David Huzzard: Top three in rotation are undisputed advantage for Nats

2.19, 2.50, 2.78 - that isn’t just a random collection of numbers, those are the ERAa of the Nationals’ top three starting pitchers, Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg.

Those three rank second, third and fourth in ERA and first and 11th in FIP (Strasburg and Scherzer are tied). Scherzer is the current front-runner for NL Cy Young with a healthy lead in all the categories the voters are going to look at. He has the second-best ERA in the league, the best FIP and WAR, leads in strikeouts and has pitched 6.6 innings a start. Scherzer is the prototypical ace pitcher. He stalks around the mound, hunts strikeouts and stares down batter after batter. But the seasons Strasburg and Gonzalez are having should not be overlooked and they will be key if the Nationals are going to go deep in the playoffs.

Baseball is played in three segmented and different seasons. Spring training has starters playing limited time for a couple of innings before mass changes. The pitching staff is laid out before the game starts and that is how they pitch, regardless of the score because the score is irrelevant. It is all about getting ready for the season. The regular season is a war of attrition, with injuries and fitness playing a great role as teams trudge to the finish line and it is rare that pitching staffs ever line up. Aces rarely face aces and it’s even more rare hat a series lines up with each team’s top three starters facing off The playoffs are exactly that. Teams will line up their best against another team’s best and let them go at it.

The Nationals rotation gives them a huge advantage over whomever they line up against in the playoffs. Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke can match Max Scherzer, but among qualified starters, the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Cubs have no one that can stand against Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg. In fact, they have more starters that would be fair matchups for Tanner Roark than the big three. The Nationals will have the pitching edge in any series they are in.

Because of their starting pitching, the Nationals have a better chance of jumping out to an early lead, and thanks to the revamped bullpen, they have a good chance of holding it. The bullpen is going to be more important in the playoffs. In recent postseasons, starting pitchers have struggled to go deep and the bullpen has had to pick up the slack, but every postseason is radically different and the Nationals could change everything this year. The Nationals have three starting pitchers capable of going deep into the game and shutting down the opposition. The offenses in the playoffs are going to be some of the best, but the Nationals’ starting pitchers have shut down the best before.

This is the most complete team the Nationals have had entering the playoffs. Starting pitching has been a strength of the team since they completed their rebuild, but it has never been this strong. The 2017 Nationals are the best chance the National have had to go deep in the playoffs. Agree or disagree with the Strasburg shutdown in 2012; he wasn’t available. In 2014, the Nationals didn’t yet have Scherzer, and in 2016, they were once again missing Strasburg. The Nationals have an advantage this postseason. Now all that is left to do is ride it as far as it will take them.

David Huzzard blogs about the Nationals at Citizens of Natstown. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHuzzard. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. 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 regular roster of writers.

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