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Midseason report card: Offense

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Midseason report card: Offense

While the Nationals' pitching staff excelled throughout the season's first half and was the primary reason for this club's 49-34 record at the All-Star break, the performance from Washington's lineup and bench were more sporadic.

Things did take a nice upward turn over the last month, especially once Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse returned to their peak forms. Those two stalwarts combined with veteran Adam LaRoche, emerging star Ian Desmond and dynamic rookie Bryce Harper to give the Nationals a formidable quintet in the heart of their lineup.

With the All-Star Game now completed and everybody enjoying two more days off before the second half opens in Miami, it's time to hand out some midseason grades. We'll start with the offense. Check back this afternoon to see how the pitching staff rated...

RICK ANKIEL -- C-He's got maybe the best outfield arm in baseball, and that counts for something. He also occasionally runs into a pitch and hits it over the fence. But that doesn't happen nearly as often as he swings through a fastball up out of the strike zone.

ROGER BERNADINA -- C-The opportunity for an everyday job may finally have run out for this talented athlete who is prone to too many streaks at the plate and too many mental mistakes in the field and on the bases.

MARK DEROSA -- D-After a spectacular spring, it looked like he'd become a major contributor. Instead, the veteran utilityman struggled to maintain a .100 batting average and then missed two months with an oblique strain.

IAN DESMOND -- AWhat a breakthrough first half for one of the organization's longest-tenured players, who leads all MLB shortstops in a bunch of offensive categories. The Nats have to hope a lingering oblique issue that kept him out of the All-Star Game doesn't become anything more serious.

DANNY ESPINOSA -- CIt almost feels like you need to give him separate grades for his right-handed game (an A) and his left-handed game (a D-). To his credit, he's shown improvements from the left side of the plate and always contributes in the field.

JESUS FLORES -- B-Pressed into a starting role after Wilson Ramos got hurt, he's done an admirable job behind the plate and at the plate. But can he hold up physically for another three months?

BRYCE HARPER -- A-Nobody expected the 19-year-old to be such a major contributor so early in the season. And nobody expected him to conduct himself in such a veteran manner. He's still prone to the occasional mistake, but he's been a real catalyst for a team that has needed the energy he brings.

ADAM LAROCHE -- BThe team's MVP through the season's first six weeks, he produced clutch hit after clutch hit. He then fell into a tailspin at the plate and has seen his average drop nearly 100 points, though he continues to drive in big runs and play sterling defense.

STEVE LOMBARDOZZI -- B-He was supposed to be a backup infielder who would get about 250-300 at-bats. Instead, the rookie became a regular in left field and in the leadoff spot. After a hot start, though, he's perhaps being exposed now and might be better served with less playing time.

TYLER MOORE -- BAfter slugging 62 homers in two years in the minors, he's flashing some of that power at the big-league level and looking more comfortable with each passing day. Davey Johnson must now find a way to keep him fresh when there's not an everyday spot for him.

MICHAEL MORSE -- Inc.Expected to duplicate his 31-homer, 95-RBI performance from a year ago, he wound up missing two months with a torn lat muscle. After a sluggish start, he's beginning to rediscover his stroke. The Nats will need him to produce over the second half.

XAVIER NADY -- DA surprise member of the Opening Day roster after signing late in March, he's done little to justify the spot. He's now rehabbing from a lingering wrist injury.

WILSON RAMOS -- Inc.Got off to a solid start and was beginning to flash his power. Then he suffered a heartbreaking, season-ending, knee injury in May.

JHONATAN SOLANO -- BLittle was known about "The Onion" before injuries to four catchers ahead of him on the depth chart led to his promotion. He's been a surprising force at the plate in limited playing time as Jesus Flores' backup.

CHAD TRACY -- BWho knew the journeyman corner infielder would become baseball's most-productive pinch-hitter? And then who knew his groin injury would prove so costly to the Nats, who hope to have him back within the next few weeks?

JAYSON WERTH -- Inc.He certainly looked more comfortable in his second year in D.C., and his play in April suggested that. Then he suffered a nasty wrist injury that will sideline him until at least August 1. What he's able to do at that point remains to be seen.

RYAN ZIMMERMAN -- C-It's tough to blame the guy for his terrible numbers for much of the first half because he was playing with a bad shoulder. But the fact remains he wasn't producing at the plate until he finally got a magic cortisone shot that has allowed him to rediscover his hitting stroke.

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Trea Turner is ready to step in and play center field for Nats if needed

Trea Turner is ready to step in and play center field for Nats if needed

With the expected return of first baseman Ryan Zimmerman on Tuesday, there will be some shuffling on the Nats roster, most notably with Trea Turner getting bumped from their infield.

Zimmerman, despite his .221/.284/.402 slash this year, is going right back into the starting lineup. He's a proven veteran, went 5-for-12 on his rehab assignment and manager Dusty Baker has already confirmed that plan, not that it needed to be done.

"I've got to get Zim back in the lineup. He’s a big part of our offense. And certainly, if I get Zim back in the lineup, that means [Daniel] Murphy is at second base," Baker said.

Turner will be out of the infield mix, but with Michael Taylor going back to Triple-A Syracuse, the door may be open for Turner to play some in the outfield. A lifelong middle infielder, Turner has been learning center field recently. He played six games there at Syracuse and has been doing outifled drills for several weeks now. 

Turner has shown in recent games the impact he can make offensively. He has 11 hits and four steals in his last nine games and in his last five outings alone has three triples and five runs. The Nats have seen the worst production of any team from their leadoff spot with a dead-last .586 OPS collectively. Taylor's now gone and Ben Revere's still hitting just .216 through 61 games.

