Despite a disappointing series loss to the Colorado Rockies this weekend, the Washington Nationals have officially wrapped up the first half of their season with the best record in the National League. At 49-34, the club finds themselves with a commanding lead in the hyper-competitive National League east, leading the second place Atlanta Braves by four games, and the upstart New York Mets by 4.5.
Winning has brought a new energy both to the guys in the dugout, as well as the fans who have began to flock to the Navy Yard even on the hottest of D.C. summer days. The city is excited to watch this team play, and the team is determined to go out every day and compete. It's a dynamic that any baseball fan who has rooted for a winner at some point in their lives has experienced. I remember rooting for the Mets alongside my dad as Bobby Valentine led a group of rag tags to the World Series, and who can forget the Orioles in the mid 1990's going wire-to-wire to earn the AL East Crown. But now, for the first time, that dynamic has found itself in Nats Park, and finally the city is starting to fall in love with what baseball has to offer.
Sometimes I feel like the excitement of 2012 makes us forget just how different being a Nationals fan was in recent years. The club has had six starting pitchers this season, and outside of an early outfield shuffle, the team's management has found themselves in the situation of figuring out how to find their players playing time, and have not been left scratching their head trying to figure out how to field a team.
One major theme in previous seasons was the hype, promotion, and often eventual failure of players from Triple-A. Players often failed to get it done at the MLB level in Washington, which had fans keeping a close eye on Syracuse for the even a slight bit of hope. That's just not happening this year, which of course makes sense. Today though, I took a look at the Chiefs stat sheet just to see what players we might be going crazy about were this 2007 or 2008.
Zach Duke - 10-3, 3.68 ERA in 110 IP - The Argument: He's a former All-Star! He's ready to return to big league dominance.
Yunesky Maya - 6-7, 3.68 ERA in 107 IP - The Argument: The investment has finally paid off. Maya has finally returned to the form he showed in Cuba and is ready to join the Nats starting rotation.
John Lannan - 6-8, 4.60 ERA in 101 IP - The Argument: Has allowed one or fewer earned runs in five of his past eight starts. He's a former opening day starter!
Xavier Paul - .318/.379/.517 8 HR, 44 RBI in 59 G - The Argument: Career .246/.288/.341 line in 188 MLB games is irrelevant, he's going to be a star for Washington.
Corey Brown - .296/.382/.561 19 HR, 52 RBI in 84 G - The Argument: He's the next Jayson Werth.
@KevingJohnCostello - while I agree about Duke, Maya and Lannan being nothing more than insurance policies at this point who have no future with the organization, I disagree that there is "nothing to get excited about" in the Nats' minor league system. Beyond Brown, who is intriguing, Eury Perez, Jeff Kobernus, Zach Walters and Sandy Leon are all young players at AA Harrisburg making a case that they will be MLB ready within the next year or so. We finally have an actual player PIPELINE, and that is very exciting, indeed.
@TheNatsBlog I don't understand your reasoning. Walters is 22 in AA, yet has an OPS of .988. Perez, also 22, is holding his own and is considered a plus defensive outfielder, Leon, young for a AA catcher at 23, has an OPS of .849 and is also considered a plus defender. Only Kobernus at 24 is not young for his league. All of these guys look to be at least contributors at the MLB level, which is worth a lot more than "not anything."
Xavier Paul is no longer with Syracuse. He opted out of his contract last week, and since signed with Louisville. I think that Corey Brown may be the only one of these players to be excited about. Lannan had a bad previous start, and would come only in an emergency. I think the Nats may even trade for a pitcher. Zach Duke was an All-Star who finished 11-16 that year. Like Duke, Yuniesky Maya has proven pretty well that he is not a major-league pitcher. He lost again yesterday, and has given up home runs in 5 straight games. The future is now for the Nats. There is not much to be excited about down on the farm, at least until some of the more recent draft picks develop. It was worth paying for Gio Gonzalez, but as a result, the Nats will need to excel with the players they have locked in on the big club. The depth is no longer there. +1/2St.
@KevinJohnCostello Yes...that's the point...Nationals fans aren't creating false hopes behind meaningless first-half Triple-A numbers...