Pitching is the key to playing into October.
There is no secret there. If a team lacks pitching depth and stability, they're not going to sniff the big dance. This winter, the Washington Nationals are taking big steps to prove their worth in the NL East by bolstering their starting rotation.
The recent acquisition of Edwin Jackson just may have been the piece to help make them a pitching powerhouse. In a division with no shortage of arms or superstars, the Nationals hope to build on their 80-81 2011 season.
Let's have a look at the bullets they have loaded in the chamber heading into the 2012 campaign.
A lot of pressure will be placed upon Strasburg to come back healthy and strong in 2012.
After having Tommy John surgery in 2010, there are still questions floating around regarding his ability to perform at his 102-mph billing.
Having appeared in just five games and throwing 24 total innings for the Nats in 2011, Strasburg did manage a split record of 1-1 while posting an ERA of just 1.50 with a 0.708 WHIP.
In 2010, he made 12 appearances with a 5-3 record. He posted a 2.91 ERA and a 1.074 WHIP in 68 innings of work.
What can be drawn from his limited experience is the fact that Strasburg is good—really good.
If he can pull together an entire season starting 30 or more games while winning 13 or more for the Nationals, I think it could be considered a great success and a building block for the future of this ball club.
According to Federalbaseball.com, general manager Mike Rizzo said that Strasburg will be on limited innings this season. A record similar to 13-8 with an ERA hovering around 3.00 and a WHIP under 1.200 could be considered a very successful season for the young hurler.
It is likely that Jackson will take the role of the No.2 starter once the ink has dried on his one-year deal. The acquisition of Jackson also likely means the end of John Lannon's time in Washington, according to Fox Sports.
While historically Jackson is a .500 pitcher with a mid-4.00 ERA and 1.400+ WHIP, the man has a lot to prove this season—especially after he turned down multiple three-year offers to accept the Nationals one-year pillow offer, allowing him to prove his worth in next year's free agent market (via Twitter).
Nationals fans can be leery of this signing. Jackson posts a career 4.82 regular season ERA and 1.505 WHIP pitching in 47 games in the NL. His record is 17-16 in that time as well.
Having said that, last season with the St. Louis Cardinals he did manage a 5-2 record with a 3.58 ERA and 1.462 WHIP in 13 total games and 12 starts. He could be showing some marked improvement, especially in the National League.
Jackson certainly has a lot to prove this season, especially if he intends to cash in next winter. This favors Nats fans for their 2012 run.
When the Nationals traded for Gonzalez, they landed a pitcher that was highly coveted on the trade market this winter. It was a nice acquisition for them.
Gonzalez has proven himself to be a solid starting pitcher, winning 31 games for the Oakland A's over the last two seasons (38 in total) while posting a 3.18 ERA over the same time period. His 1.324 WHIP over that time is significantly better than the 1.694 WHIP (average) he posted in his first two Major League Seasons.
While many will argue that Gonzalez has been able to produce the numbers he has in a pitchers park, a closer look reveals that he has put up some solid numbers while facing some of the toughest teams the AL has to offer.
Against some of the best hitting teams in the American League—Anaheim Angels, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Texas Rangers, Tampa Bay Rays and the Toronto Blue Jays—Gonzalez has a record of 17-12 (seven wins coming against the Angels, and four losses coming against the Yankees), in 39 games, of which he started 35.
His ERA against those clubs averages out to 4.39 with a 1.415 WHIP. That's not too bad, all things considered.
Gonzalez should not doubt be a solid piece in this Nationals rotation in 2012.
The 25-year-old righty has tremendous potential for the Nationals, especially as their No. 4 starter.
In 2011, Zimmermann may have posted a losing record of 8-11, however, he displayed his personal best ERA (3.18) and WHIP (1.147) along the way.
Zimmermann, by appearances, looks to be rounding out as a starter. His recovery from Tommy John surgery looks to be in full swing and he appears to be getting increasingly comfortable in his own skin.
The Nationals could have a future ace on their staff—as their fourth starter. That is a luxury most teams would love to have.
Zimmermann could prove to be a sleeper, believe it or not, heading into this season.
Many fans forget that Chien-Ming Wang used to feast on American League batters for the New York Yankees. In 2006 and 2007, the man was an absolute beast, winning 38 games (19 per season), and led the AL in wins in 2006.
While his ERA has always floated around 4.00 (except for his abysmal 2009 season for the Yankees), his health has obviously been somewhat of a concern since that 2009 season.
However, in 11 games for the Nats in 2011, he did manage a 4-3 record with an expected 4.04 ERA and 1.283 WHIP.
Much like Strasburg, Wang will be on limited innings in 2012. It can't be stressed enough, if Wang can stay healthy, he can be a fantastic contributor to this Nationals staff.
The Philadelphia Phillies are obviously the model of success in the NL East. It is hard not to be when the front of the rotation consists of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.
The Braves rotation arguably took a hit by trading away Derek Lowe, and with Jair Jurrjens name being circulated as trade bait, the team could be trying to rebuild.
This means it is the perfect time for the Nationals to strike, and they just might have enough ammo to do so. Will they overtake the Phillies? That remains to be seen. However, they stand a realistic shot of earning the NL Wild Card this year and playing well into October.