The sentiment amongst most baseball observers that the Washington Nationals are doomed because they shutdown Steven Strasburg is selling the team, and especially the pitching staff, short heading into the postseason.
Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman, at the top of the rotation, are two front line starters who are the perfect combination to set the tone for a series or win momentum changing games on the road. Both have a repertoire of electric pitches they can throw for strikes at any time and are fierce competitors who can go deep into games on nights without their best stuff.
Gonzalez has been the best left-handed starter in the National League this season. He was an All Star pitcher in Oakland, but has become a superstar in Washington, and the rest of the baseball world will find that out in October. For as much attention as Strasburg gets for decimating batters with his power, Gonzalez has been just as intimidating from the left side.
He has a devastating fastball that is routinely between 92-95 miles per hour and he locates with precision. Gonzalez is especially tough on left-handed batters, where he handcuffs them by taking away the inside part of the plate. He is just as tough on right-handed hitters because of the variety off speed pitches he can work to either side of the plate which make his fastball easier to tie them up inside.
Gonzalez has Cy Young stats approaching his final three starts of the regular season are nearly the stuff of legend. His 19-8 record and 2.98 tell just a part of his dominance.
Only five left handed pitchers in history have won 20 games with a strikeout ratio over nine per nine innings while giving up under seven hits in a single season. Now with former Oakland battery mate Kurt Suzuki as his designated catcher, he has been even better down the stretch.
Zimmerman is an under the radar front line starter who is the example of recovery from Tommy John surgery that Washington is following with Strasburg. Following his truncated 2011 season that ended at 160 Innings, Zimmerman was their rock as a number three starter. He is another power arm whose fast ball is clocked in the low 90’s.
Zimmerman’s array of off speed pitches are buckling at times, but he does get in trouble when he nibbles around the corners. The Nationals have wanted him to attack hitters and, once he started, he became more consistent.
The 10-8 record and 3.01 ERA doesn’t tell the full story of Zimmerman’s season. He has been victimized by a lack of run support in several starts, which has magnified a bad inning. That should make him a better post season pitcher since he knows there is little room for error and will be looking to pound the strike zone from the start.
Washington’s pitching staff will be tough in October with depth from top to bottom. Gonzalez and Zimmerman will lead them into the playoffs but, Edwin Jackson can fall back on his experience from last year with the St. Louis Cardinals, where he was clutch in big games.
The rotation is built on solid power arms that will give them quality starts every night. Gonzalez and Zimmerman are enough at the top of their rotation even without Strasburg for the Nationals to win the National League pennant. However, if the offense is without several of its key parts, the quality starts could be wasted.