If Nats starters can go long, bullpen is set up to close deal

The Nationals' group of late-inning specialists, consisting of Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Rafael Soriano, could be that 1-2-3 punch at the end of games that manager Davey Johnson envisions. If these three can be like the Atlanta Braves' final three (Eric O'Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel), the Nationals, as Johnson hopes, can shorten games to six innings.

Here is my blog about those three from February.

And with a starting five of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler and Dan Haren getting those first six innings, you have to feel the Nationals would be in a pretty good place defensively to allow their offense to get going early in games.

How did the core of the Nationals starting rotation perform in 2012 from the sixth inning on?

According to Baseball Reference, Strasburg and Gonzalez had sub-2.00 ERA into or through the fifth innings last season.

Speaking on just number of games, Zimmermann (27), Gonzalez (28) and Haren (23) got into at least the sixth inning. Strasburg had an innings limit and reached the two-thirds plateau of starts 21 times. Detwiler made it that far 18 times, and had the best ERA into or through five among the starters listed here at 2.65.

Stretching to the seventh inning, Zimmermann and Gonzalez each made it 14 times, Haren 12 times and Detwiler 11. Strasburg, again stunted by the limited innings and concern for his elbow, pitched into the seventh inning five times. When Strasburg got that far, however, he was outstanding, with a 1.80 ERA. Haren also subdued hitters in the final third of games, pitching to a 2.25 ERA in those 12 starts.

Ignoring the protection placed on Strasburg's innings, having four of your five starters able to go at least 11 starts into the seventh inning, or 33 percent of their outings, certainly is a good sign when you have the Clippard-Storen-Soriano trio to quiet opposing bats in the final innings.

Here are the numbers for Nationals starters in their final innings last season (courtesy of Baseball Reference):

RHP Jordan Zimmermann
32 games into fifth inning (3.77 ERA)
27 games into sixth inning (3.71 ERA)
14 games into seventh inning (5.23 ERA)

LHP Gio Gonzalez (2 complete games, 1 shutout)
30 games into fifth inning (1.82 ERA)
28 games into sixth inning (4.56 ERA)
14 games into seventh inning (5.25 ERA)

RHP Stephen Strasburg
24 games into fifth inning (1.50 ERA)
21 games into sixth inning (3.98 ERA)
5 games into seventh inning (1.80 ERA)

LHP Ross Detwiler (1 game finished)
28 games into fifth inning (4.05 ERA)
18 games into sixth inning (2.65 ERA)
11 games into seventh inning (3.72 ERA)

RHP Dan Haren (1 complete game, 1 shutout)
27 games into fifth inning (5.47 ERA)
23 games into sixth inning (5.31 ERA)
12 games into seventh inning (2.25 ERA)

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