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2018 Nationals Position Review: Questions remain at starting pitching behind Scherzer, Strasburg

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2018 Nationals Position Review: Questions remain at starting pitching behind Scherzer, Strasburg

As we continue our look at the 2018 Nationals roster position-by-position, we turn our attention towards the starting pitching, which can best be defined as Max Scherzer and everyone else.

2018 Nationals Position Review: Starting Pitching

Max Scherzer

Age: 33

2018 salary: $22.1 million

2018 stats: 18-7, 2.53 ERA, 33 GS, 2 CG, 1 SHO, 220.2 IP, 300 K, 51 BB, 12 HBP, 0.911 WHIP, 6.1 H/9, 12.2 SO/9

During a season where there were several things going wrong with the Nationals organization, Scherzer once again was a model of consistency. An 8.0 inning performance with 10 strikeouts and three runs or less is not just the bar, it is the standard.

Every fifth night in D.C. was must-see baseball because Scherzer was pitching. 

These numbers would suggest a higher win total than the 18 he garnered this season (same can be said about 2017). But, an inconsistent offense was the demise of one of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball. 

His numbers this season were extremely similar to his back-to-back Cy Young awards the past two years. Already he is lined up as a finalist for the NL Cy Young award for this season. His 300 strikeouts and 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings were career-highs.

Were it not for the ridiculous numbers Jacob deGrom put up, Scherzer would be in line for his fourth Cy Young.

Next season is when Scherzer gets a big pay increase. Jumping up to over $27 million a year for the final three years of his deal, Scherzer is in line to earn more in 2019 than any other Nationals player. It is near impossible to argue that the ace is not worth the money. But having Scherzer and Bryce Harper potentially accounting for a combined $60 million of the Nationals payroll is a huge factor in the team’s hesitation to bring back the outfielder to a lucrative contract. 

Tanner Roark

Age: 32

2018 salary: $6.5 million

2018 stats: 9-15, 4.34 ERA, 30 GS, 0 CG, 180.1 IP, 146 K, 50 BB, 10 HBP, 1.281 WHIP, 9.0 H/9, 7.3 SO/9

There was a period near the end of the summer where Tanner Roark was hot and with the hope of Strasburg coming back, the postseason run was imminent. Getting a win in five straight starts reminded us of the variety that he is able to command over the plate. 

He would be an okay No. 3 or No. 4 pitcher, the problem is he was pitching second on a semi-regular basis. The injuries that led to this is not necessarily his fault. What is concerning is that he consistently allowed a batter to reach base in every inning. He was always behind.

At 32, he has been on the Nationals for six years now with three really good seasons and three blah seasons.

Entering his final year of arbitration with the team, he likely won’t make much more than he did this season. It is imperative in 2019 that he has another good season before entering free agency. 

Stephen Strasburg

Age: 30

2018 salary: $15 million

2018 stats: 10-7, 3.74 ERA, 22 GS, 0 CG, 130.0 IP, 156 K, 38 BB, 8 HBP, 1.200 WHIP, 8.2 H/9, 10.8 SO/9

It’s crazy that Strasburg has been with the Nats for nine seasons now. Another injury-plagued season inhibited the former No. 1 draft pick from not only pitching like a No. 2 but also from performing as a pitcher worthy of the title. 

This season was the worst WHIP of his career at 1.200. He could not stop guys from hitting to get on base. His ERA (3.74) was also a career-worst. Washington needed another repeat performance of 2017 where he finished third in the Cy Young voting.  Instead, he had to take breaks for multiple injuries throughout the year. 

Injuries will always circle around the conversation of Strasburg. If healthy (which is a big if), he still is the Nationals best option aside from Scherzer. Based on his progression from Tommy John surgery in 2012, this year looks just like an anomaly. It is hard to tell though given the history and how certain situations transpired. 

His contract doubles, like Scherzer, to $35 million in base salary in 2019.

Jeremy Hellickson

Age: 31

2018 salary: $2 million

2018 stats: 5-3, 3.45 ERA, 19 GS, 0 CG, 91.1 IP, 65 K, 35 BB, 8 HBP, 1.073 WHIP, 7.7 H/9, 6.4 SO/9

Injuries propelled Jeremy Hellickson into meaningful starts for the Nats last season. While he did not get far into games, manager Davey Martinez knew the limitations of his starter. Every night he typically got to the sixth inning using a fair amount of pitches but was able to manage his base runners.

Some nights he was a pleasant surprise in the rotation and kept the game competitive. That is more than most of the non-Scherzer starts from this rotation. 

Nevertheless, he is a free agent for 2019. Given the bigger question marks behind Scherzer in the rotation, he is not likely to return to Washington given its needs. If he does return, then expect him to be called on to be a regular starter.

Erick Fedde

Age: 25

2018 salary: $545,000

2018 stats: 2-4, 5.54 ERA, 11 GS, 0 CG, 50.1 IP, 46 K, 22 BB, 0 HBP, 1.530 WHIP, 9.8 H/9, 8.2 SO/9

All Erick Fedde got was 11 starts in 2018, his second year in the big leagues.

The Nationals’ 2014 draft pick showed the ability to retire batters this season, but at the same time, he left plenty of balls over the plate. Only once did he make it to the seventh inning.

His second stint as a starter in September was far better than his stretch in the first half of the season. Next season expect him to be with the Nats more than in the minors and be the plug-in guy in the rotation.  

