Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman have been big pieces of Washington's success so far this year. (Image Credit: Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE)

Washington's in First at Season's Halfway Point

With Major League Baseball officially on break for the next few days for the All Star Game, it would appear as good a time as any to start examining the 2012 season’s first half before we look ahead to the remainder of the year.

As things stand today, the Nationals find themselves with a 49-34 record and a comfortable 4 game lead in the National League East. Their .590 winning percentage is the best in the NL and third best in the Major Leagues (behind only Texas and New York). Washington has a run differential (runs scored vs. runs allowed) of +58, good for the second best mark in the NL (behind only St. Louis), which is likely largely influenced by the fact that the team’s pitching has allowed only 290 runs, the lowest total in all of baseball.

The team has been fairly consistent as well, going 24-16 at home and 25-18 on the road. Attendance at Nationals Park has been reaching figures with consistency that the organization has not seen since they first arrived in Washington for the 2005 season.

The Nationals are 16-9 against NL East opponents, a good sign considering how many more times they’ll face their own division thanks to the unbalanced schedule. They’re 12-7 against the Central, 11-10 versus the West, and went 10-8 in interleague play.

As if we hadn’t noticed, pitching has been key to Washington’s success so far this year. Nationals pitchers have compiled a collective 3.19 ERA. The MLB average sits at 4.00, the NL at 3.97. Opponents are batting just .231, better than the league average of .254 by over 20 points. They’ve also racked up 688 strikeouts, better than every team in the NL outside of Milwaukee and Philadelphia.

Offensively the Nationals are right in the middle of the pack. Their .250 batting average ranks 9th in the league and the .314 on base percentage is tied for 10th, but they are 5th in home runs (with 89) and first in doubles (170).

To further analyze what the team has been able to do in the season’s first half, I recently polled the rest of the DoD staffers to gauge their opinions on a number of factors. What follows are our collective results on what we’ve witnessed on the season to date.

Most valuable player?

Ian Desmond received the bulk of the votes here, mostly due to his offensive production at the plate. He’s batting .282/.314/.506 and leads the team with 16 HR. For a player who was so soured on by Nationals fans heading into the season, this is a testament to just how far he has come in a few months time. His clutch hitting, in particular, was cited as reasoning for some of the votes. Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez also received mention.

Most valuable pitcher?

Gonzalez edged out Strasburg for this one, but by a slim margin. His 12 victories tie him with New York’s R.A. Dickey for tops in the Majors and the left-hander is headed for his second straight All Star Game after being the major piece acquired by the Nationals during this past offseason. Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard, who’ve both been enormously important out of the bullpen, also were mentioned.

Biggest surprise?

Responses were mixed here, as Desmond’s power production and the successful arrival of Bryce Harper both received multiple votes. Mentions were also made for the overall pitching dominance and the strong play coming from Jhonatan Solano.

Biggest disappointment?

Danny Espinosa takes this one, though it was not by a wide margin over the seemingly never-ending rash of injuries the team faced early on in the season, particularly Ryan Zimmerman‘s recovery from his shoulder injury. Espinosa, who some (myself included) thought was primed for a big year has hit just .234/.311/.378 so far on the year and has already struck out 94 times. Xavier Nady‘s poor production off the bench also earned a mention.

Who will have the biggest second half?

Michael Morse overwhelmingly took the vote here, which truly was no surprise. Last year’s top offensive threat has had a rocky start to 2012, first missing nearly two months with an oblique injury and struggling to regain his timing since making his return. Zimmerman was also named on a ballot or two, with some hope that the cortisone shot to the shoulder will help him justify the contract extension he signed before the end of Spring Training.

That’s it for the 2012 season’s first half. Nationals and DoD fans, we’d love to hear who your choices would have been.

Tags: Bryce Harper Danny Espinosa Gio Gonzalez Ian Desmond Michael Morse Nationals Washington Nationals

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