I was all prepared to be positive today, really I was. I had something about Espy and Ramos and even Desmond coming back around brewing in my head. But with Zimmerman now looking like he'll miss extended time, the feeling around the team is as negative as can be for a squad that just took over best record in the league.
I'll give it to you straight and you can choose to believe it or not. This team cannot win with this offense as it stands today. They are 12th in the NL in runs per game. They were closer to average, and average probably would be good enough, but as guys like Desmond and LaRoche and Werth have cooled down, no one has heated up to take their spot. They haven't scored more than 4 runs in over a week. If Zimmeman is out for a week or two, then I still believe the Nats are fine. It would take
an immediate reversal of fortune to pull this team out of the favorable
position it's put itself in, and Zimmerman is an impact bat that should snap out of his doldrums. Maybe they do go 6-8 or something. No biggy. But what if he's out for longer? In that case I can't see the Nats doing any better than treading water, and probably doing worse.
But "Wait!", you say. "The Nats haven't stopped winning. Clearly the pitching is good enough that they can keep the Nats on track regardless of how the offense performs." I agree. If the pitching keeps being this good then yes, the Nats will keep winning. But I don't think you understand exactly what that means.
The modern day single season ERA leader is Bob Gibson in 1968 with a 1.12 ERA. The Nats have three guys Detwiler (0.56), Strasburg (1.08) and ZNN (1.29) that are currently "challenging" that. If you are more of an ERA+ guy 2000 Pedro is your man with a 291. The Nats 3 are at 654, 338, and 285 respectively. Gio, with his measly 1.59 ERA / 240 ERA+ is only looking to challenge for Top 10 all time in ERA+, the slacker.
For the first thee weeks of the season the Nats have basically had four pitchers get results on par with the best seasons of all time. Forgive me if I don't see that continuing. If these 4 guys had pitched to a 2.50 ERA combined (a half-run better than ZNN, Gio, and Detwiler have ever put up), which would have been great and all Nats fans would have taken in a heartbeat, and the Nats had even luck, we'd be looking at a 9-8 win team right now.
And that's the saving grace for the season right there. The Nats have been lucky, both with the fluky pitching performance and a few wins breaking their way. They ARE 13-4. This gives them some room to fall back. They don't have to keep playing this well. They can even drift below .500 for a while and still end up in a good position. Look at it this way, if Zimmerman misses some good time - say 60 day DL, a couple months - but is back this year, and the Nats are say 41-37 come July 3rd, which would be playing 28-33 ball until then, and Zimm and Morse are both returning to the lineup, wouldn't you still feel good about their chances to make the playoffs?
The Nats season has been an fun season so far but it's had a measure of uncertainty hanging over it's head. Would the hitting pick up enough to keep the Nats on track when the pitching comes back to Earth? If so would that be enough to hold onto a playoff spot or maybe even the NL East.Now that's not even a question. The hitting picking up enough to compensate for a couple months would take everything going right. Now the question becomes; can the Nats survive long enough for the players they need to come back in a position to make a run?
First goal - finish this road trip still in first place in the NL East. Then we'll look at, how long Zimm is out and what that means for where they need to be when they start a big NL East road swing around May 20th.
Survive, so they can advance.