May 23, 2015

Washington Nationals Game 40 Review: Zimmerman Hits His Tenth Career Walk-Off Home Run, Nats Beat Yankees in Extras

ZIMMERMAN JOINS IMMORTALS MUSIAL, PEREZ, SCHMIDT, PUJOLS AND BONDS WITH 10-PLUS WALK-OFFS

The Washington Nationals and New York Yankees held the same record of 22-17 going into Tuesday night’s game at Nationals Park.  But after ten innings of baseball played in the nation’s capital, the Nats emerged victorious beating the Yankees 8-6 thanks to a two-out, two-run walk-off home run hit by Mr. Walk-off himself — first baseman Ryan Zimmerman — against left-handed reliever Andrew Miller.

Offense is what kept the Nats in the game despite a shaky starting appearance made by left-handed pitcher Gio Gonzalez. The Nats got a jump start with home runs hit by shortstop Ian Desmond and outfielder Bryce Harper off right-handed starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi in the first inning making it a 2-0 game in favor of Washington. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 35 Review: Taylor slam in ninth caps comeback win

GRAND SLAM BY MICHAEL TAYLOR IN NINTH INNING DELIVERS COME-FROM-BEHIND WIN

Trailing by one run entering the ninth inning, the Washington Nationals put together a four-run rally, capped by rookie Michael Taylor’s first career grand slam, and the Nats came back to defeat the Arizona Diamondbacks 9-6, taking two out of three in the desert to start the seven-game west coast road trip.

The Nats move to 19-16 on the season and are two games behind the New York Mets in the N.L. East.

The rally started with one out against Arizona closer Addison Reed. Denard Span singled to center and went to second on Yunel Escobar’s single. Jayson Werth then worked a walk, to bring up Taylor, who was inserted into the game in the seventh with Bryce Harper was ejected for arguing a dicey check-swing strikeout call.

Taylor took the first pitch in the dirt. Facing getting behind the hitter, Reed served up a center-cut fastball, and the rookie clobbered it to straight-away center field, while the fielders could do nothing but turn and watch it leave the park.

Entering their 10-game road trip, the Washington Nationals had won 10 of their previous 12 games to push their season record three games over .500. After a promising start Monday night in an 11-1 win, the Nats were pounded 14-4 Tuesday and the rubber match set up ominously until the final inning.

Gio Gonzalez pitched in and out of trouble seemingly in every inning, and his final numbers were nothing to write home about. He allowed five earned runs on nine hits and two walks, striking out just three.

The D-backs broke out first in the second inning. Nick Ahmed singled with Chris Owings on second base. Owings scored when Jose Lobaton couldn’t handle Werth’s throw from left.

Werth more than made up for his late throw in the next inning, clubbing a three-run homer to left center, scoring Span, who’d walked, and Escobar, who was hit by a pitch.

That 3-1 lead didn’t last long.

In the bottom of the frame, Ender Inciarte singled to lead off and took second when Mark Trumbo walked on four pitches. Paul Goldschmidt doubled to the deepest part of left center, plating Inciarte. A.J. Pollock grounded out, bringing home Trumbo, and Goldschmidt scored on Ian Desmond’s fielding error of Aaron Hill’s routine grounder.

Arizona picked up its fifth run in the fifth. Goldschmidt tripled, then scored on Pollock’s single.

Trailing 5-3 in the sixth, with two outs Danny Espinosa drew a walk. Manager Matt Williams called Gonzalez back from the on-deck circle and sent Tyler Moore up to pinch-hit. The slugger connected on an 0-1 fastball and it clanged off the left field foul pole, tying the game.

The fielding bug bit again in the eight. Desmond botched another ground ball, but Inciarte was thrown out stealing. Aaron Barrett came on and walked Trumbo, his first batter. After Goldschmidt struck out, Pollock singled and pinch-hitter Yasmany Tomas delivered a single up the middle, scoring Trumbo to give Arizona a one-run lead.

All of which set up the ninth-inning heroics.

After the grand slam, Drew Storen had a 1-2-3 ninth to nail down the save.

HERO: Michael Taylor. Closed Addison Reed was struggling, and he squared up the fastball for the game-winning grand slam.

