The Washington Nationals were lukewarm heading into the All-Star break, having split their last 10 games. They now sit one game above .500 and six games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East standings.
But what about individual Nats players? Who's hot? Who's not?
Here is a list of the hottest and coldest Nationals players heading into the second half, starting with the hottest. This ranking lists the players in ascending order by intensity (for example: hot, hotter, hottest).
Note: All statistics updated through July 14 courtesy of MLB.com unless noted otherwise.
Perhaps the coldest player on the Nationals for most of the first half, Dan Haren may finally be thawing out.
Haren made his first start after returning from the disabled list on July 8, and it was his best start since May 30.
The right-hander lasted five innings against the Philadelphia Phillies, giving up seven hits and two earned runs while walking three and striking out seven.
Then, on July 13 against the Miami Marlins, Haren followed up that solid start with his best outing of the season.
Haren threw six innings of three-hit, shutout ball, walking one and striking out seven in the process.
Despite this recent warming, Haren will be under close watch by manager Davey Johnson for fear of another deep freeze.
"The Buffalo" has been on a stampede since he rejoined the Nationals' lineup.
Wilson Ramos has only been back since July 4. He played the following day as well, as he excelled in two consecutive national Independence Days, first for the United States and then for his native Venezuela.
In the nine games he has played since his return, Ramos has 12 hits in 32 at-bats for a .375 average. The 25-year-old has two doubles and two home runs in that span, with 11 RBI and four runs scored.
Ramos talked to James Wagner of The Washington Post July 11 about his recent play:
I’m happy for how I feel right now at the plate. I’m happy for what I’m doing. I was on the DL for a long time so after that I come here and hitting like that makes me feel great and feel happy. That’s what I want to help the team as much as I can and I keep doing that.
Ramos' performance is even more impressive because it came immediately after a 44-game absence.
Gio Gonzalez is on fire heading into the second half of the season.
In his last four starts, Gonzalez is 4-0 with four quality starts and 27 innings pitched. He has surrendered 26 hits, two home runs and only six earned runs in those starts, while striking out 21 and walking only six.
Dan Kolko of MASNSports.com wrote on July 11 that Gonzalez has been hot for more than just his last four starts, pointing out that "over his last 13 starts, beginning May 5, Gonzalez has a 2.18 ERA, .203 batting average against and has surrendered more than two earned runs in an outing just twice."
Fellow starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann has noticed this trend, too, as he told Kolko:
I think the main three [starters] who everyone talks about have been really good all year. Gio a little bit at the beginning, but the numbers at the beginning of the season are always inflated, both good and bad. I think what you've seen from Gio over the last two months is more what we expect from him and I'm sure what he expects from himself.
Gonzalez will expect himself to continue pitching well in the second half of the season.
After a solid start to the season, Denard Span has struggled to hit consistently at the top of the Nationals lineup.
On July 14, Chase Hughes of CSNWashington.com detailed how poorly Span has performed at the plate in recent weeks, via Twitter:
Denard Span is hitting .255 on the season after batting .235 in June. He's hitting .208 through 12 games this month: http://t.co/BmBfM5qlau
— Chase Hughes (@chasehughesCSN) July 14, 2013
Span's lackluster performance earned him a demotion in the batting order that went into effect the very same day. James Wagner of The Washington Post tweeted Span's thoughts on the demotion:
Denard Span honest about being dropped in the lineup. Says he tries something new in the box every day. "I haven't felt too comfortable."
— James Wagner (@JamesWagnerWP) July 14, 2013
Luckily for the Nats, Span responded to the move. Span had three hits in five at-bats in the last game of the first half, with two RBI and one run scored. His biggest hit was the go-ahead RBI double in the top of the 10th.
However, one game does not negate a long cold spell, especially when Span had only one hit in his previous 20 at-bats prior to July 14. Span must get hot right out of the gates in the second half of the season.
Bryce Harper has suddenly gone cold, and it's affecting the ballclub.
Since July 9, Harper has three hits in 23 at-bats, with no home runs and no RBI. The frustration is getting to him, and it shows.
On July 13, he scored the Nationals' only run on a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning against the Miami Marlins. But Harper got thrown out of the game in the eighth inning after arguing balls and strikes with home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt.
His ejection had ripple effects.
Harper's place in left field was taken by Scott Hairston, a versatile outfielder who has some pop in his bat. But when Hairston got his first chance to bat in Harper's spot in the order in the top of the 10th inning, his bat didn't pop—it fizzled.
Hairston, a specialist against left-handed pitching, struck out with a runner on second and third with one out against the right-hander Steve Cishek. The numbers would've favored Harper in that situation and not Hairston.
Ryan Zimmerman struck out after Hairston to end the inning. The Marlins walked off in the bottom of the 10th on a bases-loaded fielder's choice, after a two-base throwing error by Chad Tracy.
Shortstop Ian Desmond told Bill Ladson of MLB.com after the game that Harper needed to stay in the game:
I usually try to say the right thing, I guess, but we have to have our three-hole hitter in the game right there. It's as simple as that. The person that hits in the three-hole is usually your best hitter, one of your better players, usually the best. There is no doubt that his skill set is there, but ... in a one-run ballgame ... we need that game. That's the game you have to stay in, no matter what. Sometimes you have to bite your tongue. You get bad calls against us. The umpires didn't look at the replays or anything like that. But you have to stay in the game -- you have to for your team.
Perhaps Harper's participation in the individual competition of the Home Run Derby helped him clear his mind for when he returns to his team.
For most of the first half, Stephen Strasburg pitched well enough to be considered an All-Star snub when he was not named to the National League roster. But he has not pitched like an All-Star recently.
In his last two starts, Strasburg has thrown a total of eight innings, yet he has given up a total of 11 earned runs. That translates to a disastrous 12.38 ERA over those two starts.
In the first outing on July 7, Strasburg lasted six innings, while surrendering seven hits, one home run and four earned runs, with two walks and nine strikeouts.
Strasburg fared even worse on July 12. He lasted only two innings, yet he surrendered five hits, one home run and seven earned runs, with four walks and only two strikeouts. It was the worst loss of his career, as reported by ESPN.com.
After the game, Davey Johnson expressed his shock to Amanda Comak of The Washington Times, via Twitter:
Davey on Stephen Strasburg. "It can happen to anybody but it's kind of remarkable to happen to him."— Amanda Comak (@acomak) July 13, 2013
Comak then spoke to Johnson and Strasburg himself about a possible cause for the right-hander's difficulties over these last two starts:
Davey & Strasburg agreed Strasburg was having mechanical issues. Strasburg said he's battled 'em last few starts, couldn't get right tonight— Amanda Comak (@acomak) July 13, 2013
Maybe it's for the best that Strasburg missed the All-Star Game. That way, he can work on his mechanical issues and be ready for the second half of the season.