Rotation, bullpen both working at an elite level

MILWAUKEE - After shutting out the Brewers - the team with the fourth-most runs scored in the major leagues - last night, the Nationals now have the top team ERA in the bigs.

Through their first 75 games, the Nats have a 3.00 ERA as a team. And if you prefer more advanced metrics that determine the quality of a pitching staff, consider this: the Nats also rank first in the majors in overall team FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching).

Their rotation has been fantastic, especially the last few weeks. Their bullpen has been spectacular.

Add it all up, and what’s it mean? It means that even when the offense manages just three runs, all of which came on one Adam LaRoche swing of the bat, that the Nats can still end up earning a fairly comfortable 3-0 victory, as they did last night.

The rotation might have gotten off to a bit of a slow start to the season, with Doug Fister missing nearly the first seven weeks while on the disabled list, Jordan Zimmermann having an uncharacteristically shaky first few weeks and Gio Gonzalez having trouble consistently finding his arm slot.

But lately, the Nats’ starters have been dominant, simply put.

Fister has won six of his last seven outings, Zimmermann is on a ridiculous hot streak, Tanner Roark keeps showing that he’s one of the more underrated starters in the majors, Stephen Strasburg has delivered 11 quality starts in his last 12 outings, and last night, Gonzalez got back on track with six scoreless innings.

The rotation was churning out stellar outing after stellar outing of late. But what if Gonzalez can get back to the form he showed in 2012 and add to the work that the other four are putting in?

“I feel sorry for the rest of the league,” Tyler Clippard said. “It’s the bottom line. It sounds a little cheesy, but it’s true. We have five No. 1 starters. I said it (Sunday). I’ll say it again today. What I’ve seen so far this year, out of our starting rotation, it’s the best in baseball.”

Statistically speaking, even with the semi-slow start, the Nats have the fourth-best rotation ERA in the majors this season at 3.27. Gonzalez helped lower that with his strong outing last night, a start that the lefty said was big for him from a confidence standpoint as he tries to shake off some rust after a month on the disabled list with left shoulder inflammation.

“It’s a huge accomplishment,” Gonzalez said. “The Brewers are red hot and I wanted to make a statement with the rotation and trying to be a part of it. These guys have pitching incredible and I’ve been lucky to see some great pitching from these guys.”

As for the Nats’ bullpen, that group has been just as overpowering, if not more so.

Nats relievers have a collective 2.47 ERA, best among any major league ‘pen. Remarkably, five of their seven relievers have ERAs below 2.60, and three (Drew Storen, Rafael Soriano and Aaron Barrett) have ERAs at or below 1.75.

“We got good arms down there,” Clippard said. “On top of the stuff that guys are featuring down there, I think we pitch. I don’t think you’re going out there and throwing over the plate and hopefully they miss it. We’re executing pitches and moving the ball around and changing speeds and I think that’s what you have to do to be successful and I think that’s what we’re doing.”

I’m no expert, but I believe if you have strong starting pitching and a strong bullpen, you’re going to give yourself a chance to win lots of ballgames.

The Nats have gotten fantastic work from both their rotation and their relievers this season - especially the last few weeks - and if it continues, things could get pretty fun in D.C. as the summer plays out.

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