ESPN's Rick Sutcliffe on How the Nats Pitching Will Take Them to the NL Playoffs

James Williams@WordmandcAnalyst IIIFebruary 22, 2012

Strasburg has plenty of quality help on the Nationals starting staff
Strasburg has plenty of quality help on the Nationals starting staffMike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Former Major League pitcher and ESPN analyst Rick Sutcliffe is considered by the baseball community as one the smartest minds in the game.

As a player for the Dodgers, Indians, Cubs, Orioles and Cardinals, he spent hours watching tape and analyzing every aspect pitching. He knew that the best way to extend his career was to find just the right pitch to get a batter to ground out rather than throwing four or five extra pitches going for a strikeout.   

Talking to former Rookie of the Year and Cy Yong Award winner from his San Diego home this week, he was very impressed with the Nationals and their pitching staff.


JW: As a student of the game what excites you about the Nationals pitching staff?

Sutcliffe: I honestly think that Washington will make the playoffs this season. Their schedule sets up well for them to get off to a good start and that is important for them.

As for the pitching staff I have been able to spend some time around Stephen Strasburg this off season in San Diego and his focus has been on coming back this year and being one of the top pitchers in the game and that is impressive in a 23-year-old kid. You then add to the mix Jordan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez both are gifted young pitchers.

When you have three young power arms like these guys they will push each other to be better and that is exactly what you need out of your starting rotation. Plus these guys are going to be together for years to come and that is what really builds great pitching staff's. Stability and knowing who is pitching ahead of you and behind you in the rotation.


JW: What about Jackson, Wang and Lannan?

Sutcliffe: Edwin Jackson might have been the steal of the off season. He comes over from the World Champion Cardinals where their pitching coach [now former pitching coach] Dave Duncan, is one of the best in baseball at making pitchers better. He worked with Jackson on his cutter. He now has a pitch that he can throw that will cause a hitter to ground out and so he can save three to four pitches an inning allowing him to go deeper into games.  

I also want to say that I think that Chen Ming Wang impressed me at the end of last season by not walking a batter in his last four starts and I expect him to be factor this season. Lastly, let’s not forget John Lannan who is a smart pitcher with confidence; a crafty left hander who is a change of pace to the power guys.  

So all in all I think with their starters one through five the Nationals will be contenders now and for years to come.


JW: What about the bullpen?

Sutcliffe: Very, very deep and one of the best in baseball. The addition of Brad Lidge was a great move because he will help Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett and Henry Rodriguez all be better pitchers. Plus he can close a game to give drew a night off and he still has the ability to come in whenever manager Davey Johnson wants and get batters out.

Brad is also is a great teacher and in September when you are fighting to get to post season he is a real good guy to have in the pen to put in the game as well as calm everyone down out there.