Nationals Finish Great First Half

Charles E. Sutton | 7/10/2012, 12:42 p.m.

The Washington Nationals continue to transform into a team that can contend and excite. Attendance at Nationals Park has increased and the team has spent most of the last three months in first place in its division. Once again, baseball has meaning in the nation's capital.

The Nationals go into the all-star break only tiny percentage points from matching the best winning percentage since baseball returned to the District. Were it not for two wild pitches, the Nationals would have won this past weekend's series against the Colorado Rockies. Of course, you always want to win, but not winning the Colorado series is no cause for concern. They still enter the four-day break with the National League's best record (49-34).

"Unfortunately, you can't get the ball and go out there tomorrow," said reliever Sean Burnett, whose off day marked the beginning of the Nationals bullpen struggles. "It's going to be nice to have these four days off and relax with the family, but you would like to go out on a better note than that."

Shortstop Ian Desmond has continued his hot hitting in his breakthrough season. Right-handed starter Jordan Zimmerman has maintained his quiet consistency. However, Washington's normally outstanding bullpen stumbled for the first time in a week and a half.

Burnett, who since June has allowed only four runs in 17 appearances, was bad on Sunday. Eric Young, Jr. took his second pitch to left field for a home run in the eighth inning. He gave up singles to the next two hitters. Michael Gonzalez replaced Burnett with nobody out and threw a wild pitch against the first batter he faced to allow the tying run to score.

In the ninth inning, Tyler Clippard entered the game. He is perfect in save opportunities as the team's closer. He also hurled a wild pitch, which allowed Jordan Pacheco (who doubled to lead off the inning) to score the game-winning run.

The bullpen's disappointing performance sends a strong message that the relievers aren't perfect, something for the team to consider during the break. But for the division-leading Nationals, one bad game couldn't taint a great first half of the season.

"Everybody feels good, and they're looking for the break," manager Davey Johnson said. "They've battled hard. We've had a lot of close games. It's a good time for a break."