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2nd half storylines: The pennant race

Jul 13, 2012, 12:50 AM EDT

US Presswire photo
Will the Nats get to celebrate D.C.'s first postseason berth since 1933?

The Nationals open tomorrow what promises to be the most compelling second half to a season since the franchise arrived in town in 2005, owners of the NL's best record but saddled with several major questions that need to be answered.

Today we're counting down the five most significant storylines to the remainder of the Nationals' season. Last up is storyline No. 1: The race to reach the postseason for the first time since the franchise arrived in town…

At what point does a pennant race truly begin? When is it OK to start watching the out-of-town scoreboard? To start calculating magic numbers?

This is uncharted territory for the Nationals, who haven't found themselves even on the fringes of contention since their inaugural 2005 season. And it's completely uncharted territory for just about any fan of Washington baseball, unless there's anyone still around who remembers the 1945 Senators, the last D.C.-based club to miss the postseason byRead more »

  1. baseballswami - Jul 13, 2012 at 12:54 AM

    I have one thing to say. Go Nats!!!!!

  2. Faraz Shaikh - Jul 13, 2012 at 1:07 AM

    We start with a critical series. I am not saying that if we lose the series, we are out of contention but beating Marlins in Miami is THE hurdle for this team.

  3. MicheleS - Jul 13, 2012 at 1:09 AM

    Time to start watching the Out of Town Scoreboard? Umm started doing that at Opening Day.All I want from this second half is crisp well played games that we win! I want our players to be healthy! I want to see this team play deep into October.

  4. Steady Eddie - Jul 13, 2012 at 1:17 AM

    Mark, any news on Cole Kimball? I vaguely recall he was possible to start a rehab course down in FL in about mid-July, though of course with the severity of his shoulder injury there are no guarantees of anything. But should be in the neighborhood of a time to get an update, no?

  5. mick - Jul 13, 2012 at 1:26 AM

    remember, making post season guarantees nothing… remember poor Phillies mnanager Danny Ozark back in 1976-78, 3 straight years the Phillies win the NL East and 3 straight years they fail to win even one game in the best of five series. I can go on, the 1969 anf 1970 Twins win the AL west and lose 6 straight playoff games to the O's over 2 years.

  6. mick - Jul 13, 2012 at 1:31 AM

    however, just getting to post season for the Nats would be a happy moment!

  7. Gonat - Jul 13, 2012 at 1:31 AM

    Love that photo. It was huge for Desi. He has deserved all the good things that has happened to him.Nobody has taken more crap in DC then him.

  8. Steady Eddie - Jul 13, 2012 at 1:32 AM

    mick — just remember, it's pitching, pitching, and more pitching.

  9. mick - Jul 13, 2012 at 1:35 AM

    ah eddie… so true… and each of the historical examples I mentioned, those teams pitching staffs were not as good as the teams that beat them in the post season each year

  10. SonnyG10 - Jul 13, 2012 at 1:37 AM

    Fasten your seatbelts and get ready to rumble. Go You Freakin Nats Go!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Firm Possession, My Gorsehacken Sofa - Jul 13, 2012 at 1:50 AM

    Love that photo. It was huge for Desi. He has deserved all the good things that has happened to him. Nobody has taken more crap in DC than him.I too love the photo, and especially the video clip of that. I thought Cristian Guzman took more crap than Desmond. Werth may have taken more than him. Then again, maybe it's "as much as."

  12. Firm Possession, My Gorsehacken Sofa - Jul 13, 2012 at 1:52 AM

    But I've always said, everything up to the break is just for pole position.

  13. natsfan1a - Jul 13, 2012 at 2:19 AM

    Don't toy with us, Mark. Eh, what the heck. Who wants to go for a ride? Wheeeeee!I, too, love the Desi pic, and I loved that walkoff. He got like three feet of air that time. (Bonus point if you can name the movie on that one.)Have been looking at the standings for some time, but didn't start watching the out-of-town scoreboard until recently. Oh, and I may have peeked at the Magic Number, too. And, Mick, my compliments on your string of reasoned posts today. You're in mid-season form. I particularly liked the one at 9:31. :-)

  14. NatsNut - Jul 13, 2012 at 2:21 AM

    This makes me so nervous, giddy and anxious, all at the same time. I think I'm gonna try and keep my head down and not pay any attention to the P word until, like, September 17th.

  15. Constant Reader - Jul 13, 2012 at 2:39 AM

    Between Verducci over on CNN/SI calling the Nats the best team in the NL, Boz's piece this morning showing how our pitchers have not been comparatively overutilized, and knowing that we'll soon have Werth, Storen and Tracy back, it is tough to keep the optimism in check. I went to a Caps playoff game with a friend of mine this past spring. Blah, blah, blah. The NHL plays for months and eliminates less than half their teams. The idea of sitting in my seat for the first post-season baseball game in DC since 1933 … priceless.

