With Opening Day just over a month away, it's time to consider the starting rotation for the Washington Nationals.
The Nationals have arguably one of the best rotations heading into the season in the National League, and even the majors.
Ace Stephen Strasburg is returning from a shortened 2012 season, which was cut short as part of his rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery. Despite the shortened season, Strasburg will once again head up the rotation.
He'll likely pitch on Opening Day for Washington against the Miami Marlins. Since the Nationals open the season at home, the fans will want to see Strasburg on the mound.
The 21-year-old sells the most tickets, and is probably the most popular player on the team, with outfielder Bryce Harper a close second. If Washington wants to get off to a quick start, Strasburg gives the team the best chance of starting out the season with a win.
In 2012, he finished with a 15-6 record and a 3.16 ERA. He'll give the home fans something to cheer about, as he struck out a little over seven batters per game last season. It would be a huge mistake for Washington to not march Strasburg out to the mound on Opening Day.
While Gio Gonzalez makes a solid argument for giving the team the best chance to win, he just isn't as flashy as Strasburg.
However, on the second day of the season, expect to see Gonzalez on the rubber. The number one pitcher last season once Strasburg's season ended, Gonzalez was one of the best pitchers in the NL.
Gonzalez had a better statistical season than Strasburg did, finishing with a 21-8 record and a 2.89 ERA. The sixth-year pitcher, starting his second season in Washington, is undoubtedly the No. 2 pitcher for the club and would easily be No. 1 if Strasburg wasn't on the roster.
Both Strasburg and Gonzalez are the clear No. 1 and 2 starters, but after them the rotation could go in a number of directions.
In the third slot, Washington might go with newcomer Dan Haren, but it would be smarter to go with Jordan Zimmermann. Zimmermann has been one of the more consistent pitchers for Washington over the past four seasons, boasting a career 3.47 ERA and a 1.208 WHIP.
Washington will want to close out its opening series strong, and they know what they have in Zimmermann, as opposed to Haren.
There is no reason that Zimmermann should be moved from that spot during the season, either. If Washington was to make the playoffs, he gives the Nationals the best chance to win a game out of the remaining pitchers on the roster.
He has had a history of injury, and his 2011 season was shortened due to recovery from Tommy John surgery. Still, Zimmermann is poised this year to be an anchor on what is already a strong rotation.
Likely following Zimmermann, and starting off the second series of the year against the Cincinnati Reds, is the aforementioned Haren. The Nationals acquired Haren in the offseason via free agency, and hope he can rebound from his down season in 2012.
Last season with the Los Angeles Angels, Haren finished with a 12-13 record and a 4.33 ERA. If he can return to the form he's had in the past, though, he could be one of the best No. 4 starters in the majors.
In 2011 Haren put up a 16-10 record, striking out 192 batters and only giving up a little over three runs per game.
Just as productive as Zimmermann, but not as flashy as Haren is Ross Detwiler in the No. 5 slot.
Detwiler had a career year in 2012, starting in 27 games and finishing with a 10-7 record. Detwiler even picked up a playoff win for the Nationals against the St. Louis Cardinals. In the National League Division Series, Detwiler threw six innings and gave up only one run on three hits.
This will be the second full season for Detwiler, who made spot starts or filled in when other pitchers went down to injury earlier in his career.
All-in-all, any of the five starters for the Nationals could be trusted to win a game on any given day. Assuming they all stay healthy, Washington's pitching staff will be a nightmare for any team in the league to face.