"Now we've just got to try to find [Turner's] place with Zim coming back, find a place for him to play," Baker said.

If that is in center field, Turner feels ready to step in. 

"I did it in Syracuse and I'll do it here if they need me to," he said. "It's something that I've embraced, I guess. It's something that I'll do if they need me to. I'll continue to work out there whenever they give me the chance. On days I don't play, I go out there and shag some balls just to make sure I'm staying on top of it. It hasn't happened yet, but if it does I'll be ready."

Six games in Triple-A, of course, is not a lot of action at a brand new position. Whenever Turner does play in center field, there will be a learning curve and perhaps a noticeable drop-off from Revere. But Turner feels he did well in those six chances and can build off that experience.

"[I did] fine. I think I got a couple tough balls hit at me, line drives, and I made the right decisions at the time. I made all the plays that came to me. At the same time, I know it's not as easy as that. You've gotta play balls off the wall. In big league ballparks, it's going to be a lot different everywhere you go. Guys are a lot stronger, so they hit the ball a little bit farther. You've gotta take all that into account as well and learn," he said.

Baker himself has expressed confidence in Turner's ability to transition to the outfield. Earlier this month he offered a comparison to Robin Yount, a Hall of Famer who began his career as a shortstop before moving to center field. Yount won MVPs at both positions.

Zimmerman's return could simply mean Turner is heading back to the bench, ready to step in to give a Nats infielder a day off or wait for pinch-run opportunities. If that's the case, Turner believes he can still make an impact.

"Just keep it simple and do your job, whatever they ask," he said. "I'm still learning. I think you can always figure out ways to come off the bench and take advantage of those opportunities. If I have to do that, running is going to be a huge key. I think that's just a matter of stretching and paying attention by watching video on pitchers in case you get a stolen base opportunity, or whatever it may be."

[RELATED: For Giolito: 'It’s back to the drawing board']

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What Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs means for the Nationals

What Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs means for the Nationals

After a weekend full of rumors and speculation, it appears as if Yankees' flamethrower Aroldis Chapman is in fact headed to Chicago to join the Cubs.

The Yankees will reportedly send the closer to "The Windy City" in exchange for highly prized 19-year-old shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres as well as outfield prospects Billy McKinney, Rashad Crawford and reliever Adam Warren, according to multiple reports

The Nationals were one of the other two teams in the mix for Chapman's services, but the organization was not willing to give up the amount of young talent the Yankees wanted in return.

RELATED: WHO SHOULD THE NATIONALS TARGET AT THE TRADE DEADLINE?

With Chapman — and his 105 MPH fastball — off the table, there are two questions that need to be addressed: 1) Where do the nationals go from here and 2) Did the Cubs just become unstoppable?

The market for elite or even high-end pitching at the trade deadline is at an all-time low this season.

Chapman was the top prize, and after him, the drop off is quite significant.

Both of the Nationals' playoff appearances have ended with late-game pitching blunders and it has become clear that Jonathan Papelbon, while competent as a closer, is far from a shutdown reliever, and a patchwork unit of Sammy Solis, Shaun Kelly, Felipe Rivero and Oliver Perez doesn't yet appear to be stable enough to handle an entire postseason run.

The issue for the Nationals is that in order to acquire a closer like, Wade Davis of the Royals, the team will have to be willing to give up at least two of their highly prized young stars like Trea Turner, Joe Ross, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez.. If the team was unwilling to do so for Chapman, would the do it for Davis? 

If the Nationals do think they are just "one piece away," they could give up far less for someone like Brewers' closer Jeremy Jeffress, who has a 2.23 ERA with 23 saves and 30 strikeouts this season.

But again, the playoffs.

Jeffress is in just his second full season in the big leagues and what the Nationals need isn't just a talent closer, but one who won't get rattled in big moments and can close the door when the pressure is on.

As for the Cubs, getting Chapman is expected to be the final piece to the 108-year puzzle.

If the Nationals want to make the World Series, they will — more likely than not — have to go through Wrigley Field. The Cubs made it very clear during their early Mary series that they will not let Bryce Harper beat them. They also made it very clear that opposing pitchers cannot make more than a single mistake.

Now that the Cubs solidified their bullpen with the hardest-throwing pitcher in professional baseball, no matter how good the Nationals are — and they are very good — they may need some October magic to stop the Cubs from representing the National League in the World Series.

RELATED: UPDATED MLB POWER RANKINGS

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MLB Trade Rumors: Who should the Nationals target before the deadline?

MLB Trade Rumors: Who should the Nationals target before the deadline?

BY JEREMY FIALKOW (@JeremyFialkow)

The Nationals may be good — very good — but they're not perfect, not yet. 

With the trade deadline fast approaching, GM Mike Rizzo's hunt to turn the roster he assembled into a legitimate World Series contender will grab the spotlight.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE NATIONALS' TOP TRADE DEADLINE TARGETS

There's speculation around the league that Rizzo's plans start and end with adding a commanding bullpen arm, capable of shortening each game by three outs, at least.

Nevertheless, Washington has the assets on hand and in their farm system to secure anyone they fancy, whether it's an arm, a bat ... or both.

Fortunately for baseball fans (but unfortunately for the Nats) the 2016 season has been competitive all around, leaving teams deemed surefire sellers few and far between.

Still, Rizzo's team is in a desirable position with the always appreciated ability of flexibility, so which players will the Nats target before the July 31 trade deadline.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE NATIONALS' TOP TRADE DEADLINE TARGETS