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Nats in April: Encouragingdiscouraging

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Nats in April: Encouragingdiscouraging

After a rough trip out west that ended with four consecutive losses to the Padres and Dodgers, the Nationals are enjoying a much-needed day of rest. So let's use this off-day, as well as the fact it's the final day of the month, to take a look at both the encouraging and discouraging developments of the season to date...

ENCOURAGING: The Nationals rotation has been, plain and simple, awesome. We're running out of superlatives to describe this group of starters, so let's just run through the stats. The rotation's collective ERA now stands at 1.78 (the Cardinals rank second in the majors at 2.57). Opponents are hitting .186 against Nationals starters. They rank second in the league with 129 strikeouts while issuing the second-fewest walks in the league (32). In 16 of 22 games to date, Nationals starters have surrendered zero or one earned run.

DISCOURAGING: Despite all those sparkling numbers, the Nationals' rotation has a collective record of 8-4. That's what happens when you've got a weak lineup and a bullpen that has blown four saves.

ENCOURAGING: Adam LaRoche just completed the best April of his career. The notorious slow starter has been the Nationals' most-productive and most-consistent player so far and enters May with a .329 average, a .415 on-base percentage, a .549 slugging percentage and a .964 OPS that ranks sixth among all qualifying hitters in the National League. Oh, and for those wondering, Prince Fielder's OPS right now is a pedestrian .832.

DISCOURAGING: With Michael Morse out since Opening Day with a strained lat muscle, the Nationals have received virtually zero production out of left field. Their combined stats from that position: a .111 average, .215 on-base percentage and .148 slugging percentage. Bryce Harper may struggle at times in his first taste of the big leagues, but he can't put up worse numbers than that, right?

ENCOURAGING: Remember when the Nationals were far and away the majors' worst-fielding club? Not anymore. They've committed only 11 errors in 22 games, tied with the Phillies and Cardinals for the fewest in the NL. If they handed out Gold Glove awards today, no fewer than five Nats would get serious consideration: LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and Rick Ankiel.

DISCOURAGING: The defensive play has not been as crisp behind the plate, where Wilson Ramos has struggled. Ramos has had a difficult time holding onto throws from the outfield, he's had trouble preventing wild pitches from reaching the backstop and he's only thrown out 1 of 13 base stealers. That's in stark contrast to a year ago, when he gunned down an impressive 32 percent of runners.

ENCOURAGING: They don't get a lot of attention, but relievers Craig Stammen and Sean Burnett have been outstanding so far this season. Stammen has really taken to his first prolonged stint in the bullpen and boasts an 0.84 ERA, plus 12 strikeouts in 10 23 innings. Burnett, meanwhile, has picked up where he left off at the end of 2011. He's yet to allow a run and has put up a stellar 10-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The lefty has also stranded five of six inherited runners.

DISCOURAGING: As good as the pitching staff has been overall, the Nationals face a potentially tenuous situation in the ninth inning moving forward. Drew Storen had a bone chip removed from his right elbow and won't be ready to return until midsummer. Brad Lidge blew two of four save opportunities and now is on the DL with an abdominal strain. And Henry Rodriguez, who was brilliant for much of April, suffered a meltdown of epic proportions Saturday night in Los Angeles. The Nationals desperately need H-Rod to get back on track, because they're running out of viable options to pitch the ninth inning.

ENCOURAGING: The Nationals end April with a 14-8 record and share first place in the NL East with the Braves. Their .636 winning percentage represented their second-best month of baseball since arriving in Washington, bested only by the 20-6 (.769 winning percentage) mark the Nats produced in June 2005.

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Why Bryce Harper would be a bargain at $500 million

Why Bryce Harper would be a bargain at $500 million

$500 million.

That number is so hard to wrap your brain around, but it's a number a lot of professional baseball players may soon start seeing on their contracts.

One player who could be the first to see that amount within the next year is Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper.

Harper will become a free agent in 2018 and people are already projecting his market value at close to $500 million, if not more.

Miami Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton signed a contract back in 2014 for 13 years, $325 million, holding the league record.

For Fancy Stats writer Neil Greenberg, $500 million is a bargain for someone of Harper's caliber.

"Harper is every bit as good [as Stanton] but he's also young," Greenberg told the Sports Junkies Friday.

"I mean, we don't see a player that's as good as Harper, that's as young a Harper, hit the market almost ever I want to say. You look at how many years of his prime he has left and then even if you start to give him just the typical aging curb off of that prime, he's probably worth close to 570 million dollars starting from 2019 and going forward ten years. And that includes also the price of free agency going up and other factors."

Harper, who is only 25 years-old, brings more to a team than just talent. He's one of the most recognizable figures in baseball, bringing tremendous marketing opportunities to an organization. Greenberg dove deeper into how that will increase his market value.

"And that's just for the on-the-field product. You talk about all the marketing that's done around Bryce Harper [and] what he does for the game. In my opinion, and based on the numbers that I saw, he's a bargain at $500 million."

Don't we all wish someone would say $500 million is a bargain for us?

After crunching the numbers, the biggest takeaway for Greenberg is the return on investment the Nationals have gotten out of Harper.

"Like if you look at his wins above replacement throughout his career, he's given you 200 million dollars in value for 21 million dollars in cash and he's due what another 26 or 27 million this year. I mean he's already given you an amazing return on investment."

"So, if you're the Nationals having - benefited from that - you know you have a little bit of, I guess, wiggle room in terms of maybe you're paying a little bit for past performance 'cause, you know, when a player is on arbitration in their early years they don't really get paid that much."

The Nationals still have Harper for one more season and many feel they need to make him an offer sooner than later. Whenever and whoever he gets an offer from, it's going to be a nice pay day for him.

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Nats' Max Scherzer wins second straight NL Cy Young Award

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Nats' Max Scherzer wins second straight NL Cy Young Award

Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals has coasted to his third Cy Young Award and second straight in the National League.

Scherzer breezed past Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, drawing 27 of the 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

The honor was announced Wednesday on MLB Network.

Scherzer earned the NL honor last year with Washington and the 2013 American League prize with Detroit. He became the 10th pitcher with at least three Cy Youngs.

RELATED: WIETERS WILL RETURN TO NATS IN 2018 

Scherzer was 16-6 with a 2.51 ERA and a league-leading 268 strikeouts for the NL East champion Nationals.

Kershaw has already won three NL Cy Youngs, and was the last pitcher to win back-to-back. He was 18-4 with a league-best 2.31 ERA and 202 strikeouts.

Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians easily won his second AL Cy Young Award earlier in the day. He got 28 of the 30 first-place votes, with Boston's Chris Sale second and Luis Severino of the New York Yankees third.

Kluber led the majors with a 2.25 ERA and his 18 wins tied for the most in baseball.