WASHINGTON – The Nationals Anthem for July should be one of my favorite songs – by Bon Jovi – “Half Way There.”
But, unlike the full title “Livin’ On A Prayer”, the Nats are for real, livin’ a dream for their fans.
As MASN TV host Johnny Holiday told me, this team is a year ahead of schedule. Most people figured the Nationals would be serious contenders in 2013, when Stephen Strasburg had a no-innings limit and Bryce Harper would be playing full- time.
Well, Harper’s here now and is a real spark and Strasburg is making the most of his first full season in the majors.
But a number of other factors have also contributed to the Nats success in 2012 and should continue through the second half of the season.
First, the pitching has been phenomenal. It’s the best in the majors in just about every category.
Jordan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasberg, and Gio Gonzalez are all in the top 12 in National League ERA. Gonzalez has been better than advertised. His twelve wins are tied for the league lead.
Second, the bullpen has been nearly lights out.
Amazingly, the Nats are tied for third in the National League with 28 saves and their closer hasn’t even thrown a major league pitch this season. Drew Storen will be back very soon.
Same for Chien-Ming Wang.
Wang has had to battle through injuries and refining his delivery. The two are probably related. If he rediscovers his old Yankees form when he won 19 games twice, the Nats have their rotation replacement when Strasburg hits his 160 inning limit. If not, there’s always John Lannan, who could be brought up from the minors.
Third, the offense is coming to life.
Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond are on pace for career years. They have nearly identical numbers. LaRoche has 15 homers and 53 rbi’s, while Desmond has 17 and 51. They carried the Nats the first three months of the season.
Now, Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse and Danny Espinosa are starting to do damage at the plate.
Zim has been on fire since getting a cortisone shot in his sore shoulder. Morse has found his timing after missing the first two months of the season, and Espinosa is showing consistency as a switch-hitter.
Add to that the return of Jayson Werth next month from a broken wrist. That could put the Nats over the top, barring further injuries.
The Nationals have certainly lost a lot of players, but the reason they’ve succeeded so far – and should continue to do so – is Davey Johnson.
At the age of 69, he’s still one of the best managers in baseball, if not the best. He has this team playing with confidence.
If they get all their pieces on the field at the same time, Davey will continue to flash his big smile and the dog days of summer in D.C. will seem like a refreshing breeze.