After the Marlins series last week, I had begun an article discussing how terrible the Nationals’ offense was and how hitting in the low .200’s with runners in scoring position simply will not get it done. Then the Rangers series happened. That series has only somewhat relieved my apprehensions about the offense. Nonetheless, the offense should improve with the return of Ryan Zimmerman, and in July, Bryce Harper. I have realized that the starting pitching is the group that needs to improve the most for the Nationals.
The Nationals team ERA is 3.13, good for third in the NL. It may surprise you to know that the Nationals actually have the best reliever ERA in the MLB at 2.18, which is more necessary than you would think. The Nationals’ starter ERA is 3.65, 8th in the NL. For a team that has world series expectations, mediocrity in an area that should be the team strength is unacceptable.
Normally, my two favorite games of the week to watch are when Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez start. However, it has been a rough start to the season for both of them with 3.52 and 4.62 ERA’s respectively. Zimmermann’s 3.52 ERA isn’t that bad, but before he threw eight shutout innings against the Phillies the other day it was substantially higher. Fortunately, I do not have to go debbie downer on this problem since there are stats that indicate they are both getting unlucky. This season Gio has a .319 BABIP, whereas his BABIP from 2013 and 2012 was .290 and .271. This, combined with a 3.50 FIP, indicate that this season is at least salvageable for Gio, and the better part of the season is soon to come. Jordan Zimmermann is having the same bad luck as Gio. Zimmermann’s BABIP this year is at .349, compared to .275 and .292 in 2013 and 2012. Also, his FIP is at 3.18, the lowest it has ever been in the past two years. Now, having actually watched Jordan Zimmermann pitch this season, he has left a few more pitches over the plate than usual, but if he can regain what is his usually outstanding control, he should be able to put together another very good season.
We all know that Doug Fister was injured for the beginning of the season and that Taylor Jordan did not fill the void that Fister left. All teams go through injuries, most notably in the NL East, the division leading Atlanta Braves, who saw both Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen go down before the season with Tommy John surgery. While the Nationals have had a key pitcher and three significant hitters on the DL already, this cannot be the mulligan season, 2013 was the mulligan season. As I said before, the Nationals currently have the third best pitching in the NL and the eighth best offense. In 2012, when they won 98 games, they had the 5th best offense and the best pitching in the NL. If Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez can regain their old form, and if Bryce Harper can make an impact with his return, the Nats will be a much better team than we have seen so far. And given the relative weakness of the NL east, should be able to move into first place, for good.