The MLB season is less than a month old, and people are ready to write off the Washington Nationals. After 22 games, they are 11-11, and tied for No. 3 in the National League East.
All of the attention has been on the absence of Bryce Harper, the daily bullpen implosions and the injuries to infielders Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner. However, the consistency of the starting rotation has truly been keeping this team above water, and deserve more credit than they have been given.
The five starters: Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Aníbal Sánchez, and Jeremy Hellickson have combined for seven of the 11 wins. Strasburg, Corbin, and Hellickson each have two wins, and Scherzer has one. Sánchez has been the victim of bad luck and has yet to record his first win as a National.
After five starts, Scherzer is 1-3 with a 4.45 ERA in 32 innings. On paper, this could be worrying, but he also has 44 strikeouts and only five walks. His last start against the Miami Marlins on April 20 was not his finest moment, with seven earned runs in five innings. However, he has looked like his usual self in his other four starts, especially against the New York Mets on March 28 when he struck out 12 and gave up two runs. With a little more run support, he will be back on the Cy Young radar before we know it.
Strasburg had a bit of a rough start to the season, but he is settling in well. Historically, he has been successful against the Marlins, and he turned in a quality start against them on April 21, throwing 104 pitches in eight innings with 11 strikeouts and only two earned runs. As of April 23, he is only four wins away from 100 career wins, so keep an eye out for that milestone. He already holds the franchise record by 10, so everything more is just setting the bar higher for the next guy.
Corbin is coming off a season where he went 11-7 in 33 starts with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and he is following that nicely, starting the season 2-0 with a 2.48 ERA in five games. He received no decisions in his first three starts, but he turned in quality starts each time. In fact, all five of his starts have been great starts, and he has 39 strikeouts and only seven walks. He should be a reliable starter to watch every fifth day the rest of this year.
The 100 career-win club almost has another member. As of April 23, Sánchez has 97 wins, seven of them coming with the Atlanta Braves last season. Sánchez has had a slow start to the season, but it isn’t time to worry, yet. He is making good pitches, but a nasty combination of poor defense, low run support, and a start in Denver, has not helped him. His best start came April 13 against the Pittsburgh pirates when he pitched seven innings and gave up two earned runs, and if he can replicate that, the Nats will be in good shape.
Now on his fifth team in 10 seasons, Hellickson looks to be finding a home in D.C.. He isn’t known to be a power pitcher, but he is getting the job done nonetheless. After four starts (he started the season in the bullpen because of all the off days), Hellickson is 2-0 with a 4.34 ERA. The high ERA could be a cause for concern, but other than his start in the hitter friendly Coors Field in Colorado, he hasn’t given up more than two runs in a game. Once he settles in and finds a routine, Hellickson should be a quality end of the rotation starter.
Now, if only fans could vote for All-Star pitchers to give these five the recognition they deserve.