Wire Taps: Nationals open second-half in Philly; Nats’ storylines to follow; Max Scherzer MVP case…

There’s a lot of talk (especially in today’s Wire Taps) about how the Nationals saved their season and their mojo heading into the second half. It’s worth reminding ourselves as this important stretch begins that June may well have been this team’s peak; that things will go downhill as the competition gets stiffer and the team gets more tired. Reality checks are good, as are low expectations. Then again, if the next half of baseball is as chaotic as the first was, then perhaps it’s best to just not think about it.

Here’s what’s phresh from Philly:

200-inning pitchers are vanishing. Does it matter? Inside the end of an era (The Athletic)
The most elite of the elite—think Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander—will always have the chance to go 200 innings. But for young pitchers whose arms are valuable commodities, reaching 200 innings is getting harder and harder, especially with openers, training and analytics dominating the conversation. There’s also another question apparent as fewer and fewer pitchers are groomed to go the distance: are five-inning starters marketable?

Nationals place Jonny Venters on the IL, shift minor league pitchers in advance of second half (WaPo)
Venters won’t be back until July 18th at the earliest, while Erick Fedde, Austin Voth and Kyle McGowin all got sent to Harrisburg from Fresno, and Justin Miller and Kyle Barraclough are waiting there as well.

The Nationals saved their season in the first half. Now comes the real test (WaPo)
Oddly enough, almost everything went right save for the escapades of Trevor Rosenthal from May 24th to July 7th. The Mets dropped out, the Phillies struggled, and the Nats snuck into a wild card spot. They’re off life support, but they’ll now face a difficult schedule right out of the gate, and they’ll somehow need to keep up the pace or play at a level close to the one at which they’ve played as of late. (They’ll also need to make some deadline deals, and everyone will need to stay healthy, and the rotation will need to continue dominating, which suddenly sounds like a lot.)

The ‘M’ in ‘MVP’ should stand for ‘Mad Max’ Scherzer (WaPo)
Scherzer has pitched the most stressful innings in baseball, struck out the most batters in the majors, and toed the mound for 129.1 innings. If the season were to end today, he’d be the frontrunner for Cy Young — but he should also be discussed as an MVP candidate: in a year that hitters have dominated, Scherzer has pitched as well as if not better than Clayton Kershaw did in 2014, the last year a pitcher won the MVP award. He’s helped the Nats recover their postseason chances and is a mere .2 fWAR behind Cody Bellinger, the NL leader in the category.

NL East players to watch ahead of the Deadline (MLB.com)
“If [Fernando] Rodney can continue to be an effective late-inning reliever, he could be a huge boost for the Nats. If his small sample size doesn’t hold up, they probably need two relievers instead of one.”

Three to get to fourteen with a two opener (Sweetspot — Nationals Baseball)
If the Nats can complete this part of the schedule with an 11-8 or 12-7 record, they’ll be doing well in the Wild Card race and in a decent spot for the division — but a losing sequence could have dire consequences. Then again, a sweep of Philly in Philly would change the rest of the season’s dynamic (as would being swept by Philly), especially given the close proximity of the trade deadline.

Soto’s improved defense adds to multi-dimensional talent (MASN)
Juan Soto’s tracking has improved, and he’s making great catches and reading balls well — most importantly, he and Victor Robles trust each other in the outfield — meaning that his tools are just that much more impressive in his sophomore year.

Five key second-half storylines for the Nationals (MASN)
Will the tougher competition roll over? How much time will Ryan Zimmerman get? Is there really a reliever to get at the deadline? Can they extend Rendon? Can they keep it all going en route to the world’s least likely division title?

As second half opens, Nats try to sustain positive momentum – (MASN)
“The schedule the Nationals face to open the second half is no joke. It begins tonight in Philadelphia, where a Phillies team desperately trying to get itself back on track awaits for three games.”

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