As of this writing, the Washington Nationals are 6-9 with a -21 run differential (x/W-L 5-10), which is not exactly the type of start fans or the organization envisioned. Furthermore, a host of problems have plagued the Nationals early on.
The Washington Post argues that a star-less starting rotation would spell disaster for the Nats, and that conclusion is mostly correct; but there’s something left to be desired in the current iteration of the rotation.
Max Scherzer is pitching well (2.37 ERA, 3.75 FIP, 59 ERA-), but it’s important to note that while his ERA is over a run better than a year ago, his FIP has actually marginally risen (his ERA- has improved).
Patrick Corbin posted a good outing against St. Louis last night, but he’s had severe issues early on (10.95 ERA, 7.69 FIP, 272 ERA-).
Stephen Strasburg is hurt, a common refrain throughout his time in the major leagues.
Jon Lester hasn’t made a start yet, but I wouldn’t expect anything extraordinary from the aging lefty.
Erick Fedde is a fringe fifth starter for most teams who has perhaps suffered from a bit of bad luck (5.56 ERA, 3.16 FIP, 138 ERA-).
With the current output, that rotation doesn’t scream “intimidation.”
The Nationals have a 5.72 ERA, which is second worst in baseball; a 5.52 FIP, which is worst in baseball; and a 142 ERA-, which is fourth worst in baseball.
Those metrics negatively outpace the rest of the NL East by a significant margin, with the Braves being the closest opponent.
In fact, it’s the relievers who are carrying the load in terms of those aforementioned metrics — but they still aren’t great.
For example, the Nationals’ bullpen’s 4.28 ERA ranks 19th in baseball; their 4.51 FIP is 21st; their 107 ERA- is 17th in baseball.
In a division where the jury’s out on whether or not any of the teams have a valuable bullpen, the Nationals are struggling to standout.
Furthermore, in a division where three of the five clubs currently have top-15 or better starting rotations in all of the previously mentioned metrics, the Nationals can’t gain any traction.
Aside from the Mets, winning in the NL East is going to largely be contingent on how good your offense is; but winning is going to be strongly aided with the use of competent pitching. Early on this season, the Nationals haven’t proven to be competent in this regard, which has played no small part in their early woes.
As the season progresses, it’s likely the starting rotation and bullpen’s metrics will swap places, with the former likely improving through repetition and the latter lagging somewhat behind and matching its realistic ability; nonetheless, the pitching in DC has a lot of work to do if the club hopes to be competitive for a playoff spot, much less a division title.