US Presswire photo
Jason Marquis authored the latest strong outing by a Nationals starter last night.
It's a disappointing start to the season, to be sure, but it's even more frustrating because they've gotten superb work out of their rotation so far. Four games in, Nationals starters own a combined 2.66 ERA, having issued a total of only four walks in 23 2/3 innings. Livan Hernandez, Jordan Zimmermann and Jason Marquis each got credited with quality starts, and John Lannan probably would have gotten one himself if not for Saturday's rain delay.
"I look at the glass as half-full," manager Jim Riggleman said after last night's 3-2, 10-inning loss. "I'm encouraged by those starts that we've gotten. ... You take the rain out of the situation, and really we've had four games where we've gone at least six. That's important."
It is important, because it's difficult to believe a team that gets six or more innings out of its starting pitcher every night is going to lose 75 percent of the time. Come to think of it, it's pretty much impossible for any ballclub to lose 75 percent of its games over a full season, even if its starters sport an ERA over 6.00.
The question, though, is whether the Nationals can expect their starters to keep this up. These aren't exactly pitchers known for extended periods of dominance.
It may, however, be more possible than you think. All four of those starters pitched well in spring training, so it's not as though these early season outings came out of nowhere. They've also managed to pitch in a manner that best suits them, not trying to blow opposing hitters away but instead to get ahead in the count and let their defense make plays behind them.
Nationals starters may have collectively recorded only 10 strikeouts in four games (tied with the Red Sox, Rockies and Indians for fewest in the majors). But they've also issued only four walks (only the Phillies, with three, have walked fewer batters).
Here's another impressive stat: Through four games, Nationals starters are averaging only 77 pitches per outing, 13.05 pitches per inning, fewest in the big leagues. That's not because they're getting yanked early. It's because they're efficient.
This is what they're going to have to do over the long haul to keep themselves competitive.
"We just need to go out there and pitch to our capabilities, not anything more or anything less," said Marquis, who struck out two without walking anyone last night. "The wins will come if we keep throwing the ball that way."
Yes, the wins should come, but only if the Nationals start playing better defense behind those starters (they were flawless in Games 1 and 2, much less so in Games 3 and 4) and if their lineup starts producing just a little bit more in clutch situations (they're hitting .121, 4-for-33, with runners in scoring position).