Why the Nationals Have MLB's Best Rotation Next Season with Strasburg Returning

Michael NargiSenior Analyst INovember 22, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 02:  Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals throws a pitch against the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park on September 2, 2012 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The Washington Nationals finished the 2012 season with the best record in baseball, but fell short in the playoffs largely due to Stephen Strasburg being shut down prematurely. The magical season in which the Nats' starters led the National League in Wins (72), ERA (3.40), AVG (.240) and WHIP (1.22) was subject to ridicule because of the decision to enter October without Strasburg.

The Nationals accumulated these numbers despite shutting down their ace starter at the end of the season, and most of the staff will remain intact for 2013. 

Edwin Jackson is a free agent and looking to sign a multi-year deal. The Nationals have several capable starters that they can go with should they opt not to sign Jackson or another big-name free agent such as Zack Greinke.

Even with the doubt surrounding Jackson, the Nationals have the core of their rotation set up for years to come and 2013 should be the first season that the Big Three have their chance to shine together.

Strasburg will have a full season to continue to perform at a Cy Young pace, while Gio Gonzelez will look to build on his tremendous first season in Washington (which he finished second in NL Cy Young voting). Washington's core will be rounded out by Jordan Zimmermann, who is quickly becoming one of the most under-the-radar pitchers in the big leagues.

The Nationals can solidly say that they have the best rotation with these three pitchers. Mediocrity in the fourth and fifth spot will still allow the Nats to be a force to be reckoned with in the NL.

Strasburg's return is as though the Nats are acquiring a top free-agent pitcher because of the extra innings he will be able to pitch (He was often forced to leave games early last season when his pitch count reached too high.) If the Nats go the route they did with Zimmermann after his surgery, then Strasburg will be allowed to pitch late into games and pile up innings as the season progresses. 

The young right-hander will finally have his chance to prove that he can be among the elite when it comes to late-game situations. If he is able to show a fraction of the skills that Justin Verlander exhibits late in games, the Nationals will have the most feared rotation in baseball.