The bullpen didn't blow it last night. Of course it took a 6-1 lead to start and a very timely DP but they didn't do it.
We focus a lot on the pen, for obvious reasons, but the Nats are 25-13 with the 2nd best record in baseball. They have the best offense in baseball (not just the NL) and arguably the best starting pitching in baseball* Let's focus on all that for a moment, everything that comes before the terrible desert the Nats are serving up night after night.
Bryce is still BRYCE. We're now 38 games in (almost a quarter of the season) and Bryce hasn't slowed down. After hitting .391 / .509 / .772 in April he's hitting .378 / .489 / .757 in May. You may remember he had a fast start last year and worry a big fall is coming but (1) he was never hitting for this high an average and (2) he began his decline at the end of April (a week before the Cubs stuff if you must know). I'd say something about fancy stats and his average should drop but with talent like Bryce's sometimes you don't know the ceiling.
Zimm is still hitting. .319 / .373 / .596 in May which is still excellent (he's still fighting Bryce for a NL Triple Crown right now) but is yes, a drop off from the HOF April. He'll have you know, if you'll listen to him, that it's not about any sort of stat analysis. I'm sure at this point he's telling dogs he sees on the street he's just suddenly hitting better than he ever has in his entire career at 32+ because of health. Ok. Sure. Whatever you want to believe. Just keep hitting. We'll get back when I said I would - end of May
This would almost be enough but you do need at least one more big swinging bat and in May, that's Werth. Werth is way up but is also carrying a unsustainable BABIP and a
questionable HR/FB rate. Still it seems like "above average" is possible
for him in season 7 and who would turn that down.
Three more guys are finding their level. The 3rd man in April, Murphy is slowing down a bit after a hot start, but his overall stats are about where you'd want him to be (25 homers is just not him). Wieters is in a similar boat - with a harsher slowdown (.583 OPS in May) to reach his more modest level (about average). Rendon, on the other hand, is heating up and getting his overall stats back to the above average we think he should be. Basically the Nats need a couple guys hot to complement Bryce at any time to keep the offense humming. They have five other bats that are at least average to get those hot months from. It should work out.
This leaves two guys to talk about. MAT looks good, but he's carrying a modest .266 average with a .404 BABIP, along with a 36.9% K rate and a 4.8% BB rate. In word form - his approach is garbage, and even though he's getting lucky he's still not doing great. Turner? Well we don't know exactly what Turner is and how hurt he still may be so I don't want to put up any expectations. Sophomore season hasn't been good as they are getting him to K a lot more attacking his lack of patience.
What about the starters?
Scherzer has been great. He's matching last year across the board so expect a similar endpoint - maybe a little higher ERA since he outperformed a little last year. There isn't any particular warning signs unless you are like me and think that all the pitches he throws will catch up to him (now for me the timeline is very soon, like sometime before the start of next season - but hey I'm wrong all the time). Strasburg might be trading trading strikeouts for contact. GBs are up, HRs are down. Or he might just not be getting the ball by guys and getting lucky so far. Probably somewhere in between. So he's very good now, I'd expect more of a normal good going forward. Gio is... let's talk about Roark first. He's basically doing what he did last year but not catching the same breaks. This is more in line with what he should do. Which is still good! So the Nats are set up 1-3 in my mind. It be nice if Stras can get back up to "co-ace" like talent but I'll take what they have now. Ok back to Gio. IT'S ALL LIES. a .243 BABIP? a 91.4% LOB? K's way down. BBs way up? There's a reckoning coming.
But it'll be fine if the Nats can find that 5th starter because at this point in that 4th spot all they need is a decent arm that can put up 100+ innings of like 4.00 ERA ball. It's probably not Jacob Turner or AJ Cole though. 2015 - early 2016 Joe Ross, where are you!?
You might be saying, hmm these don't seem like the best offenses and starting pitching in the league. Well offensively you're just not getting it. Bryce is a MONSTER. Zimm has been close to that so far this year as well. Werth might be getting lucky but he's still probably at least average, along with Wieters, while Murphy is simply "above average" and Rendon also should be there. That is a difficult six bats to get through. And with MAT getting lucky it's like Eaton didn't leave yet making it 7. Should it slow down? Yeah probably. Zimm isn't a Triple Crown threat and as he settles back to somewhere between average and above average, and as MAT shows his true colors, there will be more instances of several guys slumping at once. But if Turner can just be average the Nats lineup will still be long in the eyes of a pitcher.
As for the starting pitching - well you're right, sort of. The Nats do have a 1-2-3 worthy of being in the Top 3. We WAY overrate what we think pitchers should be like. We look at the best rotations and think - ok yeah that's what it should be like. Instead you should be looking at the average one and comparing to that. Right now Max is a true ace (obviously) but Roark and Stras are both near the top of #2s. Lots of innings at 3.50 ish would be great as a number 2 for 20 of 30 teams definitely. However the back of the rotation is shakier than you probably think and the only reason that hasn't seemed to come back to bit the Nats yet is some ERA luck.
But for a team that is going to sail through the season (barring injury) what is a back of the rotation problem if you can keep 1-3 healthy? It's nothing. The offense and those first three pitchers should do what? Win 2/3rds of their games? I can see that.** That's another 50 wins. Win half of the back of the rotation games - essentially be a .500 team with the 4 and 5 guys, and the Nats are at 100 wins. That's the power of this offense with those three guys.
*What? No "Without Jeremy Guthrie..." factoid? Look, it's not fair to pull out the Nats worst starting appearance and compare to everyone else's total. We'd need to pull out their worst too. Well Guthrie isn't pitching anymore? Ok then we'd have to evaluate everyone's current starting 5.
**They won almost 70% of Max, Stras, Roark starts last year with a less impressive offense. So I'm probably underselling this by a game or two.