Quick Links

Midseason report card: Offense

814352.png

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.

Quick Links

Max Scherzer's bid for third no-hitter ends in heartbreak

Max Scherzer's bid for third no-hitter ends in heartbreak

Max Scherzer's bid for the third no-hitter of his big league career ended with one out in the eighth inning, and he then gave up two unearned runs as the Miami Marlins rallied to beat the Washington Nationals 2-1 Wednesday.

After backup catcher A.J. Ellis reached on an infield single for Miami's first hit, an error by first baseman Adam Lind and a hit batter loaded the bases with two outs. Scherzer threw a wild pitch that scored the tying run, and Giancarlo Stanton lined an RBI single -- the Marlins' only other hit -- to put them ahead.

Scherzer (8-5) threw no-hitters against the Pirates and Mets in 2015, and he seemed on his way to another when he began the eighth inning with a 1-0 lead.

He retired 18 in a row before Ellis hit a chopper that bounced in front of the plate and glanced off the tip of Scherzer's glove as he reached overhead for it. The ball rolled to shortstop Trea Turner, who failed in his attempt to make a barehanded pickup and rush a throw.

MORE NATS: 12-3 win over Marlins Tuesday

Official scorer Ron Jernick immediately ruled the play a hit, and Scherzer knew it. He picked up the ball and angrily flung it to the dugout -- not as a souvenir.

Washington totaled five hits against Dan Straily and three relievers. Kyle Barraclough (3-1) pitched the eighth, and A.J. Ramos worked around a two-out single in the ninth for his 10th save.

Scherzer threw a season-high 121 pitches and had 11 strikeouts, reaching double figures for the sixth game in a row, the team's longest such streak such the franchise moved to Washington for the 2005 season.

He lowered his ERA to 2.08, best in the NL. He also leads the league with 145 strikeouts.

The other no-hitter in the majors this year was achieved on the same mound by Miami's Edinson Volquez against Arizona on June 3.

RELATED: 2017 MLB Power Rankings

The crowd of 22,659 for the 12:10 p.m. start included thousands of youngsters on camp day, and they gave the game a scream-filled soundtrack.

The score was 0-0 until Washington's Ryan Raburn hit his first homer of the year in the fifth. Raburn was a late replacement for outfielder Michael A. Taylor, who was scratched because he wasn't feeling well.

That was the only run allowed by Straily, who went six innings.

Scherzer walked Christian Yelich with two out in the first and hit Derek Dietrich with a pitch with one out in the second. That was Miami's last baserunner until the eighth.

Quick Links

The Nats got hot Tuesday in Miami with 12-3 win over Marlins

The Nats got hot Tuesday in Miami with 12-3 win over Marlins

Gio Gonzalez had some worrisome moments on the mound Tuesday night, including when a friend sitting in the first row behind the Washington Nationals' dugout was hit in the head by a flying bat.

"Next time in the front row everyone will be wearing a helmet," Gonzalez said.

The friend later said he was fine, and Gonzalez felt good too after pitching seven innings to beat the Miami Marlins 12-3.

Gonzalez (7-1) allowed three runs, including two on Marcell Ozuna's 19th homer , but struck out eight and won his fourth consecutive decision.

"Exactly what we needed," manager Dusty Baker said. "Gio's throwing the ball great."

He had plenty of support even before a five-run ninth. Bryce Harper started the scoring with a two-run single that extended his hitting streak to 13 games, and Daniel Murphy had two RBIs and hit his 12th homer . Stephen Drew had three hits and three RBIs, while Ryan Zimmerman drove in three runs with a double and a single.

Gonzalez, who grew up in nearby Hialeah, improved to 7-3 in 13 starts against his hometown team with an ERA of 2.19. He had a cluster of friends and relatives in attendance, and that's where Justin Bour's bat went when it slipped from his hands on a swing in the fifth inning.

"It's good to have friends here, but put them somewhere safe," Gonzalez said.

He said his pal who was hit received a souvenir later as compensation for being clubbed.

"Bour gave him a bat, which is pretty cool on his part, because we want the fans to come back," Gonzalez said.

The left-hander said it was too early to talk about the possibility of pitching in the All-Star game, which will be played in his hometown next month. His teammates are rooting for it.

"Gio has been great," Harper said. "I'm hoping he pitches like this the rest of the first half and gets the start here. It would be incredible to see."

The NL East leaders went 7 for 14 with runners in scoring position, but it was still 0-0 when Edinson Volquez (3-8) walked Michael A. Taylor and Trea Turner in the third inning, and they advanced on a double steal.

With two outs, Harper tried to bunt on the first pitch -- a curious move by the slugger -- and pushed it foul. He golfed the next pitch into center for the Nationals' first hit to put them up 2-0.

"I don't hit Volquez very well," Harper said. "If I can lay a bunt down with a guy at third and get a knock and score a run ... but it worked out."

Pitching to Harper backfired for Miami, so the next time he came to bat, when the Nationals again had a runner in scoring position, Marlins manager Don Mattingly opted for an intentional walk. Zimmerman foiled the strategy with a two-run double.

"They've got a good lineup," Mattingly said. "They put you in a box in a number of ways."

Volquez allowed a season-high six runs in 4 2/3 innings.

MORE NATS: NATS STOCK UP ON PITCHERS DURING DRAFT