NL Contender Watch: Washington Nationals
NEW YORK– By Jason Greenfield
Strengths: Pitching, Outfield health.
Concerns: Strasburg’s inning count, recent closer problems, inexperience.
The Washington Nationals lead the NL East on the shoulders of its starting pitching. Led by a trio of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmerman, the Nationals lead the league in era, quality starts, WHIP, and batting average against. Strasburg, the young phenom, has an extremely impressive stat line with a 12-5 record, a 2.97 era, and is fourth in the MLB with 160 strikeouts. Gio Gonzalez has turned into an amazing pickup for the Nats, when they acquired him this past offseason from the A’s. He bolsters a 14-6 record, with a 3.32 era, and is seventh in the MLB in strikeouts. The last of the pitching trio is Jordan Zimmerman, who is 9-6 with a 2.35 era, which is third in the MLB.
Washington also has a good offensive team. They are 16th in runs, 18th in batting average, and 13th in slugging. The offensive numbers are sure to go up with Jayson Werth recently coming off the DL. This is the first time this year that Jayson Werth, Michael Morse and Bryce Harper will play together in the outfield. Also, the Nats made an acquisition that will help their offensive be more complete and well rounded by getting catcher Kurt Suzuki from the A’s. The Nats have been plagued with injuries all season at the catcher position, and having a proven catcher will help them out tremendously.
One area of concern is the innings limit that Mike Rizzo (GM) and Davey Johnson (manager) put on Stephen Strasburg. They set a 160-inning limit on him and he is up to 127 innings pitched. If Strasburg is shut down before the end of the regular season, it will cause a big hole on the pitching staff, which would be hard for John Lannon and Edwin Jackson to fill.
Another possible area of concern is the closing role. Recently the closer for the Nats, Tyler Clippard, has not been as sharp as he was before the all-star break. Since the break in 15 innings, he has allowed 10 runs and has a 6.00 ERA. Davey Johnson has decided to stick with Clippard over the former closer Drew Storen, who recently recovered from elbow surgery. If Clippard continues to struggle look to Storen to close games out.
The last concern with the Nats is that they are an inexperienced playoff team. The Nats are the seventh youngest team in baseball with an average age of 27. Down the long run for World Series, it is crucial to have some veteran leadership and the Nats don’t have much of that.