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Stephen Strasburg is the star, but it's the depth of the Nationals rotation that has helped the team to the best record in the major leagues.
Yet, there, two games ahead of every other team, are the Washington Nationals. Yes, the Nationals, they of the one playoff appearance in franchise history, that coming in 1981 when the team was still based in Montreal.
The 2012 version of the team has a 68-43 record, good for a .613 winning percentage. That would be the second-best mark in franchise history, trailing only the 1994 Expos, who were 74-40 (.649) before the season was canceled due to a players’ strike.
The strength of this Nationals team has been its pitching, particularly the starters. You might immediately think of Stephen Strasburg when you think of Nationals pitching, but it’s the rotation’s depth that will help in September and beyond.
Nationals pitching as a whole leads the majors in ERA, as well as opponents’ batting average and on-base percentage. The starters have been even better, with a 3.19 ERA, best in the majors, compared to the bullpen’s 3.40 ERA, which ranks 13th in the majors.
Strasburg is the headliner of the rotation, with a MLB-best 11.3 K per 9 IP, but he's at 127⅓ innings for the season and averaging about six innings per start. If 160 innings is his limit for the season, and he continues to start every fifth day, he's on pace to hit that mark Sept. 7 against the Marlins, nearly four weeks before the end of the regular season.
But not to fear, Nats fans. Even if Washington has to go without Strasburg to end the season, starting pitching will still be a strength with these four anchoring the rotation.
• Jordan Zimmermann: Zimmermann enters Thursday night’s start against the Houston Astros as Washington’s hottest pitcher, going 5-0 with a 1.65 ERA in his last eight starts. In those eight starts, he’s allowed more than one earned run just once, and he hasn’t allowed more than four earned runs in a start this season.
• Ross Detwiler and Edwin Jackson: These two round out the rotation, but they rank 16th and 34th respectively in the majors in ERA. Since the All-Star Break, Detwiler has a 1.93 ERA.
Washington’s pitching becomes even more impressive when you consider that no Nationals starter ranks in the top 20 in the majors in run support this season. Strasburg and Gonzalez also rank first and second in the majors in defense-independent ERA.