Washington Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg has been a big part of a storybook season in the nation's capital.
The Nationals confirmed that Wednesday, September 12 will be Strasburg’s final appearance of the season. However, the Nationals should still be considered a strong favorite to reach, and even win, the Fall Classic.
Strasburg is unquestionably the future ace of Washington’s starting rotation, but he hasn’t consistently been the team’s best pitcher this season.
He leads the team—and the entire National League—in strikeouts, and his 1.12 WHIP is also best among the Nationals’ starters.
But Gio Gonzalez is tied for the NL lead with 17 wins, and both he and Jordan Zimmerman each have a higher WAR—3.3 and 3.2 respectively—than Strasburg (3.0).
Washington's five primary starters—a list which also includes Ross Detwiler and Edwin Jackson—all have ERAs of 3.52 or lower. All five are ranked in the top 15 in the National League in that category.
Washington’s pitching staff leads the NL in team ERA (3.27), quality starts (85) and batting average against (.233).
They also rank second in saves (45)—despite the loss of 2011 NL saves leader Drew Storen—and are third in strikeouts (1,101) entering Tuesday’s play.
Pitching is the least of the Nationals' concerns as they prepare for the MLB playoffs.
Washington has enough quality arms to survive a seven-game series, including Jackson, who has a 2011 World Series ring courtesy of his time in St. Louis. Having Strasburg would be great, but the impact of his absence is greatly overstated.
The Nationals’ offense is also potent, ranking fourth in the National League in home runs and batting average.
Shortstop Ian Desmond (31), right fielder Jayson Werth (79) and left fielder Michael Morse (54) have missed a combined 165 games to injury this season, which makes Washington’s team batting statistics a little deceiving.
Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has overcome a slow start to look more like the $100 million player Washington is paying him to be.
First baseman Adam LaRoche has returned to his 2010 form after his 2011 season was cut short by a recurring shoulder injury.
Rookie outfielder Bryce Harper provides a youthful spark for the Nationals while hitting second, playing excellent outfield defense and hustling in a manner reminiscent of Pete Rose.
With their outstanding pitching and underrated lineup, the Nationals will be a force to be reckoned with when the MLB playoffs get underway.
Imagine what they’ll look like in 2013 with Strasburg back in the fold for an entire season.