72 hours ago things looked as grim as they had all season for the Nats. Bryce had hurt himself and was going to be out an unknown amount of time. The team just went 6-14 in their last 20 and found themselves in a 1.5 game hole and were about to play a series against a legit contender. If things didn't go the Nats way fans could wake up Monday morning to find the Nats more than a series back and with no Bryce Harper to help lead the come back.
Everything did go the Nats way.
Bryce missed just a single day, in a rare instance where the Nats medical staff's dart hit the right diagnosis on the dart board. The offense scored a bunch of runs against a pitching staff that had been cruising and the Nats own starters threw 23 innings on 1 run ball. The Mets meanwhile got swept by the Braves meaning the Nats were now 1.5 games in front.
The starting pitching thing is huge because that was the given that turned out not to be. We did know that the offense wasn't great and was injury prone. We did know the bullpen was a weakness. But we still thought the NL East was winnable because of two facts. The NL East is a horrible division. The Nats starting pitching was too good to fail. Well, the NL East is a horrible division, but the Nats starting pitching wasn't too good to fail, or at least flail.
Scherzer, ZNN, Stras, Gio & Fister...if they all pitched to their max expectation, to meet the better of their past 2 seasons, they could all be #1 on a major league team. Even those down on Gio (in decline?) and Fister (lucky?) didn't see those guys as worse than a #3, and they were the Nats #4 and #5. Plus Tanner Roark sat in the pen as a potential replacement and he'd been great in 2014, and they had AJ Cole, a good prospect waiting for his turn. But things didn't work out. Fister pitched poorly, went out for injury. Strasburg pitched poorly, went out for injury. Gio pitched poorly. ZNN took a step back. Cole failed in his audition. Suddenly the strength, the rock the Nats could rely on in any storm, was gone.
But now it could be back. Scherzer is a clear #1, possibly in all the majors. (AL to NL never fails). Joe Ross has stepped up. If he keeps it up and Gio or ZNN or Fister or Stras, just one, pitches to max expectations, or if he goes down and two of them step up then the "best staff ever" might just happen for the last 90+ games of the year. Seems a lot to ask but the Nats are finally, presumably, 100% healthy as a staff. And regardless of whether the pen issues are solved, or the offense ever gets settled into a spot that you can count on production, that would be enough to take the East with ease.
What to do with the rotation if Strasburg is ready? You can't not start Strasburg, at least for a couple times around the rotation. Even if you don't like him, he was one of the Top 5-10 pitchers in the game the past three seasons. You can't pull Ross though after pitching like that. I suppose you kind of hoped Gio would put up a stinker so you could "DL" him but he just tossed a gem. I guess we'll see how Fister and ZNN perform. ZNN has had a rough June (7.63 ERA in his last 3 starts) but was his old reliable self in the last one versus Tampa Bay. Fister didn't have his best stuff but it was only his first game back from injury. If either just blows up in their next start, you could probably "DL" them again but just a moderate fail probably wouldn't allow for such a move. No, it looks like Ross will have to go back down. Which will only make the Nats fans dislike Strasburg even more as nothing is as loved by fans as the new hotness (think about how Tyler Moore's fast start in 2012 basically gave him 3 seasons of fan love), and that's Joe Ross right now.
For those saying "deal a starter", no. You just had two guys on the DL and struggled to find a 5th and keep your pen going ok. You can't deal anyone, not during the season. What's the best solution? I don't know. But I don know "too much good starting pitching"... that's a first world baseball problem. Glad to be back there.