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The Nationals have hovered around .500, even with Jayson Werth hitting .223.
1) Ryan Zimmerman would spend nine weeks on the disabled list.
2) Adam LaRoche would hit .172 and be lost for the season with a shoulder injury.
3) Jayson Werth would hit .223 and be on pace to drive in 54 runs.
4) Stephen Strasburg would not have thrown a pitch in the majors (though you already knew that would be the case going in).
5) The Nationals would hit the halfway point of the season with a 40-41 record.
Who amongst you could have imagined facts 1-through-4 would result in fact 5? When you put it this way, it's pretty impossible to believe, isn't it? But there the Nationals are, one game under .500 after 81 wild and wacky games that have in many ways defied logic.
Forget, if you can for a moment, the managerial carousel of the last week and focus simply on the baseball aspect of the 2011 season to date. What have we learned about this Nationals club?
Well, it's produced the best pitching staff we've seen in these parts since the inaugural 2005 season. Actually, this staff has been considerably better than that '05 bunch. John Patterson, Esteban Loaiza, Chad Cordero and Co. posted a 3.87 ERA back then, carrying a team that was severely lacking in offensive punch through a surprise pennant race. Jordan Zimmermann, John Lannan, Drew Storen and Co. have posted a 3.51 ERA this season, again carrying a team that is severely lacking in offensive punch.
This Nationals club has also played sparkling defense (with a few minor blips along the way), seeing Danny Espinosa establish himself as a Gold Glove-caliber second baseman, Ian Desmond establish himself as a steady shortstop after all of last year's struggles, Michael Morse establish himself as a solid first baseman (who knew?) and Wilson Ramos establish himself as the best-throwing catcher in the game.
That combination of quality pitching and solid defense should be enough to lift a team into the heat of a pennant race. Yet these Nationals remain just below the .500 mark, having needed to go on a two-week tear just to get themselves back near sea level.
That's because they've produced less offense than in any previous season they've called D.C. home. Even that 2005 squad -- which boasted a 37-year-old Vinny Castilla, a .219-hitting Cristian Guzman and pinch-hitter extraordinaire Carlos Baerga -- hit a collective .252 with a .708 OPS. Those numbers ranked last in the NL, but the 2011 Nationals would kill to be as productive at the plate.
This year's lineup is batting a collective .232 (worst in the NL) with a .671 OPS (amazingly ahead of the Pirates, Giants and Padres). Werth has done virtually nothing to contribute offensively. LaRoche did nothing to contribute offensively during his 1 1/2 months in the lineup. Zimmerman hasn't found his stroke yet since returning from the DL.
So what can be expected over the next 81 games? The optimist will say if these guys just start to hit a little better, they can start winning a few more low-scoring pitchers' duels (even though they've incredibly won 10 games already when scoring two or fewer runs).
The pessimist will say the pitching staff is bound to regress over the season's second half, with Lannan, Livan Hernandez and Jason Marquis reverting back to career norms and Zimmermann having to be shut down once he reaches his limit of roughly 160 innings in his first season back from Tommy John surgery.
The realist will say the likely outcome lies somewhere in between all that. The lineup has to start producing more. Zimmerman will get better as he gets more at-bats. Werth can't be this bad over an entire season. The pitching staff will regress some, but probably not as much as you fear. Lannan seems to have turned a significant corner in his fourth big-league season. Hernandez has reinvented himself in his mid-30s. And Zimmermann is the real deal, even if he won't be allowed to finish the season.
So where does that leave the Nationals by season's end? Probably not in the thick of the NL wild-card race. But probably not in the thick of the race for the No. 1 draft pick, either. Players inside that clubhouse would love to finish with a winning record for the first time since the franchise arrived in town, and that's a realistic goal to set. It may not be reached. And even if it isn't, this season can still be deemed a success because of the development of so many key, young, core players.
The first half of the 2011 season may not have played out exactly as any of us could have envisioned back on Opening Day. But the end result probably is close to what we expected. If nothing else, it gives us plenty of reason to care about what transpires over the second half of figures to be a highly compelling season.