Improved but plenty of work still remains

The Nats begin the second half of the baseball season Friday night an improved yet still flawed team.

After a strong start, Washington has gone 19-35 since May 14 and again sits in last place in the National League East at 39-50 overall. Winning at that rate in the second half, however, still will allow the franchise to notch its most wins since the inaugural season in the District in 2005, when it finished .500. But even that modest goal is a question mark at this point.

Up nextNats at MarlinsWhen » Friday, 7:10 p.m.Where » Sun Life Stadium, MiamiTV » MASN2» Rookie right-hander Stephen Strasburg begins the second half against the Florida Marlins on Friday. It’s the start of a 10-game road trip for the Nats. This will be the eighth start for Strasburg since his June 8 promotion. He has pitched exactly 98 innings between the big leagues and the minors and has an innings cap of around 160. Strasburg likely has 10 starts left this season before the Nats shut him down to prevent injury.

"We have to get better everywhere," said Nats third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, whose team leads the majors with 75 errors. "We have to play better defense, among other things. But we've addressed it. We'll work on it and go from there."

Any second-half wins forecast depends in large part on the personnel decisions general manager Mike Rizzo makes before the July 31 trade deadline. First baseman Adam Dunn is a free agent at the end of the season, and his name is often floated in trade rumors with contending teams desperate for a power hitter. Dunn ranks second in the majors with 22 home runs. But the Nats could also make a push to sign Dunn to a contract extension.

And he isn't the only one. Outfielder Josh Willingham is also an attractive trade target thanks to an excellent season at the plate (.913 OPS, 15 homers) and one arbitration year left on his contract. Middle infielders Cristian Guzman and Adam Kennedy also might draw looks.

There are other issues for Rizzo to work out. But the starting rotation will see the most upheaval in preparation for 2011. Rookie Stephen Strasburg has been as advertised so far. But the 21-year-old will reach a team-imposed innings cap by early September and will be shut down for the season. So there are chances for returning injured pitchers Jason Marquis (shoulder), Jordan Zimmermann (elbow), Chien-Ming Wang (shoulder), Scott Olsen (shoulder), Ross Detwiler (hip) and the ineffective John Lannan, now working out his issues at Double-A Harrisburg. Dewtiler and Zimmermann have both looked good in their first few minor league starts.