  16. NatsNut - Jul 13, 2012 at 2:40 AM

    Okay, maybe I do wanna talk P word for just a minute more. I'm a little late to the Strasburg conversation, but it occurred to me that those of us who follow the Nats everyday and know the whole team inside and out, understand better that the team is not necessarily riding on Strasburg alone. The ones with the loudest indignation at shutting him down are the ones not paying very close attention to what's really going on. They are the ones who don't even mention Detwiler, don't know who Tyler Moore or Solano are and they call Michael Morse, Mike. They think Strasburg and Bryce are the only reason we're doing so well and I'm fine with that. We know better and it will be that much more gratifying when they're surprised we actually survived without a month of Strasburg. I mean, maybe we won't last long in the postseason, but it won't be because of Strasburg alone. Ok. Head back down, ready to grind through the rest of the season.

  17. NatsLady - Jul 13, 2012 at 2:41 AM

    Drew Storen pitched 2 innings, 5 K, 3 hits, 1 ER (1HR), 0 BB, 1 WP. Xavier Nady (DH) went 0 for 4 with 2 GIDP. He is now batting .071.Potomac lost, 8-3.

  18. Doc - Jul 13, 2012 at 3:45 AM

    It's time for Cory Brown to step up the Nats' big league plate.Xavier has never really gotten untracked, sorta like Matt Stairs last year.Unlike Nady, Cory is used to eying a pitched ball in a ball game—he's been seeing it for 3.5 months straight!

  19. sjm308 - Jul 13, 2012 at 4:22 AM

    mick – add me to the list of those praising your comments the last two articles. Do me one favor, if we start a little rough against Miami, don't jump ship and start firing everyone and calling "off with their heads"! This is going to be different then any season I can ever remember and I go back to 1950! (I was 5 but had a great time going with my mom to a bunch of games). I am already nervous and we have a day to go. I am just really excited about our prospects and agree with all of you that Strasburg should be and needs to be shut down.Go Nats!!!

  20. sjm308 - Jul 13, 2012 at 4:24 AM

    By the way, just got back from seeing John Mayall and Buddy Guy at Wolf Trap. Mayall is 79 and I think Buddy Guy is 76. Buddy played for over 90 min. and was just as strong at the end. Just how I want JZ & Gio to be in Sept/Oct. Go Nats!!

  21. Firm Possession, My Gorsehacken Sofa - Jul 13, 2012 at 4:28 AM

    That's the Chicago style, sjm. All that losing builds blues musicians' character!

  22. sjm308 - Jul 13, 2012 at 4:58 AM

    Sofa:2nd lead guitar for Buddy was actually wearing a Buerhle jersey but I didn't boo him. And Mayall's drummer had a Cubs jersey on as well. It was definitely a blues night out!!

  23. peric - Jul 13, 2012 at 6:38 AM

    Jayson Werth of 2011 or Jayson Werth of 2010. Given the injury to the same wrist its likely going to be the circa 2011 vintage. Expecting that much from a 34 year old coming off a second surgery to the same wrist just seems like too much.

  24. peric - Jul 13, 2012 at 6:47 AM

    The one very important thing that Strasburg and Harper share …Both inspire the play around them to greater heights.Its hard not to pitch good in a rotation that Strasburg leads. Look how different Gio Gonzalez is this year? Anyone mentioning the plethora of walks lately? Nope, didn't think so. JZimmnn has raised and exceeded all expectations for him. EJax has pitched far better than a #4 starter. For previous Nats teams he would look like a #1. Detwiler continues to progress and improve as well … it even carries over to the bullpen. The only "odd man" out appears to be Wang.The same is true for Harper. His style of game, his relentless hustle makes opposing defenses rush and sometimes make mistakes. It inspires the other position players to put forth that little bit extra. He pushes everyone around him to play better by his performance and his demeanor.So, sure you could define this team by Strasburg and Harper. Nothing wrong with that.But, the other players are just as important and some even more so given Harper's youth and Strasburg's continued recovery from Tommy John's.

  25. Spouse in Almaty - Jul 13, 2012 at 10:12 AM

    My first comment (after the local ISP here in Kazakhstan stopped blocking google blogs) and I've just got to say it will be great to have a pennant race mean something. It's too bad it didn't happen while I was living in the DC area, but following it over the internet will just have to do.Mark, I just wanted to let you know that your works is definitely appreciated by at least this Nats fan living abroad. Reading your articles the comments after the games helps me keep up with the team and stay informed. Thanks.

