The halfway point of the 2013 season is upon us, and that means it's time to evaluate how well—or not so well—individual players have performed.
When it comes to the Washington Nationals, there's a bevy of both "winners" and "losers" in the first half of this season. The Nats' success has been touch-and-go thus far, but in the midst of injury and bad luck there are a few who have managed to rise to the occasion.
Based on their individual success and overall contribution to the team—or lack thereof—here are the three biggest losers and winners of the first half of the Nats' season.
No one on the Nationals’ roster has had a worst first half of the season than Danny Espinosa.
Espinosa is notorious for being stubbornly tough. During spring training, he opted to forgo surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff and play through the pain. Over a two-month period from April to June, he chose to play with a fractured wrist rather than rest. Now, those decisions have taken their toll in the worst way.
Because of his injuries, Espinosa has struggled to generate offense all season, and on June 19 he was officially optioned to Class AAA Syracuse. He’s hitting a depressing .106 with the Chiefs.
To add insult to injury—literally—Anthony Rendon has been shining as Espinosa’s replacement.
The saddest part about Espinosa’s situation is that it was 100% preventable. Hopefully he, and his trainers, will make wiser decisions about his health in the future. As of right now, his place with the Nats is completely up in the air.
Dan Haren has been a weak link in an otherwise dominant starting rotation throughout the entire first half of the season.
His 6.15 ERA is the worst in the league (Ironically, Edwin Jackson comes in with the second-worst ERA at 5.84). He’s given up 19 home runs, tied for the most of any pitcher, and hasn’t won a game since May 9.
What might be most disconcerting about Haren’s inefficiency, however, is that there doesn’t seem to be any real reason for it. The Nationals officially placed him on the 15-day DL on Sunday, but an MRI of his shoulder revealed no damage. He received a cortisone shot for inflammation and stiffness, and is expected to resume throwing soon.
It goes without saying, if Haren doesn’t improve, the Nats will likely be compelled to seek alternatives to fill his spot in the rotation.
Unlike the other "biggest losers" on this list, Ryan Mattheus hasn't underperformed. Actually, he's done a solid job in his role as a setup man for the Nats.
What has earned Mattheus his spot as a "loser" was his anger-fueled decision to punch a locker with his throwing hand.
On May 19, with the Nats already trailing 4-7, Mattheus gave up five runs to the San Diego Padres. No one can blame him for being frustrated with himself, but he should have known better than to get in a fight with a locker. The outburst cost him a broken pinky, and the team an important member of its bullpen during a time when its starting lineup was already lacking.
Luckily for Mattheus, his recovery is coming along quickly. The bone has healed and he has begun throwing again, with a return expected mid-July.
Hopefully he's learned his lesson and won't tempt any other injuries in the second half of the season.
Ian Desmond has had a tremendous first half of the season.
Even when the Nationals were going through an offensive drought, Desmond could be counted on to get a hit. He leads the Nats in both home runs (13) and RBI (43). He owns the only grand slam Washington has on the season, an 11th inning, game-winning knock against the Phillies on June 19. His fielding is equally impressive—he's currently on a career-high 59-game errorless streak.
Desmond made the All-Star team in 2012, but an oblique injury kept him from playing. This season he's making his bid to be on the team again, and with fellow shortstop candidates Troy Tulowitzki (COL) and Everth Cabrera (SD) battling injuries, Desmond could likely get his chance to shine.
Ever since getting the call-up on June 4, Anthony Rendon has been on an absolute tear.
Rendon has both the best average (.354) and OBP (.402) of the Nationals. His slugging percentage (.485) is second-best to Bryce Harper.
Rendon's injection of offense has awakened his teammates' bats, as well. As the saying goes, success breeds success, and it seems that Rendon was just the success Washington needed to break out of its offensive slump.
If Rendon has a shortcoming, however, it's in his fielding. He's committed eight errors in 29 games played, the second-most after Ryan Zimmerman (11). Granted, second base is not his natural position. As he grows more accustomed to the position, his fielding will no doubt improve.
When that happens, the sky will be the limit for the rookie.
When discussing everything good about the Washington Nationals, Jordan Zimmermann can never be left out of the conversation.
He may be the third starter, but all season long Zimmermann has been the most dominant and effective pitcher in Washington's rotation. Currently, he's tied with Max Scherzer (DET) for the most wins in the league, with a record of 11-3.
He has the seventh-best ERA at 2.28, and the fourth-best WHIP at 0.92. In his last 10 starts, he's gone eight innings three times, and seven innings five times. On the season, he's never pitched less than five innings in a start.
When it comes to Zimmermann, the numbers really do speak for themselves.
There's no doubt he's in the running to be a part of the All-Star game. According to his teammate and fellow candidate, Ian Desmond: "I think he should probably start the game."
Even if he doesn't start for Bruce Bochy's NL team, Zimmermann will continue to be the rock of the Nats' starting rotation, and a likely contender for the NL Cy Young Award come the end of the season.