In first place in the NL East with a two-game lead on the New York Mets, the Nationals are where many predicted they would be at the midway point of the 2015 season. That is despite an inordinate amount of injuries up and down their roster that began in spring training and persist as the team gets set to begin the second half of their regular season schedule.
Denard Span has been on and off the disabled list. Anthony Rendon has appeared in just 18 of the team's 87 games. Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth have both been out for much of the season. Craig Stammen and Reed Johnson were lost for the year. Doug Fister and Stephen Strasburg have each spent time on the DL. And their bullpen has been hampered by everything from right shoulder tendinitis to a gastrointestinal bleed.
It hasn't been easy for them to stay afloat through all of it and they certainly hope for better health moving forward. But still, they are in first place.
"I think given the way our season has gone with all the injuries, we can't argue with where we're at right now," Dan Uggla said. "It's kind of where we expected to be. We'd like a few more games up on the Mets, but we're here right now. We've put ourselves in a good position for the second half."
"It’s certainly been challenging, given the circumstances," Mike Rizzo said. "I like the way the team has played. I think we play with a lot of energy, a lot of passion. We have had guys step up to perform. We’re just trying to take each game individually and win as many games as we can. The plan is to try and get our regulars back in as soon as possible, but the bench players have played admirably. They’re the reason we are where we’re at right now."
Rizzo will have a busy next few weeks with the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline on the horizon. The Nationals are doing their best to evaluate the roster with so many key components sidelined on the disabled list.
"We’re going to approach the deadline like we do every deadline. If we find a need and an opportunity to improve ourselves, we’ve certainly showed that we’ve been aggressive in the past," Rizzo explained.
"We think we’re a good team. We’re certainly not a perfect team. We have evaluated ourselves. We’re meeting with our professional scouts in the upcoming days, and we’ll put a battle plan together and see what we’re looking to do and what strengthens us and what makes us a better team moving forward."
Rizzo downplays the significance of the Nats' injuries, even when reminded of how injury-prone his roster has been for several years in a row.
"Injuries happen. It's part of the game. That's why you have a 40-man roster, that's why you build depth in the organization. The best organizations have the best depth," he said.
"I think we know what we have when all the players are healthy and playing. We can't dwell on them not being here. We're not thinking and talking about the guys that we don't have. We're thinking and talking about the guys that are here and playing for us."
The Nationals have a two-game lead on the New York Mets, but New York has won four straight and seven of their last nine. They have the pitching to compete with anyone and are expected by many to be among the most aggressive teams ahead of the trade deadline, most likely to add pop to their lineup.
The Nats will certainly not take the Mets lightly in the second half.
"Any time you're in first place, it's always a good feeling. But we respect every other team in our division," Max Scherzer said. "They're going to compete with us in the second half. The Mets won't go away, they've got great young pitching. They're going to be nipping at our tails the whole rest of the season. Just because we're in first place doesn't mean we get to coast from here on out. [Two] games can be erased in less than a week, it can be erased in a series, actually."
Scherzer joined the Nationals after four straight years winning the AL Central division with the Detroit Tigers. He has pitched in the ALCS three different years and has World Series experience. He knows what it takes and believes the Nationals are on the right track.
"We just gotta go out and keep playing as well as we can. I know how talented we are. I know we have some guys getting close getting into form and coming back from the DL, that should help. We just gotta worry about ourselves. We can't worry about anyone else. We gotta focus on our selves and if we do that, I'm confident that we can accomplish our goals," he said.