Will Yoder: Nationals' rotation still one of the best

Entering the 2011 season, many felt the Nationals dropped the ball over the winter in a rather public attempt to shore up their starting rotation. General manager Mike Rizzo made no secret that he was out to get another major league-level starter, and when he failed to sign even one of his targets, many were worried about the rotation the Nats had to offer.

Quite surprisingly, the Nats' starting pitching has actually been a bright point for the club this season, with one of the more successful rotations in baseball. A large part of that has been due to the return of Jason Marquis to his previous All-Star level, the emergence of Jordan Zimmermann, and the surprising success of John Lannan and Tom Gorzelanny.

Until the past few weeks, the Nationals' lineup has performed terribly, and it had been the starting rotation that had kept the team afloat. Now, it appears the bats are back. Washington has won six games in a row on the backs of the starting pitchers, and the Nats are inching closer and closer to .500.

Here's what the pitchers who the Nats had hoped to bring in this season have done thus far.

Matt Garza - 3-6, 4.14 ERA, 2.76 FIP, 9.80 K/9
Chris Young - 1-0, 1.88 ERA, 4.25 FIP, 8.25 K/9 (out for season, shoulder)
Brandon Webb - Has not pitched
Justin Duchsherer - Has not pitches
Cliff Lee - 7-5, 3.12 ERA, 2.57 FIP, 9.61 K/9
Carl Pavano - 4-5, 4.20 ERA, 3.88 FIP, 3.63 K/9
Jeff Francis - 3-7, 4.83 ERA, 4.02 FIP, 4.24 K/9
Javier Vasquez - 3-7, 6.85 ERA, 5.14 FIP, 6.34 K/9
Zack Greinke - 6-2, 5.23 ERA, 2.54 FIP, 11.81 K/9

Compare that to:

Livan Hernandez - 4-8, 3.77 ERA, 3.87 FIP, 5.23 K/9
Jordan Zimmermann - 4-6, 3.10 ERA, 2.56 FIP, 6.75 K/9
Jason Marquis - 7-2, 2.67 ERA, 3.76 FIP, 5.22 K/9
John Lannan - 4-5, 3.52 ERA, 4.41 FIP, 4.86 K/9
Tom Gorzelanny - 2-4, 4.25 ERA, 5.20 FIP, 8.15 K/9

The Nationals have been, for the most part, better off with the starters they already had on the roster. Gorzelanny was an acquisition for the club, but the team only traded him after they couldn't get any of the players above. It seems though that in terms of performance and health, the Nationals lucked out.

I was never exactly a fan of pitching coach Steve McCatty entering this season. Some of the views he expressed in interviews scared me a bit. However, you can't argue with results. Pitching coaches have two jobs. One is to develop young starters into major leaguers, which he has done with Zimmermann. The other is to get veterans to pitch at the highest level possible, which he has done with Hernandez, Marquis, Lannan, and, to an extent, Gorzelanny.

It's a shame the Nationals' lineup has been so poor this far through the season, because a rotation like the one above is playoff-worthy. At 33-36 there is still time to make up the 5 1/2-game gap in the Wild Card race, but do the Nationals contain the offensive firepower in their lineup to make up that ground? Probably not.

The good news is that rotation will get at least one new member next season in Stephen Strasburg, and fellow minor leaguers Tom Milone and Brad Peacock are making a push toward the majors as well. The lineup is likely to gain a boost from at least one free agent, and Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon will be knocking at the big league door.

Will Yoder blogs about the Nationals for The Nats Blog, and offers his viewpoints this week as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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