GOAT: Reed. I mean, come on.

NATS NOTES:

  • Given the boot: In the seventh, Bryce Harper was called out on a very close check swing call by home plate umpire Rob Drake. Harper protested and was ejected. Williams came out to defend his star and was ejected along with Harper.
  • Tanner Roark gave up three hits and two walks in 1 2/3 innings, but managed to keep Arizona off the scoreboard.

NEXT GAME: Thursday at 10:10 pm EST. Doug Fister (2-1, 2.87) faces Tyson Ross (1-3, 3.98).

Washington Nationals Game 30 Review: Nats crumple Braves 9-2, return to .500

HARPER AND ESPINOSA COMBINE FOR FOUR HOMERS, GIO CRUISES THROUGH SEVEN

A day of rest will do any team good, but is that always true when a team is on a streak? The Washington Nationals came out of their Thursday off day right where they had left off on Wednesday, beating the Atlanta Braves in the series opener by a score of 9-2. Gio Gonzalez notched eight strikeouts and just one walk in seven innings of two-run ball for his third win of the 2015 campaign. Bryce Harper added a pair of homers — his fourth and fifth in the past two games — to cement the win for Gonzalez and the Nats.

Freddie Freeman of the Braves continued his reign of terror against the Nationals, going 2 for 4 with an RBI single in the third, and a double in the first that setup the only other Braves run. The Nationals will, at some point, figure out Freddie Freeman, but they just haven’t to date. His 10-for-17 season with three RBI against Washington is by far his best split.

Fortunately for Washington, the Braves only have just the one Freddie Freeman.

Jayson Werth struck back for the Nats in the bottom of the fourth with a solo shot halfway up the seats in left field, his first of the year. Werth has struggled with power so far this season, a part of his recovery from off-season shoulder surgery. Werth’s average is up .192, though, about 25 points higher than it was a week ago. Progress is slow, but as long as there’s progress, life is good for the Nats’ bearded left fielder.

Bryce Harper and Danny Espinosa each had two home runs tonight against Braves pitching, combining for eight RBIs. The Braves could do no right on Friday when it came to either player.

Eric Stults could not resist a 1-2 fastball to Harper, and Harper sent it deep into the outfield seats to put the Nationals ahead in the sixth. That was all Stults could manage on the day, going six innings, striking out seven, but the three runs on two homers took their toll.

Danny Espinosa greeted Brandon Cunniff in the seventh inning and take his 94-mph offering deep into the visiting bullpen for his 3rd home run of the year. He repeated the performance against Trevor Cahill in eighth inning, part of a five-spot the Nationals put up that inning.

The most impressive shot of the night belonged to Harper in the eighth, a no-doubter off Braves’ rookie Williams Perez in his major league debut. Harper took his 92-mph first pitch and deposited deep into the lower deck in right center. Perez will look back on that and cringe, or he might say “the best hitter in the game bested me.” Either way, he’ll have something to remember.

Matt Grace and Blake Treinen combined for two scoreless inning, with Grace giving up just a single, and Treinen slicing and dicing the Braves in the ninth to finish the game.

HERO: Bryce Harper, for his fourth and fifth home runs in two games. The first yardshot put the Nationals ahead for good in the sixth, and the second one put the game far out of reach in the eighth. 10 RBIs in two games is pretty good. I guess. Maybe.

GOAT: No goats! Celebrate with these fainting goats.

NATS NOTES:

  • Running wild: Harper’s TOOTBLAN in the third inning was his 3rd of the year.
  • Everyone digs the longball: All the Nationals’ runs on Friday night came on the long-ball.
  • First time for everything: Harper is the first player in franchise history to hit five HR in two games.

NEXT UP: The Nationals and Braves play again at 4:05pm on Saturday, a rare start time, Julio Teheran (3-1, 3.82) vs. Doug Fister (2-1, 2.61)

Washington Nationals Game 19 Review: Gio rocked, Nats swept by Marlins

The Washington Nationals sent Gio Gonzalez to the mound on Sunday looking for a spark and hoping to avoid a sweep and turn things around from what has been a mostly dreary April. Unfortunately for the Nats and their fans, things remained status quo.

