Gio Gonzalez is the ace, Adam Laroche and Ryan Zimmerman are the team's best hitters, but no player will affect the Washington Nationals chances for success more than Jordan Zimmermann.
By the time the Nats' National League Divisional Series with the St. Louis Cardinals has concluded, fans will have forgotten about Stephen Strasburg for the moment, or they’ll be blasting management’s decision to shut down their young phenom. Zimmermann has some significant shoes to fill.
Gonzalez has been the type of ace that a team can depend on. He lead the majors in wins with 21, and baffled the Cardinals in his lone appearance against them this season. On August 31, Gonzalez threw a complete game shutout, striking out eight, and the Nats crushed the Cards 10-0.
Davey Johnson has to feel confident about his ace going into this series. Of course, he probably would have felt more comfortable with Strasburg in the rotation. Strasburg and Gonzalez would have been a formidable one-two punch, but as we know, that won’t happen.
The man that will take the ball in Game 2 of the series is Zimmermann. Don’t be fooled by his 12-8 record. He has been far better than average this season. He was a hard luck pitcher early in the year. He posted a 2.77 ERA through June, but he only had a 4-6 record to show for it.
The Nats’ bats picked up later in the season and Zimmermann started to reap the benefits. He faced the Cards twice, and both games were in September. He wasn’t dominant in either start, but he did come away the victor in the September 29 clash.
He allowed three earned runs in 6.1 innings pitched. The Cards bombed him on September 1, though. They chased Zimmermann after 3.2 innings and he was shelled for eight earned runs. Needless to say, Johnson is hoping to get a little more of the late-September version of Zimmermann.
In fact, he may need to be even better than he was in his win against the Cards. Two dominant starting pitching performances is a great boost to victory in a playoff series. The Cards have 18-game winner Lance Lynn and 16-game winner Kyle Lohse who are capable of performing at that level.
The Nats should be able to depend on Gonzalez being tough at least once in the series. Who will step up as the second ace of the staff? It seems logical to look at Zimmermann as the answer to that question. If he can be solid in this series, it will greatly increase the Nats’ chances of coming out on top.
The Cards offense is tops in the league in on-base percentage and they have five players in their lineup with at least 20 home runs and 75 RBI. The pitching needs to be sharp.
If Zimmermann can stop the Cards in Game 2, it will drastically impact momentum.
If Gonzalez has handed the team a Game 1 win, Zimmermann’s start could firmly place the Nats in control. If the Cards best Gonzalez and the Nats in Game 1, Zimmermann will need to stop the bleeding. Without Strasburg in the rotation, the eyes of the baseball world will be fixed on Zimmermann.
It is crucial to the Nats' chances that he responds.
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