The Nationals rode their starting pitching to their first World Series title in franchise history last October and among those impressed is Hall of Famer John Smoltz, who now works as an analyst for MLB Network.
Smoltz was a member of the Braves’ vaunted Big 3 that dominated the National League during the ’90s and early 2000s as Atlanta won 14 consecutive division titles. Alongside fellow Cooperstown legends Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, the trio combined to earn six Cy Young awards and 22 All-Star appearances as well as the 1995 World Series.
NBC Sports Washington’s Nationals Talk crew sat down with Smoltz and asked him for his impressions of the trio Washington has built atop its rotation. He didn’t shy away from comparing the two title-winning groups.
“I think they have better stuff than we did,” Smoltz said. “There’s a lot of staffs today that have better stuff than we did. When you talk about the longevity and the health that we were able to sustain, that’s a totally different animal when you think about how baseball is played today and the injury rate.”
The Nationals’ starters are among the best strikeout artists in the league, an area the Braves’ trio didn’t put much emphasis on. For example, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin have combined for seven 200-strikeout seasons over the last three years. Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz compiled just six campaigns with 200+ strikeouts despite having careers that touched three decades.
Of course, baseball is played very differently in 2020 than it was in the 1990s. A premium is placed on pitchers racking up Ks while hitters have become less concerned with high strikeout totals. But according to Smoltz, it was the longevity Atlanta’s frontline starters enjoyed that made its rotation among the best in history.
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“If the Mets’ staff back in the day stayed healthy, they would’ve been better than ours for any given one, two, three years,” Smoltz said. “Same thing you could say about the Nationals. But the biggest thing we were able to do is stay healthy and that’s what separates us from the rest.”
The Mets’ trio of Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling and David Cone each put together dominant campaigns in 1988 but never again each made 30 starts in the same season. Atlanta rose to contention in 1991 and left New York behind as injuries plagued the club from Queens.
As for the present day Nationals group, they’ve only had one year together as Corbin just signed with the team prior to last season. But one season was enough for Smoltz to be convinced: This trio is special.
“From the standpoint of playground baseball, who you gonna draft? You’re gonna draft those guys before you’re gonna draft us,” Smoltz said. “Even though we made it to the Hall of Fame, our stuff was nowhere near the kind of dynamic stuff that you’re talking about with the Nats.”
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