Gonzalez got roughed up at the end of his appearance, the offense couldn’t muster much fight against Dan Haren and a parade of Miami Marlins relievers, and the Nats fell 6-2 at cavernous Marlins Park, extending the losing streak to five games. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 14 Review: Nats need extras, but beat Cardinals 2-1

Yunel Escobar homered in the bottom of the 10th inning, delivering the Washington Nationals a hard-earned win over the burgeoning rival St. Louis, 2-1, before a raucous but depleted Nationals Park, on a night when both the Washington Capitals and Wizards were playing road playoff games.

All three teams won in dramatic fashion, with the Caps taking an overtime win over the New York Islanders to even their series at two games apiece, and the Wizards blowing away the Toronto Raptors to go up 2-0 in their first round matchup.

Starting pitchers Gio Gonzalez and Lance Lynn battled pitch for pitch in Tuesday night’s season-series opener between the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park. Both pitchers were impressive, gathering 11 strikeouts between them, though neither factored in the final decision.

The Nationals struck first in the third inning. Ian Desmond smacked a double off the wall in right field, followed by a walk to Jayson Werth on five pitches. That brought Bryce Harper to the plate with two men on and just one out, and Harper delivered a single to left, scoring Desmond and giving the Nationals a 1-0 lead.

That’s when things went off the rails a bit for the home team. Ryan Zimmerman hit a long fly ball to right center, where center fielder John Jay went a country mile to make the play. Both runners had advanced, and returned to their bags, but Bryce Harper appeared not to have re-touched second base having just stepped off the bag before retreating. On appeal, the Cardinals threw him out at second base for not tagging properly. Though there was some argument as to whether or not Harper had left the bag at all, he turned toward the shortstop, and that was enough for second base umpire Adam Hamari, who punched out Harper on appeal.

You might as well call Gio Gonzalez by his nickname after tonight. Houdini made it through six full innings, scattering eight hits and four walks, allowing no runs. The Nationals’ defense outperformed tonight, slicing and dicing the infield on 10 groundouts, with a pair of double plays, and some great play that stranded 12 Cardinals runners aboard. The Cards went 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position tonight.

After six full — and 107 pitches — Gonzalez was done for the night, and duties fell to Tanner Roark, Matt Thornton and Drew Storen to finish up the night. Roark gave up a hit in the seventh, but worked around it to notch another scoreless inning. With lefties due to bat, Matt Thornton came on to pitch the eighth, and made short work of John Jay, Yadier Molina and Matt Adams, allowing only Kolten Wong to get aboard on a single.

The Nationals made a go of it in the late innings, but couldn’t get the runners across. In the eighth, Ryan Zimmerman was dismissed on strikes on a ball that was down around his ankles, with Jayson Werth at second. The death of that rally would seem costly in the ninth, when Drew Storen blew his first save of the year.

Storen gave up a single to Matt Carpenter to lead off the ninth, and a pair of wild pitches during Jason Heyward’s at-bat sent Carpenter to third without much of a challenge. Matt Holliday, who went 4 for 4 with a walk, singled him in to tie the game.

The bottom of the ninth was as full of drama as any April game could be. Danny Espinosa drew a five-pitch walk after Wilson Ramos struck out to start the action. Dan Uggla, pinch-hitting for the pitcher’s spot, put together the second best at-bat of the night, drawing a walk on eight pitches and battling hard against Matt Belisle. That was enough to bring out Mike Matheny from the dugout, and bring in Jordan Walden to face Denard Span.

Span’s at-bat was by far the best of the night. He fought Walden tooth and claw, with five fouls, before a loping grounder couldn’t be fielded cleanly by defensive replacement Matt Adams at first. Span would be safe on the play, bringing Desmond to the plate with the bags all full and one out. Desmond’s at-bat was the polar opposite from Span’s, and he strike out on five pitches. Desmond had just misread Walden’s entire approach.

It looked like the game might end on a deep fly ball from Jayson Werth, but for the third time Tuesday night, Jon Jay was right where he needed to be. Jay dove, laying out completely flat, to scoop the ball up before it hit the ground, and it was on to extra innings.

