Jul 16, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT
For baseball fans, there are perhaps no more frustrating days in the calendar year than these, the gap between Tuesday’s All-Star Game and Friday’s resumption of the regular season. For sportswriters, though, these days offer up an obvious opportunity to look back at what has happened to date and what may still happen moving forward.
So this morning we take one final look back at the first half of the season and hand out some report cards. This is never an easy exercise, and there’s never consensus among everybody on these grades. Just do me a favor: If you choose to disagree with any of these, please do so respectfully.
With that, here’s how everyone on the Nationals graded out in the season’s first half…
WILSON RAMOS: C
The good thing is that he’s been healthy and more durable than ever before in his career, on pace to catch 127 games. The bad part is that his production has diminished some, with career-worst on-base (.284) and slugging (.390) percentages. He has also made several costly defensive mistakes.
JOSE LOBATON: C
As a backup catcher, he’s perfectly fine, capable of filling in when needed and providing the occasional big hit. Behind the plate, he’s very good and has become Gio Gonzalez’s de facto personal catcher.
RYAN ZIMMERMAN: D+
The last several years have been frustrating for the Face of the Franchse, and this one may top them all. Despite an incredibly smooth transition to first base, he has struggled big-time at the plate (his .611 OPS is more than 200 points worse than his career mark) and has been on the DL more than a month with plantar fasciitis.
ANTHONY RENDON: INC
Tough to give a fair assessment to a guy who has only played in 18 games this season due to three separate injuries (knee, oblique, quad). The Nationals desperately need him healthy and productive in the second half.
IAN DESMOND: D-
It’s been a disastrous season to date for the three-time Silver Slugger Award winner. He managed to overcome his early season defensive woes, but his bat has yet to come around. The Nats remain committed to him, but his lack of production has been tough to swallow.
YUNEL ESCOBAR: A
His acquisition from Oakland in exchange for Tyler Clippard was questioned at the time, but where would the Nats be now without him? His ability to put together consistent, quality at-bats has been a huge boost for a lineup lacking in those type of hitters.
DANNY ESPINOSA: B+
Nobody — I mean nobody — expected this out of him. He was supposed to give up switch-hitting this season. Somehow, that turned into him completely revamping his left-handed swing to the point he now leads all NL second basemen with 10 homers. He has also played five positions, including three for the first time in his career (left field, third base, first base).
DAN UGGLA: C+
His dramatic homer to complete the Nats’ record-setting comeback in Atlanta in late-April will forever make him an integral part of this club, but he hasn’t done a whole lot of damage since then. He has, however, proven a more adept pinch-hitter than anticipated, going 4-for-16 with five walks in that role.
JAYSON WERTH: D
He started the season on the DL and ended the first half on the DL. In between, he hit just .208 with a paltry .581 OPS and concerning lack of power. Aiming for an August 1 return from a broken wrist, he hopes to make a different down the stretch. But at 36, what can realistically be expected at this point?
DENARD SPAN: A-
When he has played, he has been phenomenal, and critical to the Nats’ success (they’re 11 games over .500 when he plays, 2 games under when he doesn’t). The concern is that a lingering back injury is keeping him from playing every day. He’s currently on the DL, though the hope is that this will be a short stint.
BRYCE HARPER: A+
What more could he possibly have done in the season’s first half? This has been a brilliant breakthrough for the 22-year-old, who has a chance to be the first player to hit .340 with 50 homers in a season since Mickey Mantle in 1956. All he needs to do — knock on wood — is stay healthy.
MICHAEL TAYLOR: B-
Ideally, the Nationals wanted him playing center field every day in Syracuse. Injuries, though, have forced him to be on the big-league roster. He has responded quite well, showing a knack for producing big hits (he has 32 RBI in only 232 at-bats). He’s still inconsistent, as you’d expect a rookie to be, but he keeps showing signs of progress along the way.
CLINT ROBINSON: B+
Barely known when the season began, he has turned into a critical member of the roster, taking over as the regular first baseman and often cleanup hitter with Ryan Zimmerman on the DL. The 30-year-old rookie always hit in the minors, and he’s showing that can translate at the big-league level now that he’s been given the opportunity.
TYLER MOORE: C+
At times, he seems like a forgotten man on the Nats’ bench, not given as many opportunities to start in place of injured regulars as several others. He still has his moments, though, and has shown an ability to drive in a key run every now and again.
