There are obviously many factors that led to the Nationals having the best record in baseball thus far in 2012. There’s the legendary manager coming back to a remarkably young and talented team for one last stop on a stellar train ride of a career. There’s the phenom draftees that were the result of many years of suffering in Nats town, and there is the other home grown talent that has matured before our very eyes as the result of a great development program.
But to me, the one move that really sparked a fire into this team’s season and really set the tone before the Nationals even stepped foot in spring training, was the blockbuster trade for All-Star hurler Gio Gonzalez. The deal was not only important because it landed them a left-hander who is arguably a front-runner for the National League Cy Young race this season. Or because it gave them a back-up plan for the playoffs, giving them a hurler just as good as Strasburg after his inevitable shut down.
No, the Gio Gonzalez trade was all-important because it immediately set the tone for this season. Mike Rizzo looked at his roster, took into account all of his pieces, and told the rest of the world that Washington was ready to “go for it.” The Nats gave up several big, MLB ready players that are currently contributing to Oakland’s playoff run, but did so to make a statement that this would be a team that made big moves for big players, because they were ready to do so.
The trade marked the arrival of the Washington Nationals as a force to be reckoned with in Major League Baseball. And, man, has Gio been great. Through 29 starts this season, the southpaw has posted a National League leading 19 wins. He is fourth in the league with 191 strikeouts, and has a league best .206 batting average against. His 2.93 ERA leads the Nationals and ranks fifth overall in the NL.
In his last three starts he’s gotten even more dominant. In that span he has gone 3-0, allowed just one earned run and 11 hits in 22 innings pitched. He has also struck out 23.
Gio has the biggest smile in baseball, and the best curveball. He’s been the heart and soul of this team from the onset of spring training, and he’s going to help carry them deep into October, if he has anything to say about it.