The Nationals wrapped up their series with the Pirates last night with a loss, and with a win by the Braves, they have now dropped to 2nd in the NL East at 23-14. They have been winning though, primarily with pitching and defense. The Nats lead all of the majors with an ERA of .289. What is so impressive is that they have separated themselves with a large margin. The second best ERA in the MLB is the LA Dodgers with .321. The Nationals don’t just prevent runs from scoring, they also league the majors with the fewest hits allowed. It is complete dominance on the mound in every aspect except one. Currently, the closer role has become an issue. With the season starting out with Drew Storen on the DL due to an arm injury, the closer role has been covered by committee. The initial theory was to have Brad Lidge cover the spot, but early in the year, he suffered an abdominal strain injury and has been practically irrelevant to the pitching staff ever since. Recently, Henry Rodriguez has taken over the closer duty. Rodriguez has 3 blown saves in his 12 save opportunity chances. It is my understanding that the Nationals are just holding out until Lidge or Storen can come back — with the hope that will be soon — to help return Rodriguez to his natural spot, the 7th inning setup guy. Regardless of the closer situation, the Nationals are winning games by the strong efforts from their starting pitching and middle relief.
Four of the five starting pitchers have an ERA under 3. Only Edwin Jackson has over three, with an ERA of 3.71.
- Zimmermann 2.14
- Gonzalez 2.22
- Strasburg 2.25
- Detwiler 2.75
- Jackson 3.71
Washington has not been able to keep healthy with their lineup. The injury bug has affected the core of the lineup, particularly the 3-4-5 guys. Zimmerman went on the 15 day DL earlier in the season. Before he gets back, Jayson Werth breaks his wrist attempting a diving play at home against the Phillies. Adding to that, Michael Morse has not played this season due to a strained lat muscle injury. Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, Werth and Morse have not played together in a single game all season. This is the core of the Nationals lineup. Once healthy, this squad could quickly turn up the power offensively and start scoring runs. If the pitching holds, and run support increases, and injuries stay away, the Nationals could hold off NL East competitors all season.
It would not be an article about the Nationals without discussing Bryce Harper. His early stats (.238 BA / .319 OBP / .460 SLG) are very impressive for a 19 year old rookie. What I am most impressed about with Harper, is his patience at the plate. He is not afraid to take a 3-2 pitch on the corner. He’s been able to wait for his pitch, and does not seem to be phased by the big name pitchers in the bigs. You’ve seen that Harper can be a human highlight-reel in his first couple weeks in the majors. As a realist, that will subdue, but his mark on the team is clear. His hustle on and off the field, his attitude and his effort at the plate is noticeable and the rest of the team will follow suit. As mentioned before, once the lineup can come back from injuries, Harper will probably see more pitches to hit, as he will provide support in the lineup for Zimmerman, Morse and Werth.
Do you think the pitching can keep the ERA down? Do you think the Nationals will be able to turn the bats around?