If the Washington Nationals don’t win the World Series this year, the excuse will have nothing to do with Steven Strasburg not pitching. The popular sentiment that shutting down Strasburg means the Nationals have no chance at winning a world championship is preposterous.
Though it makes for good copy and is a great topic for sports radio, Washington has the best team in baseball to handle the loss of the ace of their pitching staff.
The Nationals will go as far in postseason as their offense and their bullpen will take them…period! It has been noted all season that the Nats have an embarrassment of riches on their pitching staff. Despite the inconsistency with their fifth starter, they are ranked third in team ERA in the National League with a 3.51 average.
This front office understood they would be flirting with .500, and that would give them a chance to be mentioned in the pennant chase. Nobody expected them to a favorite to raise a flag in late October.
Still the diligence of the brain trust in D.C. last offseason has set them up to be a tough postseason out even without their so-called ace.
The offseason moves to acquire Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson were either a stroke of genius or savvy baseball decisions by Mike Rizzo. Gonzalez leads the National League with 18 wins and should be the favorite for the Cy Young Award.
Jackson was clutch in the postseason for the St. Louis Cardinals last year, and—despite his 9-10 record—his ERA is only 3.85.
Jordan Zimmerman—at 10-8—has the second best ERA on the team at 2.99. He has been so dominant at times this season that many have said he has “No. 1 stuff”.
He and Jackson have been victimized, but a lack of run support is still good for quality starts in the postseason. Ross Detweiler and John Lannan are effective enough to make big starts if the Nationals use a five-man rotation in the playoffs.
Strasburg’s 15-6 record is impressive and his 197 strikeouts in 159.1 innings is Nolan Ryan-eqsque. His non-presence every fifth day only means the opposing team has better than a puncher's chance. Had he been the sole anchor of the Nationals' rotation shutting him down would have been a catastrophic nightmare.
However, the depth of the starting rotation gives them the chance to enjoy a matchup advantage on the mound any given night of the playoffs.
Baseball history will not record the 2012 Washington Nationals as the Gashouse Gang, Murderers' Row or the Bash Brothers. However, thanks to breakout seasons by Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond, and the return of Michael Morse, Washington is second in the NL with 165 home runs. Their .262 team batting average, though rather pedestrian, is still fourth in the league.
A source of concern could be the Nats are hitting just .246 this season with two outs and runners in scoring position. Great teams win championships with clutch hits late in postseason games. It has been proven that Washington can be shut down—as the Marlins and Ricky Nolasco did last Sunday for the second time in three starts this year.
There is not a proven postseason RBI producer in this lineup, and that will certainly magnify the performance of Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth. This will be where Werth can justify his $127 million contract. The Nationals won't be looking for him to be Reggie Jackson, but if he can be Paul O'Neil or Bernie Williams for this team they can win the pennant.
The bullpen, which has been a rock of consistency, is showing signs of wear. Tyler Clippard, their closer, has 30 saves in 34 chances. However, he has a 13.50 ERA over the last week and has given up four earned runs in two innings.
Drew Storen was projected to take over as closer when he got healthy, but Davey Johnson is reluctant to change the formula that has led them to the best record in baseball.
As a team, the Nationals have been the sum of their parts all season. So it stands to reason if they are to win the World Series, it will not be on the shoulders of one player. Even with Strasburg there was no guarantee they would win the NL pennant.
And there is no guarantee that without Strasburg they won’t.