to say: Lock. Him. Up.

Juan Soto: A
You know how good Soto was as a 19-year-old? Well, he’s been even better as a 20-year-old. Yep, he’s got a higher batting average, slugging percentage and OPS this season. And he’s made significant strides in left field and as a baserunner.

Victor Robles: B-
The skills are all there on display, and when he harnesses them he’s really something to watch. But for every position positive plays, he commits one ghastly mistake in the field or on the bases. If he can clean those up, there’s no stopping him.

Adam Eaton: C
For two years, we’ve waited to see what he could do when fully healthy. The answer has been a little underwhelming. Eaton can still work an at-bat, but he’s not producing a whole lot in situations of consequence (.621 OPS with runners in scoring position, .422 with two outs). And he has become a real liability in right field.

Gerardo Parra: B+
An in-season scrap heap pick up, he’s someone become of the most important members of the roster. It feels like every hit he records is a meaningful one, and the entire clubhouse raves about the energy and fun he has brought to a team that sorely needed it.

Michael A. Taylor: D-
Yes, Davey Martinez could’ve played him more, but Taylor didn’t exactly do much to warrant more playing time. Five doubles, zero homers and two RBIs in 85 plate appearances. And his strikeout rate (already sky-high) soared to a ghastly 37.7 percent before he was sent to Harrisburg.

Max Scherzer: A
Remember when he won only two of his first 12 starts and we wondered if he was finally slipping? Well, he wasn’t. He’s now 9-5 with a 2.30 ERA and 0.982 WHIP while increasing his strikeout rate and reducing his walk rate. He is, quite simply, the best.

Stephen Strasburg: B+
There have been a few hiccups along the way, but Strasburg is still putting fewer runners on base than he has in a couple years, he’s adapting well to life without an upper-90s fastball and most importantly he’s made every start without any obvious physical issues.

Patrick Corbin: B+
Started off great, struggled in the middle and now is back on track again. The lefty has proven to be a worthy addition, even at his high price tag, and has given the Nationals a legit “Big Three” atop their rotation.

Aníbal Sánchez: B
Lost his first six decisions, has since won his last five. He’s been a completely different pitcher since returning from a hamstring strain, inducing weak contact and pitching deeper in games. Needs to prove he can sustain this, but he’s looking more and more like the guy who excelled last year in Atlanta.

Austin Voth: C
Stunned everyone when he was throwing in the mid-90s in his season debut, earning a couple more chances to pitch in the big leagues. Those didn’t go as well, and he has now been sent back down ... though perhaps not for long.

Erick Fedde: C+
Just when it looks like he’s turning a corner, he reverts back into the erratic form that has prevented him from realizing his full potential to date. He’ll get another chance, though, and perhaps this is the moment when he seizes a permanent rotation spot at last.

Sean Doolittle: B+
He has pitched (and warmed up) a lot. That’s a byproduct of the rest of the Nats bullpen, but it’s an inescapable fact. And at times lately he’s looked like he’s running on fumes. They desperately need him to be an elite closer the rest of the way. A reliable setup man pitching in front of him would do wonders.

Wander Suero: C-
He’ll be lights-out one night, then completely hittable the next. It made for an agonizing first half. He sometimes looks like a viable setup man, then he follows that up with a performance that makes you question whether he’s a viable big league reliever at all.

Matt Grace: D+
He pitched a ton early on, but now barely appears out of the bullpen. Suffice it to say, it’s been an odd season for the lefty. This much is clear: He’s got to improve vs. righties, who sport a 1.018 OPS against him.

Kyle Barraclough: D-
Acquired to hold a significant role in the bullpen, he was rarely up to the task before landing on the IL with a nerve injury in his right arm three weeks ago. He’s ready to begin a rehab assignment, but the question now is whether the Nats can justify giving him a big league roster spot once he’s healthy.

Tony Sipp: C-
The Nationals thought they were getting a quality lefty matchup reliever. Instead they got a guy who has had more trouble getting lefties out than righties. And now he’s become buried in the bullpen, used only once in the last two weeks.

Tanner Rainey: C+
He seems to have both the stuff and the makeup to pitch the late innings in the big leagues. But his command woes (16 walks or hit batters in 19 innings) prevent him from being considered a reliable option out of the pen.

Javy Guerra: B
Another in-season pickup, the veteran right-hander doesn’t do anything flashy. But he takes the ball whenever the Nats need him, and for however long they need him as well. Every bullpen needs one of those guys, and Guerra has proven valuable since joining the team.

Fernando Rodney/Jonny Venters: INC.
We’ve seen so little of both veterans who only recently were added to the bullpen, but what we have seen so far has been impressive, especially in Rodney’s case. Can either be expected to sustain it at this point? That’s the real question.

Davey Martinez: B
You can question his in-game moves, his bullpen usage and his lineup decisions. You cannot question his ability to connect with players and keep a clubhouse together even during tough times. The Nationals easily could’ve crumbled in late May. They didn’t, and Martinez deserves a lot of credit for helping ensure that.

Mike Rizzo: C
The good: Corbin, the catching tandem, Dozier, Sánchez, Parra and (maybe) Rodney. The bad: Trevor Rosenthal, Barraclough and organizational depth in general. Rizzo has a chance to make up for it, though, with a big July. Bolster the bullpen and re-sign Rendon, and 2019 could end up being quite memorable after all.

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