If the Washington Nationals are to succeed in 2016, the team’s pitching staff will have to perform at an elite level. With a starting staff that appears primed to do big things but with a bullpen that has some questions, it will be interesting to follow the pitching group’s progress this year.
Here’s a few 2016 over/under predictions regarding the Nats’ men on the hill.
MAX SCHERZER NO HITTERS- OVER/UNDER 0.5
The Nationals’ big 2015 free agent acquisition took the National League by storm, throwing two no-hitters and just missing out on a third. Since 1973, pitchers have thrown no-hitters in back to back seasons only five times. In recent years, Tim Lincecum (2013 and 2014) and Homer Bailey (2012 and 2013) have done the trick. Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan had back to back seasons with no-hitters in 1990 and 1991, and the big Texan had a three-peat with no-hitters in 1973, 1974 and 1975. Steve Busby also had no-hitters in back to back years in 1973 and 1974.
Expecting Scherzer to join this elite group is probably foolish thinking as no-hitters don’t come along on a regular basis. Then again when Scherzer is on, he can dominate any lineup. I am going to go with the over on this bet, with the thought that Scherzer will dominate one of the National League’s weak sisters as some point in 2016.
STEPHEN STRASBURG STRIKEOUTS- OVER/UNDER 242.5
It is hard to believe that it has been six seasons since Stephen Strasburg took the mound for the first time as a Washington National. The tall righthander’s debut game in 2010 is among the most exciting Nats’ games I’ve attended and while his career has had some bumps in the road, Strasburg has been one of the National League’s most consistent pitchers during his time in the Majors.
Perhaps Strasburg’s best season so far was the 2014 campaign, a season in which he registered a career high 242 strikeouts. Can he top that mark in 2016? To do so, he will need to avoid the injuries that impacted his 2015 season. With free agency looming in 2017 and with Strasburg looking in dominant form so far in spring training games this year, I think we’re about to see the Strasburg that we all dreamed we’d see when he was picked in the 2009 MLB draft. The righty will not only beat his personal best of 242 punch outs, he will lead the National League in strikeouts in 2016.
GIO GONZALEZ SIX PLUS INNING STARTS- OVER/UNDER 15
Lefty Gio Gonzalez is among the most popular of Nationals’ players, but watching his starts can be agonizing at times as high pitch counts and multiple bases on balls lead to the team’s having to depend on its bullpen more than it hoped to. In 2013, Gonzalez when six innings or more in 16 of his 32 starts. Since then, he’s only done so in 19 of 39.
Can Gio be more consistent in 2016? His spring results have been mixed, but yesterday’s six inning no-walk performance against Atlanta was encouraging.
While Gonzalez will be a valuable part of the Nats’ rotation, I am going with the under as the control/consistency problems that have plagued the lefty over the past two seasons will likely reappear in 2016.
JONATHAN PAPELBON SO/9 RATIO- OVER/UNDER 8.5
In 2015, controversial Nats’ closer Jonathan Papelbon earned 24 saves despite having a rather pedestrian 8.0 SO/9 ratio and allowing an alarming 17 extra-base hits. Was the 2015 season a sign that the veteran, who was never a Chapman or Kimbrel-like closer to begin with, some of the edge that made him successful over his career?
With a bullpen made up mostly of younger pitchers, Papelbon is going to be expected to hold down the fort and be someone Dusty Baker can rely on. The defense behind the Nats’ closer should be better than it was last year and he’ll likely have plenty of save opportunities, but expecting someone to improve his SO/9 ratio at this stage of his career is problematic. I think that Papelbon will be relatively successful for the Nats in 2016, but I don’t see him improving his strikeout rate. I will go with the under.