Anything else, Cat? “Yeah, you haven’t seen the best of ’em yet. They’re all young and they’re all still learning. They enjoy each other and analyzing the game.”
The Nats have certainly worked against early-season headwinds. Of their 70 games, 45 have been against teams ranked in the top half of the sport in offense. Of their last 50 foes, 39 have records over .500, not counting six with the Phils, who won 102 games in ’11.
“We’ve got unbelievable pitching. A lot of teams are noticing. How can they not?” said Tyler Clippard, who has been 12 for 12 in save opportunities with one hit allowed. “It’s fun to be part of. Our starters, two or three runs are the most they ever seem to give up.”
It’s actually better than that. Most teams value “quality starts” — a minimum of six innings and no more than three runs allowed. The Nats have 47 of those. But that demands only a 4.50 ERA or better. Why not raise the bar? Why not demand a “high-quality” start that requires an ERA of 3.00 or less? Even three runs in eight innings wouldn’t be good enough. The Nats now have an amazing 42 of those, including Ross Detwiler’s five scoreless innings Sunday in his first start since he was moved back into the rotation.
The ERAs of the starting rotation of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson and Detwiler are 2.46, 2.55, 2.89, 2.91 and 3.09. Everybody talks about that. But relievers Craig Stammen, Burnett, Ryan Mattheus and Clippard have a combined 1.73 ERA in 120 innings. And Drew Storen is coming back.
“Around the rest of the [baseball] world, three runs in six innings seems pretty good,” said one Nats official. “Around here, it’s not. [Our] margins are small. But our pitchers seem to thrive on it.”
How long will that last? “It’s a lot easier to pitch with a three-run cushion, that’s for sure. We don’t give ’em much margin. I tip my hat,” said Manager Davey Johnson. “It’s my job not to overwork ’em.”
More runs would help, but the Nats’ staff isn’t expecting them — yet. “It’s still early. But what we’ve done so far is such a positive. When we get to August and September [when Jayson Werth returns], then what if we hit our stride [offensively]?” asked Clippard. “We can be dangerous. That could be something.
“We just have to keep our heads down. One day at a time.”
Can the Nats keep it up? Will their arms stay healthy or not? Let all of that take care of itself. What this staff has already accomplished deserves praise and perspective. You could live 10 lives in 10 baseball cities and never see pitching as consistently exceptional, relative to the standards of the era, as the Nats have provided so far. That’s fact.
It would seem intemperate to anticipate too much more of the same. But these Nats like rash. As McCatty loves to say, “Never work away from the bat.” Challenge it.
“This,” said Rizzo, “is who we think we are.”
For previous columns by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/