MATT DEN DEKKER: C
Acquired at the end of spring training for lefty Jerry Blevins, he was supposed to provide some much-needed outfield depth. The Nats kept passing him over for promotions, though, until finally calling him back up recently. He has done fine when used, though opportunities continue to be sparse.
MAX SCHERZER: A+
Who says the Nationals didn’t need to spend all that money to bolster what was already their biggest strength? The ace has been everything they could have wanted, and then some. The only concern as the second half begins: Can he hold up physically while taking on the biggest workload of his career?
JORDAN ZIMMERMANN: B+
It’s been a bit of an inconsistent season to date for the guy who usually has been Mr. Consistency. The right-hander continues to be really good most of the time, though, putting up numbers pretty close to his career norms as free agency looms.
STEPHEN STRASBURG: D+
It’s been an awfully frustrating season to date for him, trying to battle through the worst prolonged stretch of his career and some nagging injuries. Then, just when it looked like he had recaptured the form that tantalized us so much when he first arrived in D.C., he suffered another freak injury (oblique) and now is back on the DL again.
DOUG FISTER: C
It was an inconsistent first half for the veteran right-hander as well, just as it was for several teammates. He missed a month with a forearm injury and is still trying to feel his way back from that. Another soon-to-be free agent, he’d love to put up some big numbers the rest of the way.
GIO GONZALEZ: B-
He can be maddening to watch at times, but when he’s on, he remains as good as almost any lefty in the game. The key is finding some level of consistency, which he has perhaps found in batterymate Jose Lobaton, who seems to bring out the best in him.
DREW STOREN: A
Yes, he still must prove himself in October (as must the entire team). But boy has he been really, really good for a long time now, dating all the way back to his return from the minors in August 2013. Deserved a spot on the All-Star team but got caught in a numbers game and wasn’t selected.
CASEY JANSSEN: C
Signed over the winter to be the Nats’ new setup man, he wound up missing six weeks with shoulder inflammation. Since finally debuting, he has been good at times, unable to get hitters out with less-than-dominant stuff at others. He desperately wants to prove he can get the job done. The time has come.
AARON BARRETT: C-
Can be incredibly effective against right-handed hitters, with his devastating slider. But he also can be highly ineffective when things start to spiral. Also missed significant time with a biceps strain.
BLAKE TREINEN: C
The stuff is as good as anybody’s on the staff. It’s just a matter of how he uses it and whether he has it on a given night. When he’s on, he’s unhittable. When he’s off, it’s not pretty.
MATT THORNTON: B
You would think the 38-year-old lefty would have more than 32 appearances and 21 1/3 innings at this point, but manager Matt Williams has tried to avoid wearing him down too much too soon. At some point, though, he’s going to need to regularly pitch on back-to-back days.
TANNER ROARK: B-
The jack of all trades is never fazed by whatever role he is thrust into, and he has more often than not gotten the job done in impressive fashion. For whatever reason, though, he does have the occasional knack for implode, most notably in serving up home runs (10 in only 61 innings).
FELIPE RIVERO: B+
The young lefty has got a power arm and could prove to be a real weapon down the stretch. He has 17 strikeouts and only two walks in 15 innings. It’s just a matter of earning the confidence of his manager to be used in big spots on a regular basis.
DAVID CARPENTER: B+
Picked up off the scrap heap in midseason, the veteran right-hander has done a nice job when called upon. He has only made eight appearances, though, so it’s hard to say for sure whether he has righted his ship or not.
MATT WILLIAMS: B
More relaxed and more comfortable in his second year as a big-league manager, he has the unquestioned respect of his clubhouse. And he has forged a strong relationship with Bryce Harper, something that some doubted would happen last year. Still needs to strike a balance between leaving a starting pitcher in too long and letting him finish what he started.
MIKE RIZZO: B
The GM once again made what look in hindsight like brilliant offseason moves, signing Max Scherzer, trading for Yunel Escobar and remaking his team’s bench with Clint Robinson, Dan Uggla and others. But he hasn’t been perfect. He turned over almost his entire bullpen, and that unit remains a work-in-progress, with changes made regularly in-season. Faces a critical few weeks before the July 31 trade deadline. Does he go all-in and try to add somebody who could put them over the top this year, or does he continue to stress the importance of long-term success?
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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