At the halfway point of the 2016 Major League Baseball season, the Washington Nationals remain in first place in the National League East.  With team success, individual performances are noted and acknowledged.  This year, the Nats will send five players to the All-Star festivities in San Diego, breaking a team record of four players sent in 2012.

Washington Nationals general manager Mark Rizzo, left, stands with right fielder Bryce Harper (34), second baseman Daniel Murphy (20), catcher Wilson Ramos (40) and starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg (37) after they were presented with their All-Star jerseys before a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Nationals Park, Wednesday, July 6, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Washington Nationals general manager Mark Rizzo, left, stands with right fielder Bryce Harper (34), second baseman Daniel Murphy (20), catcher Wilson Ramos (40) and starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg (37) after they were presented with their All-Star jerseys before a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Nationals Park, Wednesday, July 6, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Leading the group of five, four of whom were voted into the game and one who was added as a replacement, is 2015 MVP Bryce Harper, who was voted in as a starter by the fans for the third time in his young career.  Harper leads the team with 19 homeruns and 13 stolen bases.  Although his season hasn’t been exactly what fans have hoped for, Harper is still putting together a pretty solid campaign. Expectations are higher for a player of Harper’s caliber, but as long as the team keeps winning, the complaints should be few.

Second baseman Daniel Murphy was just 88 votes shy of winning the fan vote to start the All-Star Game at his position, coming in second to the Cubs’ Ben Zobrist. However, Murphy was chosen as a reserve position player, marking his second All-Star selection and first in Washington. Murphy has quite simply been a godsend for the team, playing at a MVP level throughout the first half of the season.  Murphy leads the league in batting average ranking at a .349 clip. He also leads the way in hits with 116, along with a team-high 64 RBIs and 25 doubles.  His defense, considered a deficiency coming into the season, has been pretty solid and he has delivered some spectacular plays at second base.

The feel-good story of the season has to be veteran catcher Wilson Ramos, who will make his All-Star debut.  His journey to this elevated status has been quite harrowing and amazing to say the least.  Now in his sixth full season, Ramos has suffered numerous personal pitfalls, including 48 hours of abduction in his native Venezuela in 2011 and the death of his beloved grandfather earlier this season. Somehow, Ramos has seemed to use all of those experiences to fuel a special campaign.  He is batting a career-high .331, third in the National League, and leads all NL catchers in home runs (13) and RBIs (47).

Pitchers Stephen Strasburg, who was voted in by fans, and Max Scherzer, who was selected as a replacement, round out the Nationals’ San Diego contingent. Strasburg is in the midst of a special campaign; the nod marks his All-Star selection and his first since 2012, and will return him to his hometown.  The San Diego State product is undefeated at 11-0 and has held his own in the pitcher-rich National League. His 2.62 ERA is ninth among NL starters, and his 132 strikeouts is fifth despite missing two starts. He is holding opponents to a .201 batting average against him, tied for sixth best.

After a slow start and a propensity to give up home runs, Scherzer has been the solid, front-of-the-rotation starter that he was signed to be. His 164 strikeouts lead the National league, to go along with a 10-5 overall record. He is holding batters to a .192 average, and his 4.84 strikeout-to-walk ratio trails only Clayton Kershaw and Noah Syndergaard among National League starters.

Congratulations to all five players, and Nats fans are hoping for continued success from the team for the rest of the season.

 

Dion Johnson

Special to the AFRO