Aaron Barrett worked a scoreless 10th for the Nationals, putting them in the position to be the victors. The bats of Bryce Harper and Mr. Walkoff, Ryan Zimmerman, were leading off the 10th against Carlos Villanueva, but both remained silent. Bryce Harper struck out swinging, and Ryan Zimmerman lined out to rally-killer Jon Jay, leaving everything on Yunel Escobar. He delivered.

Escobar launched the very first pitch into the Cardinal bullpen, and Nats Park exploded. On a night when the Caps battled back into overtime, and scored a winner off the stick of Nicklas Backstrom, the Nats win might have been the second most impressive of the evening.

HERO: Yunel Escobar has his first walk-off in a Nationals uniform, with a yard shot in the 10th inning. Honorable mention: Ian Desmond, for his outstanding defense. Yes, that sentence is English. Desmond made a series of excellent picks from shortstop tonight, and a pair of double plays hinged on his relays. Maybe his April woes end early?

GOAT: Drew Storen, for blowing the save in the ninth. After giving up a base hit to Carpenter, two wild pitches gave Carpenter third, and let him score on a single by Matt Holliday.

NATS NOTES:

  • Storen’s blown save was his first in five save situations. He converted the other four.
  • Gio Gonzalez’s 107 pitches is the most from a Nats starter in 2015.
  • Escobar’s walkoff is his first since April of 2011 with the Jays.

UP NEXT: Rematch vs. the Cards tomorrow at 7:05pm, Doug Fister (1-0, 0.69) vs. John Lackey (1-0, 2.77).

Washington Nationals Game 9 Review: Bats Arise in 10-5 Victory over Boston

The Washington Nationals exploded for six runs in the third inning on Wednesday afternoon in the finale with the Boston Red Sox, on their way to a 10-5 final. The closing game of the six-game road trip was their first decisive win of the 2015 campaign. Gio Gonzalez pitched six strong innings in his first win, and Ian Desmond and Tyler Moore each smacked home runs. Rafael Martin make his MLB debut in relief and struck out five straight Red Sox, becoming the oldest player in history (30) to make his MLB debut in Fenway Park since 1947.

The third inning was the big story for the Nationals, as it was their first real offensive explosion of the nine-day-old season. Ian Desmond had a Green Monster shot to kickstart the offense. A single from Jayson Werth, his first of the year, led off the rally followed by a pair of walks to Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman. The wheels had come off for Wade Miley at this point, but Boston Manager John Farrell left him in one batter too long. Wilson Ramos cleared the bases with a double to the left field corner as the finishing blow, making the score 6-2.

With Wade Miley gone, Anthony Varvaro came on to mop up the mess and only made it worse. Dan Uggla and Michael A. Taylor each added RBI doubles before Yunel Escobar grounded out to end the six-run third inning. The Nationals sent ten men to the plate, scored six runs, and gathered two walks to complete an offensive explosion that had been a long time coming. After the game, starter Gio Gonzalez said, “Let’s not kid ourselves, the offense was amazing.” Finally, the Nats offense had arrived.

Four Nationals amassed multi-hit games (Harper, Ramos, Taylor and Moore), with only one Escobar shut out of the hit parade, and only two shut out of the RBI column. The Nats’ twelve hits were a season-high mark for the struggling offense.

Gonzalez had a strong day, with 6IP, 4ER, 6K and just 2BB, netting his first win. Rafael Martin, in his MLB debut, struck out five in his two relief innings, allowing no runs on just one hit. The 30-year old has worked his way up from the Mexican leagues through Potomac, Harrisburg and Syracuse over the last six seasons, and today he was impressive.

Drew Storen notched an uneventful ninth inning at Fenway in his third outing of the year.

HERO: Let’s give this one to the battery of Wilson Ramos (2 for 5, 2R, 3RBI, 2H) and Rafael Martin (2IP, 5K, 1H).

GOAT: Yunel Escobar is the only player to have missed out on the offensive awakening, and his error in the second came back to haunt the Nats. Even so, Escobar’s day shouldn’t earn him a full goat award, so we’ll award him just a tiny goat. Like this one.

