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
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.
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.