Who would have known that the balance of power in the NL East would have turned on a mid-winter signing with all of the excitement of leftover potato salad.  Instead of being an afterthought, Daniel Murphy has been the main course of the Nats’ offense.  He’s a major reason why after finishing seven games behind the Mets in 2015, they lead the division by six games halfway through 2016.  How good has Murphy been?  Try .423 with 7 HR and 21 RBI against his former teammates.  That’s the good news…the bad news is that he only has six more games against the Mets to remind them of their mistake in not retaining his services.

Halfway full- or perhaps 55.6% there as the Nats have played 90 games.  First half causes for confidence include stellar showings by Murphy, Danny Espinosa (Nats #8 hitters rank 2nd in the Majors in RBI) and Wilson Ramos (Nats catchers are 1st in RBI, 2nd in OPS and 3rd in runs scored).  The team also leads the Majors in ERA and fielding percentage while ranking second in quality starts and third in opponents batting average.

Halfway empty- how good is this rotation?  Stephen Strasburg has been hurt, Max Scherzer coughs up homers and while the trio of Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark and Joe Ross have each had their moments each has given us doubts.  The leadoff spot remains an eyesore-ranking 27th in the Majors in runs scored and last in OPS (on base percentage + slugging).  The first base and centerfield positions rank 29th in OPS and conventional wisdom says there’s no way Murphy, Espinosa and Ramos can each duplicate their way-above-market first halves.

Dissecting the Division- the Nats own a six game lead over the NY Mets and Miami.  They currently are posting better numbers than their NL East foes:  in addition to leading the NL in ERA and fielding, the club ranks 6th in runs scored (Marlins are 11th and the Mets are 13th).  In the strange stat anomaly of the week, Miami ranks 2nd in the Majors in batting average yet is 22nd in the big leagues in scoring.

Across the Divide- the Orioles are in a fun race as well (for those wondering, Mark Trumbo is playing the role of Daniel Murphy on the Camden Yards stage), leading Boston and Toronto by two games for the AL East lead.  Their hold is precarious given the team’s starting pitching problems (minus Chris Tillman the Birds are 17-26 with an ERA of 5.70). The Red Sox lead the AL in hitting, scoring and OPS while making moves to bolster their consistently uneven pitching (21 runs against the Angels?  Really?).  Watch out for the Blue Jays- the defending division champs rate 3rd in OPS while own the league’s second best ERA and fielding percentage.  The Jays also have the most quality starts.

Last Week’s Heroes- Murphy hit .346 with 3 HR and 10 RBI while scoring 9 runs. Max Scherzer posted an ERA of 0.69 over two starts while notching 16 strikeouts to 5 walks.  Jonathan Papelbon in his return from the disabled list tallied 3 saves while striking out 8 over 4 innings of work.

Last Week’s Humbled- we knew Danny Espinosa’s June would be tough to duplicate, but .217 with one walk and 11 strikeouts?  Relievers Sammy Solis and Oliver Perez were tagged for ERA’s of 13.50 and 16.20.

Game to Watch- Friday Stephen Strasburg (12-0, 2.62 ERA) pitches against Pittsburgh.  One doesn’t feel the length of the All Star Break until Thursday’s off-day.  We’re ready for baseball…and we are ready to see Strasburg pitch again.  Do you know he’s lost just twice since last year’s All Star Break?

Game to Miss- they haven’t released the rotation for the first weekend back, but I will go out on a limb and guess Max Scherzer is pitching Saturday against the Pirates.  Max has a history of being magical in Saturday starts against the Bucs…so that leaves the Sunday game with Gio/Tanner/Joe on the hill.  It’s a 1:05 start and I’m sure the stadium will feel like a nice wool blanket during the game…I’ll take a day of the paper, pool and pasta.  Of course, if Scherzer pitches Sunday I reserve my right to flip flop…and wear my flip-flops on Saturday.