NATS NOTES

Martin was recalled from Syracuse as Xavier Cedeño was designated for assignment. He becomes the first Nationals pitcher to strike out five in a row in their major league debut since Stephen Strasburg in June of 2010, and the first major leaguer to do it since Jason Grimm in 2012.

The Nationals 5 for 11 with runners in scoring position is far and away their best of the year. Coming into Wednesday’s game, the Nationals were 11 for 56 with runners in scoring position, a .197 average. They finish at 16 for 67, a .239 average.

UP NEXT: The Nationals return home Thursday to face the Philadelphia Phillies at 7:05 pm. Doug Fister (0-1, 0.00) hosts Cole Hamels (0-1, 3.75).

Washington Nationals Game 4 Review: Gio Falters Late, Offense Quiet

Having dropped two of the first three against the Mets, the Nationals arrived at Citizens Bank Ballpark in Philadelphia with something to prove. Gio Gonzalez (0-1) was on the bump for the Nats in his first start of the season, facing off with Jerome Williams of the Phillies. With a streak of 7 consecutive quality starts to end the 2014 season, Gonzalez was primed to deliver in his first start of the year.

Gonzalez would get close.

After six scoreless innings, Gio would find himself in trouble in the seventh, surrendering two walks, followed by a hit batsman to load the bases. Gio would throw a quarter of his pitches for the night in his third of the seventh. Visibly frustrated with the strike zone and his control, the Nationals’ number four starter would head for the showers with the bases loaded, one away, and Xavier Cedeño headed in for relief.

He’d make it two batters.

Cedeño wasn’t the lights-out reliever he’d been against the Mets, and allowed a 2-RBI single to Cesar Hernandez, before hitting Ben Revere with his next pitch. Manager Matt Williams was out to give Cedeño the hook shortly thereafter. Craig Stammen would come in and do little better, surrendering a single and a sac fly before finally closing out the inning. In the end, the Phillies scored four runs in the seventh, on 2 singles, 2 walks, 2 HBP and a sac fly. That would be enough to finish the Nationals, as the Phillies triumphed 4-1.

To leadoff the game Michael A. Taylor, doing his best Rickey Henderson impression, lead off the first with a long homerun to the left field corner. Taylor’s first home run of the 2015 campaign would stake Gonzalez to all the lead he’d get for the night. Taylor has started of the year strong, and if he continues his current pace, the Nationals may have some hard decisions to make when Denard Span is once again healthy. His early 5-for-17 (.294) include 3 RBI, and an .882 OPS. If Taylor continues his tear, do they let Span take his time coming back to give the rookie some extra playing time?

The Nationals would threaten in the second and fourth, but struggled to move runners from scoring position. Unfortunately, Ian Desmond’s rough April continued with a base-running miscue in the fourth. With one out, and Ryan Zimmerman at 1st, Desmond got wood on the ball and drove one to the left-center gap. Grady Sizemore fired a strike to veteran second baseman Chase Utley who applied the tag. While it looked like it might be the Nationals’ first coach’s challenge of the year, Matt Williams opted for safety, and the Nats wouldn’t be able to capitalize. The Nationals remain 3-for-22 with runners in scoring position this year.

Jerome Williams had a solid night for the Phils, going six full, scattering five hits and a walk, and giving up only Taylor’s homerun. He would strikeout six – including Harper, twice – and limited his damage to one bad pitch.

HERO: Michael A. Taylor, who continues his offensive tear in the Spring. His leadoff home run gives him 3 RBI for the season, and the club lead.

GOAT: Xavier Cedeño. The whole point of relief pitching is actually being relief. Cedeño was anything but. Honorable Mention to Matt Williams for leaving Gio out to dry in the seventh.

NATS NOTES:

  • Harper had 3 strikeouts for the second straight game, bringing his total to 8. He has the club lead by 3.
  • Blake Treinen pitched a scoreless eighth, with blazing velocity and pinpoint accuracy. Have the Nationals found their 8th inning man? He broke a pair of Philly bats.

