The Nationals were arguably baseball's biggest surprise in the first half of the season. Now, the big
question is if they can keep it up in the homestretch.
They ended the first half with a 49-34 record after the Rockies pushed across a run in the ninth to beat
the Nats, 4-3, on Sunday. The Nationals go into the All-Star break with a four-game lead over the Braves in
the National League East.
"It was a great first half," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "I'm proud of the guys."
Much of what happens with the Nationals in the second half could depend upon the team's decision about
how they will treat right-hander Stephen Strasburg.
Since this is his first full season back after arm surgery, the Nationals have mentioned several times
that they want to limit his innings to about 160-170 this season.
That would likely end his season at some point in late August or early September. They want Strasburg
for the long haul and feel this is the safest way to handle things. They did this with right-hander Jordan
Zimmermann in the same situation last year, and he's done well so far this season.
If the Nationals are really going to stick with this, then they might think of looking for another solid
starter to pick up at the trade deadline.
Left-hander Gio Gonzalez has been solid at No. 2. He's got 12 wins, tied for first in the majors, and
Gonzalez (an All-Star pick) easily could serve as a No. 1. That's no problem.
Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson are still there, and both have done well in the first half. The No. 5
starter position remains in question, turning into a battle between Chien-Ming Wang (on DL with hip injury)
and Ross Detwiler.
If the Nationals won't have Strasburg, another solid starter would help them greatly. They would be in
pretty good shape in a short playoff series without him, but they've got to reach postseason play first.
The Nationals also should get a break from the injury problems they somehow got through in the first
Right fielder Jayson Werth should be back at some point in the second half. Michael Morse missed the
first 50 games, but he's now back and rounding into form.
Ryan Zimmerman's shoulder finally appears to be healing, and he's also finding his way. But they'll also
get right-hander Drew Storen back to help the bullpen, possibly later this week, and top pinch-hitter Chad
Tracy will return soon.
In the end, the major question is going to be how the Nationals handle the Strasburg situation.
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