Quality pitching is a hallmark of success in both the regular season and the postseason, and the Washington Nationals have plenty of it.
The Nats are fifth in the National League in staff ERA at 3.43 and third in starting pitching ERA at 3.25 while their relief pitching ERA has begun to drop, ranking ninth in the NL at 3.87.
Most importantly, the Nationals' starting rotation is even better suited for a deep playoff run than it was last year. That has less to do with Stephen Strasburg than you might think.
Strasburg has been good for the Nats this season despite what his record may tell you. He is 2-5, but his record has been influenced heavily by the 27 runs scored against him, even though he has surrendered only 18 earned runs. His 2.83 ERA is very respectable and he has walked only 18 while striking out 55 in 57.1 innings.
Gio Gonzalez, on the other hand, has not been as good for the Nationals. Gonzalez is 3-2 with a pedestrian 4.01 ERA in nine starts with 24 walks and 52 strikeouts. However, Gonzalez has recently shown a return to the form that made him a runner-up for the 2012 NL Cy Young Award.
In his last three starts, the southpaw is 1-0 in 19.2 innings pitched, striking out 16 and walking six while surrendering only 13 hits and four earned runs.
The new ace of the Nationals rotation is Jordan Zimmermann. The big right-hander, who turns 27 when he makes his next start on May 23, is 7-2 with a 1.62 ERA over 66.2 innings.
Zimmermann has 45 strikeouts versus only nine walks and has thrown three complete games with one shutout in his nine starts. Not only has Zimmermann been the best starting pitcher in the Nationals' rotation this season, he may be the best starting pitcher in the National League.
NL playoff teams will be in for a rude awakening when they first face Stephen Strasburg and then Gio Gonzalez in a five-game or seven-game playoff series, only to realize they still haven't seen the Nationals' best pitcher yet.