UP NEXT: Nats at Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday at 7:05pm. Doug Fister (16-6, 2.41 in ’14) vs. LHP Cole Hamels (9-9, 2.46 in ’14).

Washington Nationals Spring Training: Gio solid, bullpen not in loss to Mets

The New York Mets got one run in the sixth, two in the seventh, four more in the eighth and tacked one on in the ninth to turn a tight game into a laugher, beating the Washington Nationals 8-3 at windy Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Florida.

Gio Gonzalez started, and while the lefty walked three — including back-to-back free passes in the third — he didn’t allow a run and gave up just two hits, one an infield variety that he fielded and made a late throw. He struck out five in five innings of work.

That was the good. The rest? Not so much.

Tanner Roark, Jerry Blevins and Craig Stammen — all relievers the team will rely upon heavily this season — were knocked around by a collection of mostly Mets backups.

Roark gave up two runs on two hits  in one inning of work, striking out two without a walk. Blevins surrendered consecutive homers to Matt Reynolds and Juan Lagares in the seventh. Stammen was touched for four runs on three hits — including a homer by Matt den Dekker — and a walk in 2/3 of an inning.

After two straight rough outings, Stammen’s spring ERA is 8.68.

The Nats picked up all their runs in the sixth inning. Michael Taylor doubled home Kila Kaiaihue, who walked,  and then scored on Clint Robinson’s double. Derrick Robinson pinch-ran for Clint and scored on Ryan Zimmerman’s RBI single. Wilson Ramos followed with a single, but Ian Desmond struck out to end the rally.

NATS NOTES:

  • Spring Training numbers to be taken with a grain of salt: Roark’s ERA hit 9.00 and Blevins’ sits at 8.59 after today’s runs.
  • Yunel Escobar led off and played second. He went 1 for 3 in his third game of the spring.
  • Desmond choked down a throw, bouncing it to first. When Zimmerman couldn’t make the backhanded scoop, Desmond was charged with his second error of the spring. He double-clutched a ball on the transfer in the next inning, but got a force at second.
  • Tyler Moore, who can’t afford to take any play for granted in his battle for a roster spot, flat-out dropped a fly ball in left field in the first inning.
  • Bryce Harper did not play for the second straight day with a stomach virus.

 

Washington Nationals Spring Training Preview: The Starters

This week, District Sports Page will review the players currently on the Washington Nationals 40-man roster and their potential contributions to the Major League roster this season.

Monday: Catchers
Tuesday: Infielders
Wednesday: Outfielders
Thursday: Starters
Friday: Bullpen

Max Scherzer
2014 AL: 33 games, 220.1 IP, 18-5, 3.15 ERA, 1.175 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 (6.0 WAR) [Read more…]

Washington Nationals own historic rotation…for now

Once again, we’re in the difficult position of evaluating an off-season move without immediate data, and as far as the Clippard/Escobar trade can be the sort of dejecting move that leans on past data for pessimism, the aquisition of right hander Max Scherzer gives us the sort of situation to be optimistic about and to play with some numbers.

Adding perennial Cy Young candidate to the rotation, the Nationals a shot at a pitching rotation that could be favorably compared to the 1996 and 1997 Braves or the 2011 Phillies.

The Scherzer signing appears to be a massive one in more than just his contract. Scherzer’s 6.0 WAR ranked eighth last year in all of baseball, but his 723 strikeouts over the last three seasons lead the Majors over that period, and outstrip Clayton Kershaw’s 700 and Stephen Strasburg’s 630 by a fair margin.

On paper, the Nationals have now assembled a pitching rotation that joins the 1996 and 1997 Braves, and the 2011 Phillies in terms of quality. We could sit around and talk all day about which of those rotations were the best, but of those four, at least on paper based on this past year’s performance, the 2015 Nationals would likely stack up fourth. The problem here is that we’re getting into that dangerous “predicting the future” part of this job that really isn’t the sort of thing I’m known for doing with any accuracy.

However, we can look at some past data to see the regular season results. I want to focus on three post-strike/post-expansion teams: The 1996 and 1997 Braves, and the 2011 Phillies. I started these comparisons by looking at Cy Young Award Vote-getters, but I decided that data was too subjective, as it was looking for a single best player, and not a best rotation, and that lead me to the Pitching WAR scoreboard over at Baseball-Reference.com.

