When Washington Nationals fans across the capital region and beyond woke up this morning, they found their team sitting only 1 1/2 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East race. At first glance, that fact may not jump out of the screen. But when you consider that the team bullpen’s ERA sits dead-last in the league, you really start wondering how exactly the team is navigating so well through the early portion of the 2019 season.
To illustrate exactly how badly the bullpen is performing, their ERA of 7.41 is almost an entire run higher than the next worse team—the Baltimore Orioles—at 6.55, and almost 2 1/2 runs higher than the 25th team in baseball—the Texas Rangers—at 5.08.
Interested in another crazy number? Despite their woes having extended games that would have otherwise ended earlier, the Nationals bullpen has pitched the least innings in Major League Baseball: 54.2.
So how exactly are the Nationals managing to stick around instead of sharing the same fate as our friends in Miami?
To start, we can look at that last statistic. With the Nationals bullpen sitting last in innings pitched across the league, it means that the starting rotation is consuming innings at a decent clip. In fact, the Nationals starters have pitched more innings than the starters of any other team that has played the same or fewer number of games, having tossed 123.1 innings over 12 games.
But it’s not just that they’re picking up the brunt of opposing offenses. They are also pitching well overall. The Nationals rotation has an ERA of 3.72, good for 10th in the league, and barely over 1/2 run higher than the third rotation in the league – the Toronto Blue Jays – at 3.10. They’re striking out a ton of batters too, with 139 strikeouts so far, only second to the Cleveland Indians who have struck out 148 batters in four more games.
Newcomer Patrick Corbin (1-0, 2.36) has been a sight for sore eyes for Nationals fans. The lefty has largely dominated during his four starts so far, though a lack of run support during his outings have only afforded him one win in the year. He’s struck out 33 batters over 26.2 frames, and opponents only hit .198 against him.
Jeremy Hellickson (2-0, 2.63)—slated to make his Coors Field debut tonight against the Colorado Rockies—has also pitched well and enjoyed more run support, as his two wins inthe same number of starts convey.
Max Scherzer (1-3, 4.45) and Stephen Strasburg (2-1, 4.11) have not pitched poorly, but just haven’t quite hit their stride. Once they return to their usual form, the Nationals rotation will be in much better shape.
Another factor that has kept the Nationals afloat over this initial stretch of the year has been timely and consistent hitting. There haven’t been many games when the Nationals offense has been completely stifled. In fact, the first two wins of the season came in the form of a walk-off single by Trea Turner and a walk-off walk by Jake Noll.
The team hits collectively for .262, tied with the Tampa Bay Rays for seventh in baseball.
Anthony Rendon has led the charge for the Nationals, hitting for .371, with six home runs, 18 RBIs and 10 doubles.
The Nationals lost their last series, a three-game set versus the Marlins in Miami. As many writers said before the season started, it is very likely that the team who manages to lose the least amount of games against the Marlins wins the division, and so far, all those writers appear to have been prophetic.
Looking ahead, the Nationals start a three-game series against the Rockies tonight and come back to DC to take on the San Diego Padres for a three-game weekend set starting Friday night.
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