What a difference a year makes.
Last season the Washington Nationals sent Livan Hernandez and John Lannan to the mound in their first two games of the season. The Nationals enter this season with one of the best rotations in the National League being lead by Stephen Strasburg.
Unfortunately for the Nats, they are in a division that has Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels all on one team. Washington has what it takes to contend with the powerhouses in their own division and in the rest of the league in order to fulfill their goal of making the playoffs.
The starting staff is the backbone of the Nationals in terms of making the playoffs as well as making a run in the playoffs. The additional wild card spot can only bring more hope and anticipation to the D.C. area this season.
The Nats have a few things going for them with their rotation that will carry them into a wild card race as the season unfolds
The addition of Edwin Jackson and Gio Gonzalez are key as the Nationals being a new season. Washington finished one game under .500 last season without Gonzalez and Jackson.
Gonzalez is a legitimate No. 1 starter for most teams and will look to show that he is prime for a big year with his new team. Gonzalez will take the mound after Strasburg this season so some of the pressure should be off the talented lefty.
Jackson has moved all over the majors in his nine-year career playing for six different teams. If he can improve his control and become more consistent then the Nats will have two new pitchers who pile up strikeouts and keep other teams at bay.
Draft Picks Ready to Shine
The Nationals entire starting staff is young, but they have two pitchers that they drafted that are ready to break out this season. If Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann can dominate the league, like they have the potential to do, then the Nationals will be playing baseball in October.
Strasburg will be on an innings limit this season while Zimmermann has no limit after being limited to 160 innings last season. Although Strasburg is on a limit, his talent will allow the Nationals to dominate in the games that he pitches. Every fifth day the Nationals have a very good chance to win if they can score two or three runs behind Strasburg.
Zimmermann has the talent to dominate and proved it last year in his first year with a significant amount of innings pitched. He pitched to an impressive 3.18 ERA and will only lower it this season. The improvement of these two young pitchers will be imperative to the Nationals getting a leg up on the competition.
No. 6 and No. 7 Starters
The Nationals have a situation with their starting rotation that most teams would kill to have: They have too many starters and not enough spots in the rotation.
Washington was prompted to make decisions when Chein-Ming Wang fell victim to a hamstring strain. The Nats were not left scrambling for starters, however, rather they were choosing between which of their starters they would use to fill the fifth spot.
Both options are respectable fifth starters in Lannan and Ross Detwiler. The Nats chose to give Detwiler a chance after many assumed Lannan would start the year with the big club.
Either way, the Nats are comfortable if one of their pitchers go down from injuries. Once Wang is healthy they will have three legitimate starting pitchers who can fill in for any of the big four if injuries strike.
Having depth in starting pitching is essential to a team that is looking to be in the playoff race as the summer winds down.
Washington's rotation can compete with anyone who stands in their path to the playoffs. On paper, the Nationals rotation matches up with all but a few teams in the NL.
If the Nationals perform to their capabilities then they will make the playoffs and bring the playoffs to D.C.