  26. MicheleS - Jul 13, 2012 at 11:39 AM

    WOW! We have Kazahkstan on board! Welcome Spouse!Anywhoo.. P word, head down, slight smile, just keep chugging along boys, take it 1 day at a time, it's a marathon, not a sprint (well.. you know the rest)

  27. JaneB - Jul 13, 2012 at 11:52 AM

    I agree with Spouse: we are grateful for you, Mark. Without you and our Imaginary Fridends, the second part of the season would be a whole lot less fun.I have been practicing my out-of-town-scoreboard monitoring skills for a while now. I'm good to go for the next laps. Yesterday, turned down an out of town job that would have prevented me from being in DC for the start of post-season ball. That's my position on the round one series (not wild card).And great post, NatsNut. The guys are earning new fans. They will catch on, especpiallybid they come here.GYFNG,

  28. Gonat - Jul 13, 2012 at 11:53 AM

    NatsLady said… Drew Storen pitched 2 innings, 5 K, 3 hits, 1 ER (1HR), 0 BB, 1 WP. Xavier Nady (DH) went 0 for 4 with 2 GIDP. He is now batting .071.Potomac lost, 8-3. July 12, 2012 10:41 PM _____________________________Thank goodness Storen is working out his control in High A and not in High MLB.

  29. Natslifer - Jul 13, 2012 at 12:22 PM

    Seven years… seven years of avoiding the inevitable, fantastic, amazing process of figuring out how to allocate playoff tickets for the families in my group. Now I don't want to think about it until September 1 (ok – maybe August 15th – we have a summer vacation that I can work around). Someone pointed out (what I believe) that for us day-to-day fans, the Strasburg shutdown is a non-event. The essence of MLB fandome for me is a wonderful 6 month grind where your team proves they're better than everyone else day in and day out. Our Nats gave us that in the first half – the second half is going to be even better.

  30. NCNatsie - Jul 13, 2012 at 12:28 PM

    My formula:Get Dempster.Win World Series.

  31. Tcostant - Jul 13, 2012 at 12:51 PM

    What a year. Remember in the spring when Davey said to Kelly Johnson that they can "fire him" if they don'y make the playoffs. This team got such a manager upgrade, it cannot be understated!Can't wait for some baseball.

  32. natsfan1a - Jul 13, 2012 at 1:03 PM

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  33. natsfan1a - Jul 13, 2012 at 1:05 PM

    Seconding, um, thirding the welcome for Kazakhstan spouse. Also seconding Jane on NatsNut's post. Am likewise keeping my head down, taking it one day at a time*, and enjoying this season's great ride – wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!! sjm, sounds like an awesome concert with the blues brothers. :-)*Okay, so once in a while I might lift it for a peek at the out of town scoreboard. On a related note, my sister-in-law, who is not at all into baseball, was talking with my hubby about her coming out for an October visit. Have to admit I did fleetingly think about October activities that might have me otherwise occupied. I told my hubby that, one way or another, I did expect to be watching a bunch of postseason baseball that month. Also, my Chicago baseball buddy had been talking about coming out in early September or October. I'm thinking that October might be best. After all, the foliage is so pretty then and the weather is delightful. What? :-)

  34. NCNatsie - Jul 13, 2012 at 1:21 PM

    1a, I think October is perfect for you and your Chicago baseball friend. If, that is, we go get Dempster RIGHT NOW. I just really do think he's the missing piece for us after Stras gets shut down. Rental or longer term. Give up the necessary prospects and/or young major league guys. I'll miss them, too…but. We're talking a World Series here. A post-season 3-man of Gio, JZimm and Dempster would be unstoppable.

  35. Unknown - Jul 13, 2012 at 1:36 PM

    Responding to a coupla comments from this thread and last:Theophilus T. S. said… Strasburg's recent performances indicate he may already be seeing the wall if not hitting it. It's hard to think his first three pro seasons were, essentially, a waste. But that's the way it's working out. Blame Boras for that damned mining for the last nickel that denied Strasburg — and any number of other clients — the chance to learn how to be pros in the year they were drafted.I'm not sure all that much would be different. If I recall, he pitched an awful lot that spring season in college, and so I'm not sure how many more "pro" innings he would have pitched that year, anyway.Clip&Store said… I say let him go 165ish and shut him down. let him qualify for era & whip ;) poor jzimm was, what, 2 out away last year?I have a question about that: I thought the official cut-off line is "one inning per game that the team has played". Since the Nats ended up only playin 161 games, didn't JZ qualify last year?Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said… One more reason for shutting Jesus down as scheduled: We're going to be so far ahead in the NL East is mid-September that the games are going to be meaningless anyway. There, I said it. Drug-test me.News Flash: The results are back in (thanks for sending me the sample) and it turns out that there was no trace of Kook-Ade found. Apparently, Sunshine, your statement was made based fully on logic, and not under the influence ;-)And, finally:NatsNut said… This makes me so nervous, giddy and anxious, all at the same time.And that's why we're baseball fans, eh?

