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I know, a guy who spent the majority of the season in Triple-A makes for a captivating start to any list. But Lannan just might be the key to the Nats capturing their first division title since they moved back to the nation's capital.
The Nats have cruised at the top of the NL East all year, and it's no secret how they've done it—starting pitching, and a whole lot of it. Their staff leads the NL in ERA, and they've helped mask a lineup that's been inconsistent all year.
But a staff that looked so dominant for months is starting to wobble just a little bit. Gio Gonzalez has shown signs of cooling off after a ridiculous start, and GM Mike Rizzo shows no signs of backing off his plan to shut down Stephen Strasburg by early September. Atlanta is getting closer and closer in the rear-view mirror, and now is not the time for question marks in the starting rotation.
That's where Lannan comes in. By all accounts he'll be the guy called on to replace Strasburg, and the Nats will need him to provide quality innings to hold off the red-hot Braves down the stretch. Lannan was able to smoke-and-mirror his way to a quality 2011, posting a 3.70 ERA despite some iffy ratios, and was solid in two spot-starts earlier this year.
Washington will go as far as its arms can take it, and the replacement for its ace needs to step up. He doesn't have to be Strasburg, but he'll have to be effective to give the Nats a division crown.