The Nats are going to make the playoffs. We're ok with that right? I mean there is no one out there that thinks this won't happen is there? No? Good. The playoffs are a completely different beast than the regular season. One of the big differences is that the rotations that need to be 5+ guys deep during the year can suddenly go down to 3, if need be. There's a school of thought that this can hurt a team like the Nats whose success is built a large part on being good 1 through 5. Now the Nats are facing the likelihood of no Strasburg as well.
Certainly, the Nats may lose that distinct depth advantage of having their 4th and 5th starters be much better than their opponents and there's no way to positively spin not using your #1 pitcher. The Nats won't be as head and shoulders above the other teams pitching wise as they have been over the course of the year. But the Nats 2-4 are among the best pitchers in the league. Do the Nats completely lose their advantage when reduced to a non-Strasburg 3-man rotation (if the teams choose to go this route)? Or are they that good that their advantage holds, even then?
Of course the below is all preliminary - there's a quarter of the season yet to be played, guys will get hot and other guys will get cold. Still, we can get a general idea of the strength of the short rotations the Nats could be facing in October. First the Nats (using ERA which yes I know is flawed but this is meant to be a rough look):
ZNN : 2.38
Gio : 3.29
Detwiler/Jackson : ~3.50
That's a very good three right there. I know Detwiler's ERA is closer to 3, but his starter ERA is around 3.40. He put up an ERA < 2.00 in his short time in the pen. Jackson's ERA is around 3.70 now. In the end I like that spot to be held down by someone with an ERA of around 3.50 which is good. I'm more concerned about Gio's mediocre 2nd half but for right now I'll treat him as at least 3.30 ERA pitcher. He has plenty of time to right the ship
Now, let's check out the opponents.
Hudson : 3.59
Hanson / Maholm : ~3.80
Sheets : 2.13
Sheets' pitching won't stay this good but the fact he's done well at all is big plus for the Braves. Hudson hasn't been dominating this year and Hanson with a 4.29 ERA has been disappointing. Maholm is a very solid pitcher but he doesn't scare anyone. This is a good three but the Nats pitchers are better.
Cueto : 2.45
Latos : 3.63
Arroyo/Bailey : ~4.00
There's a big dropoff right now from Cueto to Latos, but Latos has been pitching much better. I think he's a quality #2, as good as anyone. I'd put Cueto/Latos right there with ZNN/Gio. That 3rd spot though is where I think the Nats separate. You getting into guys for the Reds they aren't sure you can count on. They are going to go with who's hot but the Nats hold the advantage.
Burnett : 3.32
McDonald : 3.77
Bedard/ Kartsens : ~4.00
Very similar situation to Cincinnati except Cueto/Latos > Burnett/McDonald; which means ZNN/Gio are better too. Even though you can see AJ Burnett post-season hero coming at you like a freight train, you can't like this rotation better than the Nats.
Lohse : 2.72
Wainwright : 3.87
Lynn/Westbrook : 3.65
St Louis is solid 1-3 and Lohse has been that good but again, I don't see how you wouldn't like the Nats three more. Wainwright has been pitching better and has a nice history but he also missed all of last year. I'm not going to put him above Gio and that seals the deal.
Kershaw : 2.90
Capuano : 3.11
Billingsley : 3.62
This is the first Top 3 that I like to challenge the Nats Top 3. Kershaw hasn't been as good as ZNN but he is a star. I'd like them evenly. On the other hand, even though Capuano has the better ERA, I like Gio better. Billingsley to me is where I think the Dodgers at least match back up to the Nats. I think he's got to skill to throw a dominating performance in a way that Detwiler and Jackson don't. I may give the Dodgers an edge. Luckily their offense is pretty terrible.
Cain : 2.99
Bumgarner : 2.97
Vogelsong : 2.72
You have to like the Giants Top 3 better than the Nats. There's no denying that they've pitched better this year and in a random series against a random opponent I'd take these three to put up fewer runs than the Nats three. However, this season the Nats seem to have the Giants number. So while the rotation is better I don't know how much I'd be worried about it.
If we were to throw in Strasburg and expand out to five, you'd see why the Nats are where they are. While most teams are struggling filling out rotations with guys with ERAs closing in on 5.00, the Nats' worst pitcher is probably going to top out in the 3.50-3.75 range. So cutting down the rotations does even things out a bit. However, it doesn't make up all the ground. You still have to like the Nats 2-4 better than most other teams 1-3 and for the ones you might favor the opponent it's not by much.