Unlike last year,Nats fans going into the second half don't have to find things to be interested in. They have the whole PENNANT RACE thing to keep them busy. But even playoff caliber teams have a lot of questions and the Nats are no different. We'll table the Strasburg discussion for now, and the injury returns of Werth and Storen, but here are some other things to keep an eye on as the 2nd half progresses.
What kind of production will the Nats get from the catcher position?
For few weeks after Ramos went down Jesus Flores played capably. But the past month has been brutal for him. The Nats have caught a good start from Solano but a 26 year old who has never hit higher than .275 in the minors isn't going to hit .350 in the majors... or .300.. or maybe even .250. (the BABIP bares that out - .360 so far. Unsustainable for him) If Solano hits like he should and Flores doesn't bounce back, this spot could be a big hole in the lineup.
Can Ian keep it up?
For the past 4 plus months (going back to last year) Ian has hit with renewed and consistent power. For the past 2 months Ian has hit like one of the bets power hitters in the league. The Nats stuck with Ian for a long time hoping for this outcome, but how real is it? Great half-years do happen. Nothing in the fancy stats, though, is so out of whack that a collapse is inevitable. Although you'd have to expect some return to normalcy, the smart money right now is on a good second half buoyed by another 10+ homers.
How long will Ryan's bounce back last?
Ryan Zimmerman got hurt and returned to hit so terribly, that Nats fans felt he may be better served getting back on the DL. Instead Ryan opted for a cortisone shot and since then he's hitting .333 / .394 / .683. He's also been one of the unluckier Nats (.270 BABIP), so it's not out of the question that this super hot run lasts a long time through a combination of luck and feeling better. Then again, this is injury based and perhaps you can shoot up for only so long before the pain knocks Ryan back down. The Nats need Ryan's bat because until Bryce can do what he does for a whole year, Zimmerman is the elite bat for the team.
Bryce Harper, good rookie or immediate impact player?
After an initial adjustment period it looked like Bryce was going to own this league from the get-go. But just when Nats fans were starting to crow "You really think Mike Trout is better than Bryce Harper?" Bryce crashed hard at the end of June. July has been slightly better but the power hasn't returned yet. As the season plays out and Bryce plays longer than he ever has against the best possible competition, you have to wonder what level of play will come from him this season. He's good enough you don't expect him to be bad, but the Nats need impact bats.
Will Mike Morse ever get back to Beast Mode?
During a hot stretch Mike upped his average from .217 to .299 and Nats fans who were worrying about him took their eyes off Mike for other things. But Mike's still not the same guy as he was before. His power, which had been great in 2010 and 2011 (isoSLG .230+) is much lower in 2012 (.141) Worse yet his BABIP is high (.343) which suggests that average is going down, not up. Optimists will point out that Mike started slowly last year too, but he's 30 year old with <2 years of success coming off an injury. We really don't know what to think.
Can the Nats elite pitchers keep up the homer gap?
Last year Gio gave up 17 homers in a spacious park. Last year Tyler Clippard gave up 11 home runs. These are typical numbers for these two. This year so far Gio has given up 4 and Tyler 0. Their HR/FB numbers are crazy low. Neither is going to suddenly be terrible but it would be pretty remarkable for them to keep up this pace and if they don't that means a few more runs here and there, but more importantly some kinks in the armor of what is now an impenetrable staff.
What kind of 5th starter will Detwiler be?
The Nats depth at the back of the rotation has taken a hit. Wang has looked terrible and has been demoted to AA to work out his kinks. No Nats fans wants to see him back. Lannan has been unimpressive in AAA, and frankly, Rizzo has always seemed to me to be the type of macho ass that carries a grudge so I don't expect to see Lannan unless there is no other option. That means it's Detwiler's spot to lose. After an initial hot start, Detwiler pitched rather badly to lose the spot to Wang in the first place. After a nice start in his first one back, he's had back to back unimpressive games. (though one of those might be Davey's fault more than Ross's) I really think those great performances weren't his true level but Ross doesn't need to be great. He just needs to give the Nats a chance to win.
Can the "other guys" in the pen keep stranding runners?
Thanks to some terrible performanaces by the last guys in the pen (Wang, Perry, Lidge) the Nats pen doesn't seem all that special keeping runners from scoring but Burnett, Stammen, Mattheus and Gonzalez all have higher numbers than you expect. It's something that can easily be kept up for a season, given how few innings these guys pitch, but it could also come crashing back down very quickly.