The sky is the limit for the Washington Nationals with the immense talent in their starting rotation.
The Nationals will be able to contend in the National League this season with the upgrades they made to their pitching rotation.
No one on in the rotation is over 28 years old, therefore there is room to mature for all of the starters.
Washington is heading into the season with Stephen Strasburg as their ace who is looking to break out in 2012. The middle of the rotation has been improved drastically by the offseason additions of Edwin Jackson and Gio Gonzalez.
The Nats have above-average talent in Jordan Zimmermann as the fourth starter and round up their rotation with John Lannan filling in for Chien-Ming Wang.
The competition is fierce, but the Nationals have what it takes to compete with the Philadelphia Phillies and the rest of the NL East.
It all starts with their youngest starter, Strasburg.
This is Stephen Strasburg's year to prove to everyone that all of the hype that surrounded him when he was called was well-warranted.
Strasburg has started 17 games in his major league career. In 92 innings, he has piled up an incredible 116 strikeouts, an average of 11.3 per nine innings. His scarcity of walks is even more impressive as he has only allowed 19.
With the luxury of starting the season with the ball club for the first time in his career, Strasburg should have no problem getting the Nationals off to a great start this season.
Although the Nationals are going to limit his innings to somewhere around 160, he should have no problem leading his team to victories while racking up around 200 strikeouts.
The 23-year-old will have plenty of help in the rotation as the Nationals try to make a name for themselves.
Gio Gonzalez was a great addition to the Nationals in the offseason. He is a legitimate No. 1 starter for many teams, but will be the No. 2 man for the Nats.
The 26-year-old Gonzalez has struggled with control in his career, but his strikeout rate is fantastic. He boasts an impressive 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings. His walk rate has stayed at 4.1 per nine innings the last two seasons.
In his last two seasons he has posted a 3.23 and a 3.12 ERA. Although he is switching to the National League, I would expect his ERA to stay around the same number this season.
The advantage of switching to the NL is beneficial to a pitcher, but Gonzalez has been a beneficiary of a fantastic home-field advantage. Last season his home and road splits were startling.
Gonzalez had an impressive 10-5 record at home and a 2.70 ERA. When he took his show on the road, however, his ERA inflated by almost a full run to 3.62, and he posted a miserable 6-7 record.
If he can become comfortable in his new ballpark and new league, he should have a dominating year.
Hope lies in his small sample of inter-league stats. In four games he has a 2-0 record with a 0.94 ERA.
Edwin Jackson is the old man in the Nats rotation. He is trying to break out after spending nine years unable to find a permanent home between six different teams.
Jackson hopes to have finally found a home in Washington entering the 2012 season. He has the potential to be a dominating pitcher and has statistically done better in the National League.
Jackson will be extremely successful if he can keep his ERA at 3.00, but realistically he will be around 3.50. Jackson has been a career .500 pitcher who always has a setback when it looks like he is about to figure things out.
Can this be the year for Jackson?
The Nationals certainly hope so by anchoring him in the middle of the rotation.
I think Jackson has the possibility to have the most surprising season but at the same time is the biggest risk to Washington. If he shines, then the Nats will go far this season. If he stumbles, then the rest of the staff will have to pick him up. Luckily for Jackson, even the final two men in the rotation are quality starters.
The Nationals limited Jordan Zimmermann to a strict inning limit in 2011, but he still finished the season with impressive numbers. Although he had an 8-11 record, he was the owner of a 3.18 ERA. He exhibited great control as well, walking only 31 men in 161.1 innings while striking out 124.
The 25-year-old is not expected to be on a leash this season, meaning he has every chance to throw over 200 innings and approach 180 strikeouts. There is no reason to believe that his ERA will not stay around 3.00 or perhaps dip even lower.
Zimmermann has been working on his changeup during the spring to add to his repertoire.
Zimmermann will finish the season with better numbers than Jackson and potentially Gonzalez as well.
The Nationals teased teams with John Lannan in the offseason but are lucky that they held on to him. After Chien-Ming Wang fell victim to a hamstring strain, it was Lannan who got the nod from manager Davey Johnson.
Lannan has potential at 27 years old but certainly looks to be the weakest link in the Nationals' rotation. For now, though, the fifth spot is his to control until Wang is healthy.
Lannan had a 3.70 ERA, 106 strikeouts and 76 walks in 184.2 innings last year. The most than can be asked of Lannan is to keep Washington in games and not get lit up.
He is an average pitcher, and if he can turn heads, he might be able to stay in the rotation or get traded to another contender when Wang comes back.
The Nationals need to get positive results from their starters if they want to remain in the National League playoff race throughout the season.
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