|Analysis: Nationals still contenders sans Stephen Strasburg|
|Updated 9/8/2012 8:58 PM ET|
Stephen Strasburg: shut down, no postseason, plenty of reason to be down.
Washington Nationals: soaring with the best record in baseball, looking at home-field advantage all the way through the World Series, plenty of reasons to be up and stay up.BLOG: Meanwhile, Bryce Harper slugs away MORE: Nationals shut down Strasburg BLOG: Ozzie on Strasburg: 'Nobody's (bleeping) business'
Now that the focus finally can turn to the inevitable Nationals-without-Strasburg mini-era, there's no reason to suddenly look at this team like you just found out it's facing, oh, say, Tommy John elbow surgery.
Often lost in the team's success this year is the role played by a roster that was made deeper and more talented coming into the season — certainly far deeper and more talented that high-profile wonder boys Strasburg and Bryce Harper.
Manager Davey Johnson wasn't blowing smoke or making nice with the boss when he made his best Mike Rizzo for executive of the year pitch Friday.
Nor was Chipper Jones— he of the pretty-much-buried-in-the-division Atlanta Braves— when he talked about Washington's pitching.
"Power arms, power arms — that's what translates in the postseason," Jones says. "It's cold, guys are all wrapped up, it's hard to center the ball when a guy throws it 100 miles an hour. And these guys have a bunch of 'em."
Yes, Strasburg leads major league starters this season with an average 95.8 mph fastball. .
And he was none too pleased with getting shut down, telling reporters after Saturday's 10-inning win against the Miami Marlins, "I don't know if I'm ever going to accept it. It's something that I'm not happy about at all. That's not why I play the game."
But this is about the other guys, isn't it?
"You're talking about Strasburg and (Jordan) Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez," says Jones, who played on Braves teams known for their rotations. "(Ross Detwiler) can throw 93, 94. I'm sure Edwin Jackson can bring it up to 95. All the guys in their 'pen who throw 93 and above. Show me a team with at least two power arms at the top of their rotation and I'll show you a team that's more than likely going to go a long way in the postseason."
Back to that list of top fastballs: Zimmermann ranked third in NL at 93.8, Gonzalez fifth at 93.4 and Jackson sixth at 93.3.
By comparison, the closest any other playoff contender in either league can come to matching the Nationals power-pitching depth is Cincinnati, which has Mat Latos, Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto, who rank 11th, 12th and 13th in NL fastball velocity.
But could the youngish Nationals rotation — Jackson is the old guy at 28 — fade as the long season takes its toll?
Not likely. Over the past 30 days, Zimmermann ranks fourth in the NL in average fastball velocity, Gonzalez fifth, Jackson sixth and Detwiler eighth. By the way, Strasburg still was first. No, fatigue doesn't seem to be an issue any more than how the Nationals are showing they're not fazed by the playoff-race pressure cooker.
Obviously, the game is much more than pitch speed. The Nationals are hanging tough with the rest of it.
Over the past 30 days, the Nationals have three pitchers among the NL Top 12 in wins above replacement for starters, according to FanGraphs: Jackson tied for third, Gonzalez tied for seventh and Detwiler tied for 12th. No Strasburg. The Philadelphia Phillies, not a playoff factor, are the only other team with three pitchers in the Top 20.
And offensive balance is kicking in at the just the right time for the Nationals. Over the past month, four Nats are in the NL Top 25 in OPS. Scroll down a bit from the very top and you'll find Harper 20th, Jayson Werth 21st, Danny Espinosa 22nd and Ryan Zimmerman 24th. That's depth without any one of them carrying the team.
By comparison, no other NL team has four players in the Top 25, but Cincinnati (Jay Bruce first, Todd Frazier sixth and Ryan Ludwick eighth) has three and so does Los Angeles (Hanley Ramirez 14th, Juan Cruz 15th and Andre Ethier 25th).
So, shelve the Strasburg talk for now — of course, it will come up whenever and however the Nationals's season ends. Even skip the discussion of John Lannan and/or Chien-Ming Wang stepping into the rotation — those starts between and now the end of the regular season are unlikely to have much bearing on Washington's fate.
Yes, the bullpen is untested and sometimes erratic. Nationals hitters will have the highest strikeout rate of any team in the postseason unless the Pittsburgh Pirates get in.
But they also strike people out (third-highest rate in the majors) and when they don't, the fielders make the plays (second-best team defensive zone rating).
This team can still play.
|Posted 9/8/2012 8:32 PM ET|
|Updated 9/8/2012 8:58 PM ET|