Teams aren’t supposed to win games when they score three runs or fewer.
Teams aren’t supposed to be cruising along when they have a collective slugging percentage of .348 or be in first place when their five top outfielders have combined to drive in nine runs in 12 games.
Yet, here the Nationals are. Two weeks into the season, Washington owns a 9-3 record and sits atop the National League East by a game and a half.
The question now going forward is whether this pattern can continue. Can the Nats continue to win one-run ballgames and rack up the victories even without big offensive numbers?
“I think it’s sustainable for the simple fact that our rotation is so good,” closer Brad Lidge said.
And there’s the kicker.
The Nationals’ starting rotation has combined to post a ridiculous 1.69 ERA this season, which is by far the best in the league and nearly three-quarters of a point lower than the team with the second-best mark (Texas at 2.43). Nats starters have also held opposing hitters to just a .179 batting average and have recorded a lowly 0.87 WHIP, totals which are also best in the bigs.
When a pitching staff is putting up numbers like that, the pressure melts away from the offense.
“No question. It does,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said recently. “Yeah, we want to score seven, eight, 10 runs, but if it doesn’t happen, there’s a good chance we’re still going to be in the game.”
That’s what happened last night, as the Nats earned a 1-0 win over the Astros thanks to starter Gio Gonzalez and the bullpen. The Nats couldn’t manage to get much of anything going off Houston lefty Wandy Rodriguez, but they blooped in two hits, scrapped across a run, and let their pitchers do the rest.
Of course, there’s some slight cause for concern here, as well. The rotation can’t possibly keep churning out these studly performances every night, and sooner or later, the team ERA will rise. When that happens, the offense will have to be ready to pick up the slack.
But for now, the Nats will continue to ride their insanely hot starting pitching and wait for the bats to come around.
“I’m not worried about the offense,” Johnson said. “I still feel like the offense, we’ve been swinging the bats pretty good. Every once in a while, you’re going to run into a buzzsaw that holds you down. But as long as the games are close, we’ve got a chance to win.”
With this rotation, they’ve got more than just a chance.