Gio Gonzalez*

Age: 33

2018 salary: $14 million

2018 stats (with Washington): 7-11, 4.57 ERA, 27 GS, 0 CG, 145.2 IP, 126 K, 70 BB, 2 HBP, 1.531 WHIP, 9.5 H/9, 7.8 SO/9

Gio Gonzalez was with the club for 6-plus seasons before being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers. Compared to recent seasons, 2018 was Gonzalez's worst year since his rookie season back in 2008. 

This year though was extremely ugly. All of his losses in the second half of the season were terrible, not something you can afford from a guy that is supposed to be third on the depth chart. It got to the point that every time he left the mound, it was because the Nats were out of contention in that game.

Trading Gonzalez for prospects made sense once the Nationals fell out of contention.

He is a free agent for this offseason, and, while unlikely, it isn’t out of the question for the Nats to re-sign him. The only way that would reasonably happen though is if he signed for less money than his previous contract. Another, more desperate team will likely throw money at his feet. 

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Patrick Corbin helps the Nationals, so does Sonny Gray

Patrick Corbin helps the Nationals, so does Sonny Gray

The night set up well.

Patrick Corbin was on the mound for the Nationals. Chris Paddack was throwing for San Diego against Milwaukee. Sonny Gray opposed the Chicago Cubs. Good teams deploy a decent starter almost every night. Bad teams have a good starter ready once or twice a week. So, while the Nationals again wrestled with St. Louis, they received some help from the rotations employed elsewhere by poor teams playing the main wild-card competition.

Corbin made sure Washington handled what it could control in St. Louis. He hung in for six innings on 110 pitches, allowing just an earned run and striking out 11. He also walked four -- two of which were ex-teammate Paul Goldschmidt, the lone St. Louis hitter appearing capable of identifying Corbin’s slider. Fernando Rodney pitched a 1-2-3 seventh inning. Well-rested Daniel Hudson finished the game along. Chip Hale again managed in place of the recuperating Davey Martinez.

Corbin’s ERA is 3.10. His WHIP is 1.16. He’s made 31 starts. Why did the Nationals give him an extra contract year? Why did they offer more money? This is precisely why. Stabilization exists in the middle of their rotation because of the $140 million allotted to Corbin. And, he may even have a case to start the Wild-Card Game, depending on the opponent and whether the Nationals get there. Corbin’s argument to take the mound would be solid. Washington reaching the game remains an embattled proposition.

Paddack pitched well against Milwaukee, where he was restricted to just 84 pitches to close his rookie year. However, the San Diego bullpen blew the game in the eighth inning. So, Milwaukee keeps rolling, winning a bullpen game which featured a mid-section with three scoreless innings from old friend Gio Gonzalez. The Brewers have won nine of 10, 11 of 12, 14 of 17. They are two games behind St. Louis for the National League Central Division lead.

Which makes Wednesday’s day game between two grizzled right-handers not just about the Nationals pushing back current wild-card opponents, but also a possible future one. Max Scherzer will pitch for Washington against Adam Wainwright. They have combined for 734 regular-season starts. Wednesday will rank among their important ones.

San Diego’s bullpen did not hold up Tuesday. Cincinnati’s did. Gray went 6 ⅔ innings, struck out nine and positioned the Reds for a win. They haven’t put together a winning month since May. September is steeped in the same mediocrity: Cincinnati was 7-9 in the month entering Tuesday. But, it held on to beat the Cubs. Which meant Milwaukee jumped into a dead heat with Chicago. Each has 11 games to play.

Interesting about the Nationals' schedule is they have a game-in-hand on both Chicago and Milwaukee thanks to the packed final-week schedule. The June 17 postponement between Washington and Philadelphia could have an enormous impact on which teams make the postseason.

Tuesday, Corbin delivered the most impact. Howie Kendrick backed him with more 35-year-old offense. Paddack tried to slow the Brewers. Gray did handle the Cubs. All of which kept the Nationals atop the wild-card standings with a 1 ½-game lead -- for now.

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Washington Nationals Roundup: Nats hold Wild Card spot with win over Cardinals

Washington Nationals Roundup: Nats hold Wild Card spot with win over Cardinals

As the wild-card race continues to heat up, the Washington Nationals did themselves a favor with a Tuesday night win over the St. Louis Cardinals. The win kept the Nats in sole place of the first wild-card spot, only 1.5 games above the Cubs and Brewers. 

Here are the latest news and notes.

Player Notes:

1B Howie Kendrick was superb, hitting a triple and homer while scoring two runs of his own. Meanwhile, SP Patrick Corbin reached double-digit strikeouts in six innings pitched for the first time since July in a great performance on the mound. C Kurt Suzuki reportedly felt good after swinging a bat before the Tuesday game. He was injured Sept. 7 and is hopeful to return next week.

Injuries:

C Spencer Kieboom, elbow, 60-Day IL, 2020

C Kurt Suzuki, elbow, sidelined, day-to-day

RP Joe Ross, arm, sidelined, day-to-day

RP Roenias Elias, arm, sidelined, day-to-day

RP Austen Williams, arm, 60-Day IL, out indefinitely

1B Matt Adams, shoulder, sidelined, day-to-day

RP John Venters, shoulder, 60-Day IL, 2020

RP Koda Golder, elbow, 60-Day IL, out indefinitely

Coming Up:

Wednesday, Sept. 18: Nats at Cardinals, 1:15 p.m. at Busch Stadium

Friday, Sept. 20: Nats at Marlins, 7:10 p.m. at Marlins Park

Saturday, Sept. 21: Nats at Marlins, 6:10 p.m. at Marlins Park

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