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Stock Watch: Plenty of Nats riding high as season's second half begins

Stock Watch: Plenty of Nats riding high as season's second half begins

We’ll do Stock Watch a little different this week. Let’s take the temperature of the Nationals at the All-Star break to see whose stock is rising or falling as the second half of the season is set to begin this weekend.

Season record: 54-36

Team slash: .252/.327/.430

Team ERA: 3.30

Runs per game: 4.68

 

STOCK UP

Daniel Murphy, 2B

When Murphy posted a June average of .256, there were many who thought the Nats’ second baseman was finally falling back to earth, reverting to the good-but-not-great hitter he’s been for much of his career.

Then he got to play the Mets again. Murphy will never admit it, but it’s clear he gets fired up when going against the team that didn’t re-sign him, and it showed once more as he continued to torment his old club during the Nats’ final series before the break. In four games at Citi Field, he was a pest, going 7-for-17 with two doubles, three home runs and 10 RBI. Needless to say, the New York crowd didn’t take too kindly to the 31-year-old's apparent revenge tour.

Murphy enters baseball's second half atop the National League with a .348 average, and has already surpassed his previous career-high for home runs in a season with 17. Who knows what his final numbers will look like, but he's put himself at the center of the discussion for league MVP honors. 

Stephen Strasburg, SP

When Strasburg went on the 15-day disabled list with an upper back strain several weeks ago, there was some concern among fans that perhaps the 27-year-old right hander would still feel the effects of the injury upon his return, which would compromise what’s been a stellar campaign so far.

But as we’re learning, 2016 is the Year of Strasburg, and there doesn’t appear to be much that can derail him in this, his career-best season. Instead of looking rusty upon his return, he looked better than ever: In his two starts since coming off the DL, Strasburg allowed just two hits over 13 2/3 innings and raised his record to 12-0, becoming the first NL pitcher to accomplish that feat since 1912.

Couple his record with a 2.62 ERA, and he’s assuredly on the short list for NL Cy Young candidates along with the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Johnny Cueto and Madison Bumgarner.

Max Scherzer, SP

Strasburg’s been getting a lot of the attention lately — deservedly so — but Scherzer has quietly righted the ship over the last month and has returned to his old ways.

Since June 1, he’s 5-2 with a 1.66 ERA over 54 1/3 innings with an excellent 74-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Even better, he’s not giving up the home run like he used to; he’s allowed just six long balls in his last eight starts, compared to the 15 he yielded in his first 11 outings. And if that’s not enough, his 164 strikeouts are good for the major-league lead.

 

STOCK DOWN

Ryan Zimmerman, 1B

One of the big questions for Dusty Baker heading into the second half is what to do with Zimmerman. The 31-year-old first baseman hasn’t performed to the level of his career track record for most of this season and, until recently, his struggles have had little to do with injury.

After the Nats recently placed Zimmerman on the DL with a left rib cage strain, the team has tinkered with the idea of moving Murphy to first base and playing top infield prospect Trea Turner at second. If this infield combination winds up producing big-time while Zimmerman is out, what will the Nats do upon his return? Should they put him back in the everyday lineup, or go with the one that’s more effective? It'd be a tough call, but one that hinges on whether or not Turner proves he's ready to contribute right away. 

On numerous occasions, Baker has shown an unwavering support for Zimmerman. But it's hard not to ignore that even when he's healthy, he's not giving the Nats what they need right now. It'll be fascinating to see how the team navigates a potentially delicate situation with one of its most beloved and well-respected veterans. 

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It's Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

It's Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

So if you have not heard, Bryce Harper is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018 season.

All off-season talking heads, baseball aficionados, radio hosts, etc. were speculating on where the outfielder’s destination will be next year.

And we are still a year away from it actually happening.

RELATED: VEGAS SETS OVER/UNDERS FOR 2018 MLB SEASON

Reporting to spring training on Monday, Harper did not waste any time telling the media how his press conferences were going to play out this season.

“If guys do [ask], or talk anything about that, I will be walking right out the door.”

Entering his seventh season with the Washington Nationals, the 25-year-old is coming off the second-best season, statistically, of his career. The 2015 NL MVP has hit .285 in his career, with 150 home runs and 421 RBIs. Unquestionably he is the face of the Nationals’ organization, if not, the best player in the team’s history.

If he does end the season without a contract extension, he will join Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, and Barry Bonds as the top sought out free agents in MLB history.

One thing is for certain in terms of Harper’s free agency; Harper has given no inclination on where his landing spot will be.  The top three cities are of course his favorite childhood team, the New York Yankees; joining with one of his closest friends with the Chicago Cubs; or just staying with Washington.

Wherever he does land, it does appear that it will be the largest contract given to a free agent ever.

As for now we just wait and direct any of your calls to his agent Scott Boras.

READ ALSO: NATIONALS FULL SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE

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Nationals Spring Training Schedule 2018

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USA Today Sports Images

Nationals Spring Training Schedule 2018

Now that pitchers and catchers have reported, the next step in our long journey to Opening Day is the spring training games themselves. Not every game is televised, so get ready to follow along with your favorite beat writer's Twitter account for all your updates.

Even without getting to watch the games, it'll still be exciting to once again check box scores in the morning to see if Bryce Harper homered again, or if Max Scherzer is perfect through 4 innings (spoiler: both of these will happen).

This year's spring training will be especially interesting, considering how many big-name players will be signing contracts in the next few weeks. The Nats are always willing to make a big splash, and even beyond the available free agents, have been linked to impact players like J.T. Realmuto in trade rumors.

Typically, the excitement of adding a new piece to the roster has to be reignited after a long winter off, but this season, those additions will be happening while camp is already underway.

It's going to be a hectic few weeks as teams prepare for their seasons, so bookmark this page to check on the Nationals spring training schedule over the next few weeks as the team finally takes the field in 2018.

Nationals 2018 Spring Training Schedule

Friday, Feb. 23 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Saturday, Feb. 24 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Feb. 25 - Braves at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Monday, Feb. 26 - Nationals at Braves, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Feb. 27 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Wednesday, Feb. 28 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Thursday, Mar. 1 (SS) - Nationals at Braves, 1:05 pm
Friday, Mar. 2 (SS) - Nationals at Mets, 1:10 pm
Saturday, Mar. 3 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 4 (SS) - Tigers at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 4 (SS) - Nationals at Mets, 1:10 pm
Monday, Mar. 5 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Mar. 6 (SS) - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Wednesday, Mar. 7 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Thursday, Mar. 8 - Mets at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Saturday, Mar. 10 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 11 - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Monday, Mar. 12 - Nationals at Tigers, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Tuesday, Mar. 13 (SS) - Mets at Nationals, 7:05 pm (MLBN) (MASN)
Thursday, Mar. 15 - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Friday, Mar. 16 (SS) - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Saturday, Mar. 17 - Mets at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 18 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Monday, Mar. 19 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Mar. 20 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Wednesday, Mar. 21 - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm (ESPN2) (MASN)
Thursday, Mar. 22 - Nationals at Mets, 6:10 pm
Friday, Mar. 23 (SS) - Astros at Nationals, 6:05 pm (MASN)
Friday, Mar. 23 - Nationals at Marlins, 7:05 pm
Saturday, Mar. 24 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 25 - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Tuesday, Mar. 27 (at Nationals Park) - Twins at Nationals, 4:05 pm