For the first time in four years, the Washington Nationals have kicked off a season with three straight wins. While not necessarily an indicator of success — the 2008 Nats dropped nine straight after winning their first three contests — every manager in baseball will stress how important it is to start the season on a high note.
After grinding out a grueling 2-0 win on Opening Day, the Nationals’ offense became a bat-wielding, power-hungry nightmare for the Cincinnati Reds’ pitching staff. Washington scored 19 runs over the final 18 innings of the series, smacking eight home runs and never once falling behind on the scoreboard.
Lost in all the madness, however, was the efficient success of the club’s starting pitchers. Usual suspects Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez combined for 18.1 innings of work in which they allowed just two earned runs (0.98 ERA) and struck out 24 hitters (11.8 K/9). All three starters earned a decision in the win column for their efforts.
Now, the team is just three games in and the Reds ranked around the middle of the league in most offensive categories last season. It’s far too early to call the NL Cy Young race, nor would it be appropriate to deem the Nats’ rotation the best in baseball — especially considering the fact that two starters in Tanner Roark and A.J. Cole have yet to take the mound this season.
Washington’s success has always been built on starting pitching. Since 2014, only one club other than the Nats has seen three of its starting pitchers finish in the top 10 of its league’s respective Cy Young voting: the 2016 Chicago Cubs, who won the World Series behind the arms of Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arrieta.
The Nationals have done it twice in that span, both in 2014 (Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Strasburg) and last season. While the offense took a giant leap forward in 2017 to score the most runs in franchise history, starting pitching remained Washington’s staple for success.
All three starters return to the District for the 2018 campaign trending in the right direction.
Scherzer is coming off back-to-back Cy Young awards. Nobody in the majors has struck out more hitters since he signed with the Nats in 2015. Strasburg went on the most dominant tear of his career to close out last season, posting an 0.86 ERA after the All-Star Break. Gonzalez was one of four pitchers in 2017 to throw over 200 innings while still sporting a sub-3.00 ERA.
Of course, all three come with significant question marks. Scherzer is 33 and could run into the age wall at any time. There’s seemingly never been a season in which Strasburg’s health hasn’t been a major topic of discussion. Most alarmingly, Gonzalez’s peripherals suggest he could be due for some regression after a career year last season.
Three games aren’t enough to shake off any concerns about the Nats’ big three arms. But if one thing’s for sure, they did just make one remarkable first impression.