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Werth: Nats can 'kick it in gear,' live up to hype

Werth: Nats can 'kick it in gear,' live up to hype

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NEW YORK -- The Nationals have reached the halfway point of the season and find themselves with a 40-40 record, 6 1/2 games behind the Braves in the National League East entering Sunday's action.

Washington entered the 2013 season as the favorite to win the NL East because of its stellar pitching staff and an offense that was improved after acquiring center fielder Denard Span in a trade from the Twins. But the Nationals have struggled all season -- they are the worst-ranked defensive team in the NL and rank near the bottom in almost every offensive category.

It also doesn't help that the Nationals have been without outfielder Bryce Harper and catcher Wilson Ramos for more than a month. Harper had has been on the DL since June 1 because of a left knee injury and Ramos has had left hamstring issues since May 16.

But talk to reliever Tyler Clippard and outfielder Jayson Werth, and they believe the Nationals can still win their second straight division title.

"We are not where we want to be, that's for sure," Clippard said. "The baseball season is funny. It's a long season, a lot of things happen. We kind have been searching a little bit, but at the end of the day, we've had a lot of things not go our way as far as injuries, even on the field, little stuff, where last year, they went our way.

"We are looking to get on a roll. It's going to happen. That's the type of ballclub that we are. We are very capable of winning 10, 15 games in a row. If we hit a stretch like that, that's all it's going to take. We are right at .500 and within arm's reach of the leaders of our division, so that's nice."

Werth has a reason to be optimistic. In 2007, the Phillies were barely over .500 and trailed the Mets by six games at the halfway point but went on to win the division that year.

"I like where we are at," Werth said. "So what we need to do is kick it in gear, start playing better and winning some games, but I think that will come as time goes on in the second half. For me, this is where you want to be."

On Monday, Harper will be activated from the disabled list and is expected to be back in the middle of the order. During the month of June, the Nationals were 12-13 during Harper's absence and Werth said Harper will make a difference to the lineup.

"He is a great player. He is probably going to hit somewhere in the middle of the lineup," Werth said. "People would like to trade for a bat like that. That will be a great addition."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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