  36. A DC Wonk - Jul 13, 2012 at 1:38 PM

    Huh . . . it let me post without signing in (?)In any event, fwiw, that "unknown" post just above was me.

  37. Ghost Of Steve M. - Jul 13, 2012 at 1:51 PM

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  38. djinFl. - Jul 13, 2012 at 1:52 PM

    Quotes from the Miami Herald today:“I don’t think we played bad,” Guillen said of the first half. “We played very, very bad. The first half was miserable.”Guillen said he began to wonder whether the Marlins were simply “a bad team” that everyone overestimated, but decided it was “a good team playing bad.”“They’ve got a sizable lead on us in the standings,” Marlins reliever Randy Choate said. “They have the luxury of knowing they can lose a couple of games and still have a nine-game lead. It could be devastating if we lose three out of four — or all four games — to these guys coming out of the break.”“I think it’s big [series] but I don’t want to put our whole season on it,” said Marlins pitcher Mark Buehrle, who is scheduled to face Gonzalez on Saturday. “If we lose three or four, should we just cash it in and not play the rest of the year? No.”Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/07/13/2893501/miami-marlins-ready-to-get-back.html#storylink=cpy

  39. Ghost Of Steve M. - Jul 13, 2012 at 1:57 PM

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  40. Ghost Of Steve M. - Jul 13, 2012 at 2:03 PM

    The good news this weekend is the Mets and Braves will beat each other up. I am thinking the bigger advantage may be the Mets beating the Braves twice and losing one.With the injury to Gee, the Mets are going to rely on Santana and Dickey. Dickey has become a little more human the last few weeks. Santana has been good while inconsistent.The Braves seem to be the tougher competition. The Nats need to do the elusive and sweep the Fish. JZim to Gio to Stras.

  41. Theophilus T. S. - Jul 13, 2012 at 2:07 PM

    Agree w/ those who think beating Miami is key. Phillies seem vulnerable and with their age I think it will be difficult for them to be consistent. Mets have over-achieved and lack pitching depth. Nats have generally been able to handle the Braves. Miami, on the other hand, has under-achieved, at least on offense. It may be that their pitchers are collectively having a miserable season all at once. But they have the bats to put up 7-8 runs a game for two weeks in a row. So, if their pitching rebounds, they will be trouble.I suspect their hotel-lobby-masquerading-as-a stadium is an advantage at home. It's hard to see how playing in there would feel like you were actually in a game.

  42. Ghost Of Steve M. - Jul 13, 2012 at 2:07 PM

    That's right, a 4 game series against the Fish. JZim to Gio to Stras to EJax. It all starts tonight. No Giancarlo Stanton. No Bonifacio. Marlins doing Closer by committee. Just need to pitch Hanley with nothing he can pull. Exciting times!

  43. Firm Possession, My Gorsehacken Sofa - Jul 13, 2012 at 2:28 PM

    I thought the official cut-off line is "one inning per game that the team has played". Since the Nats ended up only playin 161 games, didn't JZ qualify last year?We discussed that at length over the winter, until someone was actually forced to go look up the rule. It's one inning per game scheduled, not games actually played, i.e., 162. So, no.

  44. Feel Wood - Jul 13, 2012 at 2:36 PM

    Since the Nats ended up only playin 161 games, didn't JZ qualify last year?If he had qualified, he would have been something like tenth on the list. So it's not like he was robbed of anything by not being allowed to pitch that extra 1 or 2 outs that would have gotten him qualified. The situation may be different with Strasburg this year. If he's near the top of the list when it's time to shut him down, they'll make sure he has 162 innings pitched. Otherwise, it won't factor into the decision, just like it didn't factor into the decision with Zimmermann.

  45. Ben - Jul 13, 2012 at 5:10 PM

    Let part 2 begin! NatiTWOde!

Archives

NL EAST STANDINGS

W L GB
WASHINGTON 71 53 --
ATLANTA 66 60 6.0
MIAMI 63 62 8.5
NEW YORK 59 68 13.5
PHILADELPHIA 55 71 17.0
Through Tuesday's games

UPCOMING SCHEDULE
WED: Diamondbacks at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
THU: Diamondbacks at Nats, 4:05 p.m.
FRI: Giants at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
SAT: Giants at Nats, 4:05 p.m.
SUN: Giants at Nats, 1:35 p.m.
MON: Nats at Phillies, 7:05 p.m.
TUE: Nats at Phillies, 7:05 p.m.
Full season schedule

Mark joins Rob Carlin and Joe Orsulak every Thursday at 4 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet for a half-hour show on the Nats, Orioles and rest of MLB. Re-airs Thursdays at 11:30 p.m., Saturdays at 9 a.m. and Sundays at 11:30 a.m.

ON THE RADIO

As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 schedule (subject to change)...

MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.

*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.

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