Even though they're coming off a weekend series loss in Baltimore, the Washington Nationals, with a record of 41-29, sit atop the National League East, 3.5 games ahead of the second-place Mets. This is not a great offensive club, as witnessed by the five total runs they scored in their latest series, but they can certainly pitch - to the point where the offense doesn't have to be great. Or good, for that matter. They just kind of have to be "there."
The 88 OPS+ at the plate has been countered by a pitching staff that has put up a league-leading 2.97 ERA and 135 ERA+. They have one - ONE - pitcher on their active roster that has been below average in terms of ERA+ (Chien-Ming Wang, 66). Everybody else has been above average, and in most cases, it's not even close at this point. The lowest ERA+ in their rotation is Ross Detwiler's measly 129. He's also the only one with an ERA over 3 (3.09). A good way to sum up the Nats' pitching and hitting situations is that they are, in every sense, the anti-Rockies. The only exception is that both teams are led by two young superstars. In the case of the Nats, that would be two REALLY young superstars.
#37 / Pitcher / Washington Nationals
Jul 20, 1988
|2012 - Stephen Strasburg||9-1||2.46||1.04||110||22|
#34 / Left Field / Washington Nationals
Oct 16, 1992
|2012 - Bryce Harper||.286||.367||.497|
Stephen Strasburg has used absolutely filthy stuff combined with near-elite control to become the best pitcher in the National League. He owns a K/BB ratio of 5.00 while striking out over 11 batters per nine innings and walking just over 2. His ERA+ is a rotation-best 161. Want traditional stats? Fine. He's 9-1 with a 2.46 ERA. Into player value stats? Fine. He has amassed a 2.4 bWAR already. And that's only second on the team among pitchers (we'll get to that later), which shows you how good this staff is.
Meanwhile, Bryce Harper leads the team in position player bWAR at 1.5. He has shown pretty good plate discipline, as his walk and strikeout rates are among the best on the team. He steals bases, he hits for power, he plays tremendous defense, and he does all of this at the age of 19. He also missed the first 20 games of the season due to still being in the minor leagues. He is the epitome of a phenom.
As mentioned above, the Nationals' rotation is straight out of a video game. Strasburg's success and superstar label have almost overshadowed the fact that Gio Gonzalez has been every bit of what the team hoped he would be, and more. He's 9-3 with a 2.55 ERA (156 ERA+), leads the team in bWAR (2.5), and strikes out over 10 batters per nine innings. However, arguably his most impressive statistic is that he has pitched 84.2 innings and allowed one home run. Edwin Jackson (2.91 ERA/136 ERA+), Jordan Zimmermann (2.89 ERA/138 ERA+), and Detwiler are just completely lost in the shuffle at this point. Any one of them would easily be the Rockies' best pitcher right now, and it wouldn't even be remotely close.
They do have their issues on offense as, other than Harper, Adam LaRoche is their only above average hitter (.251/.338/.494, 124 OPS+). Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos were off to pretty good starts before they suffered injuries. Werth could return in late-July, but Ramos is out for the year. Chad Tracy (yes, the one with the career .349/.405/.594 line against the Rockies) posted a 125 OPS+ off the bench, but he is also on the DL. Rookie Tyler Moore has filled that void, as he has a .308/.386/.513 line in limited action. In addition, the gigantic Michael Morse recently returned from a two month DL stint, and while he hasn't quite gotten after it yet, he's more or less a proven hitter.
The bullpen has been excellent, especially since Tyler Clippard took over duties as closer. He has a 1.95 ERA with 12 saves and strikes out almost 11 batters per nine innings. The three-headed setup monster of Craig Stammen, Sean Burnett, and former Rockies farmhand Ryan Mattheus has been very effective so far, as each guy has a sub-2.00 ERA. Even the well-traveled Tom Gorzelanny (who rivals Jeff Karstens as baseball's most handsome pitcher) has been above average in 33 innings of relief.
Check out the pitching probables (if you thought the last series featured some gross mismatches, wait until you see these matchups) and more after the jump.
Game 1 - tonight at 6:40 PM MT (ROOT Sports)
Stephen Strasburg (9-1, 2.46 ERA) vs. Jeff Francis (0-1, 8.56 ERA)
Game 2 - tomorrow at 6:40 PM MT (ROOT Sports)
Gio Gonzalez (9-3, 2.55) vs. Christian Friedrich (4-4, 5.65)
Game 3 - Wednesday at 6:40 PM MT (ROOT Sports)
Jordan Zimmermann (3-6, 2.89) vs. Josh Outman (0-3, 8.64)
Game 4 - Thursday at 1:10 PM MT (no TV)
Edwin Jackson (4-4, 2.91) vs. Alex White (2-6, 6.45)