The second half is only 22 days old, but things have started turning around. The Nationals are scoring 4.41 runs per game in the second half, more than half a run better than their performance in the first half and better than 14 teams. Collectively, they’re hitting .263/.332/.418 in the second half.
The reason is pretty obvious – the middle of their lineup is finally functioning like the middle of a lineup should. For much of the first half, until Michael Morse began his Albert Pujols impersonation, the Nationals had no hitters whom the other team needed to worry about. Most days, not one player scared anyone.
With Zimmerman not only healthy but comfortable and Morse continuing to establish himself, the Nationals have two hitters that makes the opposing team think about who’s lurking on deck. Werth may not fit that description, but he’s got an .819 OPS in the second half. Rick Ankiel, batting leadoff, is slugging .548 since the break.
The Nationals were bound to improve once Zimmerman returned to form, but there’s probably another underlying reason for their improvement: Davey Johnson is their manager.
As Johnson has taken over the Nationals, several baseball people have predicted he would have an impact on their offense. He provides more experience than hitting coach Rick Eckstein can offer. He works with Nationals hitters in a hands-on way, hanging around the batting cage and even throwing batting practice some days. After games, Johnson occasionally walks through the clubhouse, mimicking a swing in front of a locker or two.
Baseball, more than any other sport, is about the players more than the coaches. Again, nothing could have made a more significant difference to the Nationals’ offense than Zimmerman’s emergence. But Johnson’s presence shouldn’t be overlooked, either.
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 8, Buffalo 2: Tom Milone allowed one earned run in 5 2/3 innings on six hits and three walks, striking out five. Milone had walked only 10 batters all season. Matt Antonelli went 3 for 5 with a home run. Stephen Lombardozzi went 1 for 4 with a homer and a walk.
Harrisburg was off.
Salem 2, Potomac 1: Paul Demny allowed one run in five innings on four hits and six walks, striking out one.
Greensboro 9, Hagerstown 3: JasonMartinson went 1 for 3 with a double and a walk.
Mahoning Valley 7, Auburn 2: Matt Skole went 2 for 5.