The 2011 Phillies put together one of the most remarkable pitching staffs we’ve seen in a generation, with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels combining for 24.1 WAR that season. Halladay and Lee hardly walked anyone, and though Clayton Kershaw topped many individual categories, the Phillies’ 1-2-3 punch was substantial. Lee threw six complete game shutouts, and Halladay added eight complete games of his own. It’s hard to imagine a more dominant three-man combination.

When it comes to dominant rotations, though, you have to look at the 1990s Braves. The 1997 Braves combo of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Denny Neagle combined for 22.6 WAR, representing the second, fifth, eighth and ninth positions on the NL board for that season. The 1996 Braves combo of Smoltz, Maddux, Neagle and Glavine put up 26.2 WAR, representing second through fifth positions on the board.

Both of those are just absolutely staggering marks, and there’s a reason that Glavine and Maddux are in the Hall of Fame, and Smoltz was just selected.

I’m not saying that the 2015 Nationals are guaranteed be any of those three, but I am saying that this is their best chance at becoming something unique and wonderful for the fans to watch. I, for one, look forward to seeing how a starting rotation of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, and Doug Fister will handle a year together. There isn’t an “easy” day in there for the opponents.

Hell, there isn’t even a “just medium-hard” day in there.

If you use the 2014 numbers, Scherzer, Roark, Zimmermann, and Fister would have combined for 20.5 WAR, representing the fourth, seventh, eighth and 10th positions on the NL leader board for pitcher WAR. When you consider that Roark is likely the odd man out, the Nationals rotation combined for 15.2 WAR across the other four starters, which goes to 21.2 WAR when Scherzer gets figured in. For comparison’s sake, the reigning World Champion Giants’ rotation in 2014 ended up with about 8.8 WAR.

The biggest question become: What do you do when you have six pitchers for a five-man rotation? How does Tanner Roark handle a move to the long relief slot in the bullpen? Do you execute a trade for more offense now, and if so, whom?

Zimmermann’s name has been mentioned on the hot stove all winter long as a pending free agent at the end of the year. Over the weekend, media reports said the Nats would listen to offers for Strasburg. Roark has the most cost-certain number of years. Fister is an impending free agent himself. And even the almost-forgotten Gio Gonzalez was mentioned early in the offseason as a potential target for some teams.

These are all impossibly weird questions to consider for a team that was, five years ago, losing ninety to a hundred games a year.

The Nationals are a franchise that has now made the commitment to go for broke in the 2015 season, betting that a championship now — where none have existed in the District in almost twenty-five years — would be the sort of generational uplift that a newer team needs to make for an immensely profitable enterprise, and not just the sort that makes several million in profit. This is a commitment to winning a whole generation of young fans and commit them to a club for decades to come, and it’s the sort of thing that a baseball team needs more than ever right now in a football-heavy market in a time when baseball’s popularity has been on the wane.

The structure of Scherzer’s deal suggests that the Nationals are using this as an uplift contract — much as they did with Jayson Werth’s deal, which has largely proved worth its asking price — with some of the money deferred over the 2022-2028 timeframe. It’s impressive to think that my son, who is barely walking at this point, will be in high school before the deal is paid off, but that’s what has me thinking this deal was a statement to the rest of the players, the division foes, and the league. That statement is unequivocal at this point: this is the year the Nationals go the distance.

Is it enough? Can a team with dominant pitching and a good-if-not-world-class offense go on to win it all?

Suffice to say: this is rarified air, and the sort of thing that can get you deep into the playoffs. But none of those three previous teams won all the marbles. The 1997 Braves lost the NLCS to the Florida Marlins, a team with 10 fewer regular season wins. The 2011 Phillies didn’t make it past the Cardinals in the NLDS, who had 12 fewer regular season wins. The 1996 Braves lost to the New York Yankees in the World Series.

Stellar pitching isn’t the entire playoff picture. They’re not going to win it all based on pitching alone, but without that pitching, this isn’t a team that gets anywhere close.

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