Fun Fact #1 : If my research is correct there's only been two other teams to have a rotation like this (4 guys, ERA+>=130, all qualify for ERA title) in the last 100 years: the 1997 Atlanta Braves and the 1942 Detroit Tigers. A war year team and our generations signature squad for great starting pitching.
Fun Fact #2 : Leaving Edwin out of it (because he's slightly older and not beholden to the team after this season) the Nats have 3 pitchers age 26 or younger that have ERA+s of 130 or higher. The only team since 1995 to meet that criteria? The 2003 Chicago Cubs.
But we're having fun with endpoints here. I could probably tighten a restriction here and make the Nats squad look like the best ever, or loosen a restriction there and lump this rotation with a bunch of good, but not special squads. What we really want to see is who recently has had a pitching staff that's this young and this good?
So abitrarily I decided to look at teams with 3 pitchers, age 27 or younger, with ERA+s over 120 and at least 150 IP (to not leave out a good rookie - or Strasburg esque part time pitcher). And I went from 1980 because that's about when I can talk with first hand knowledge. Here's the teams a I found and how they did.
- Dwight Gooden (20), Sid Fernandez (22), Ron Darling (24)
- Together until 1991, Fernandez and Gooden until 1993
- 2 playoffs appearances, 1 WS appearance, 1 Championship
- Greg Maddux (27), Tom Glavine (27), Steve Avery (23)
- Together until 1996, Maddux and Glavine until 2002
- Until 2002 - 9 playoffs appearances, 3 WS appearance, 1 Championship
1993 White Sox
- Alex Fernandez (23), Wilson Alverez (23), Jack McDowell (27)
- Together until 1994, Fernandez and Alvarez until 1996
- 1 playoffs appearance
- Tim Hudson (25), Mark Mulder (23), Barry Zito (23)
- Together until 2004
- 4 playoffs appearances
- Mark Prior (22), Kerry Wood (26), Carlos Zambrano (22)
- Together until 2006
- 1 playoffs appearance
What do these glimpses tell us about the Nats young guns? I'd say this. The Nats will be real lucky if they don't lose one to injury. Fully half these guys after the Mets saw their careers ended way too early by injury. That's gotta be the biggest concern to any Nats fan. Bad luck or bad medical staff work (uh oh) blowing this all up before it can even really get started. Still, if that does happen then it's not automatically a death knell for a team. How well the rest of the squad is constructed plays a huge role in if they can continue to be a factor. Put together a decent offense like the White Sox did and you might stay relevant. Let everything go to pot like the Cubs and you are going to find yourself a mess. If the Nats do get real lucky though, and they could, the A's and Mets did, and have all three for all of 2012-2016 it's a recipe for sustained success, even if one or two of Strasburg, Gio, and ZNN likely show themselves to be more good pitchers than great ones.
But for sustained excellence, like the 90's Braves, which has to be seen as the ultimate goal, you need everything. You need the health. You need the pitching to be great not just good. You need the good bullpen. You need the good offense. That last one is the key for this franchise because for the most part the Nats have the pen and back of the rotation covered (and developing into great pitchers year after year involves some luck). Going forward if the Nats want to be a dynasty there is more work to be done. Bryce Harper is step one.