The Washington Nationals pitching staff has been its strength throughout the course of the year so far. In April, the numbers were staggering and unsustainable, and the ERAs have started to tick up in the past week or so. But while Nationals starting pitchers no longer have sub-2.00 ERAs, they've still been an elite staff.
In April, the Nationals pitching staff gave up a total of 59 runs. So far in May, the staff has given up 67 runs and there are still 12 games left in the month. On its surface, it certainly looks like a reason to be concerned. That’s compounded by numbers that aren’t really all that great this month. Three out of five starters have ERAs between 4.15 and 4.50 in May.
However, the Nats pitching staff currently boasts a cumulative 1.8 WAR in May, which is still good for fourth best in the National League. They’re eighth in the League in ERA at 3.87, but that still puts them in the top half of the league. More importantly, they have a 3.55 xFIP, which is good for fourth best in the NL, and a 3.37 Skill-Interactive ERA (SIERA), which is third best in the NL. These stats indicate the staff's numbers should get better over time if they keep pitching like this.
Yes, Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann have had rough outings this week compared with what they’ve done this season so far, but that doesn’t mean the pitching rotation is going to crash down around them. Everyone has a bad start every once in a while. Meanwhile, Gio Gonzalez is third in MLB in WAR (1.8) behind Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander. Strasburg and Gonzalez have two of the top 10 SIERAs in all of baseball.
A few rough starts and some ugly save attempts by Henry Rodriguez seems to have some Nats fans concerned that this pitching staff was way out performing its potential. While their success in April was unsustainable, everyone should have been fully aware of that and expected a fall to earth. The fact remains that four of the team’s five starters have sub-3.00 ERAs, and the outlier, Edwin Jackson, has a still-impressive 3.71 ERA.
As the offense starts coming together, the few pitching faux pas the Nats will have will seem less important. With Michael Morse due to return in the next couple of weeks, that will certainly help. The offense has already started to improve a bit, though. In the last seven games, the Nats have scored 34 runs. In the 11 games prior to that, the team scored just 35 runs. The weather will continue to warm as we approach summer, which should help the power numbers and help the pitchers gets some more wins.
The Nats are 9-11 in their last 20 games, but I’m not at all concerned. They still have an elite pitching staff and an offense that, despite a harrowing number of injuries, still is marginally competent. Their main issue is scoring runners that have already reached base; they only knock in about 12% of runners, which is tied for the MLB-worst. If they can find a way to improve their situational hitting and drive in about 14% of runners, the pitching will benefit significantly, and you’ll see the team continue to win more than they lose. That’s all a good recipe for a playoff run.