The Nationals Have a Sneaky Good Rotation Right Now

All of a sudden, the Washington Nationals are boasting a sneaky good starting rotation. Here's how they got there.

MacKenzie Gore #1 of the Washington Nationals pitches in the first inning against the San Diego Padres at Nationals Park.
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 23: MacKenzie Gore #1 of the Washington Nationals pitches in the first inning against the San Diego Padres at Nationals Park on May 23, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/Getty Images)

Who had the Washington Nationals with a solid pitching staff on their 2024 MLB bingo card?

The MLB season is already past the quarter mark, and the Nationals, of all teams, rank second in the National League with 6.3 pitching WAR, according to FanGraphs. They trail only the Philadelphia Phillies.

Their starters also rank second in the NL with 4.5 fWAR, again trailing only the Phillies.

The Nationals starting rotation is sneaky good right now. And it’s an interesting study. They are succeeding thanks to a handful of good young arms, plus a nine-year MLB journeyman who seems to be putting together a spectacular campaign.

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Let’s dive into what’s happening in the nation’s capital.

Why Is the Nationals Pitching Staff a Force in 2024?

The primary reason the Nationals have pitched themselves close to a .500 record is Trevor Williams.

The right-hander has been enjoying a tremendous start to the season, sporting a 4-0 record with a minuscule 1.94 ERA in eight starts for the Nats. He has given up only 11 hits in 41.2 innings and has allowed just nine earned runs.

Contrast those numbers with a ghastly 5.55 ERA in 30 starts in 2023, and he looks like a new man. In 2023, Williams gave up a National League-leading 34 home runs. His fastball velocity had dropped nearly two miles per hour from 2022. His turnaround has been impressive.

The 32-year-old—who has allowed just one home run this season—has a 1.2 fWAR so far in 2024, good for 10th in the National League. He trails the likes of Dylan Cease, Ranger Suárez, Tyler Glasnow, Zack Wheeler, Shota Imanaga, Hunter Greene, Chris Sale, Logan Webb, and Javier Assad.

No, it’s not an exaggeration to call Williams the Nationals ace at this point. He has certainly pitched like one over his first eight starts.

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Meanwhile, former first-round pick MacKenzie Gore has also shown why he was such a highly-touted draft pick; his stuff has been good. The 25-year-old lefty has struck out 51 batters in 40 IP, tied for 13th in the National League. He has given up only three home runs.

What’s more, the Nationals have a couple of young and effective homegrown starters. Mitchell Parker and Jake Irvin were drafted and developed by the Nats, and both are thriving to start 2024.

Parker, 24, navigated through a Dodgers lineup that featured three former MVPs in his MLB debut, en route to his first big league win. He then carved up the Astros in his next start, throwing seven shutout innings with eight strikeouts. The southpaw is currently 2-2 with a 3.09 ERA and 25 strikeouts over 32 IP (six starts).

For his part, Irvin set a new career-high in innings pitched during his latest start, going seven frames for the first time. He struck out six without issuing a walk. The 27-year-old right-hander is 2-3 with a 3.55 ERA and 36 strikeouts over 45.2 IP (eight starts) for the Nationals to start the year.

Let’s put it this way: The Nationals aren’t all of a sudden becoming favorites to win the 2024 World Series. But, they were the NL’s second-worst pitching team with a 5.02 ERA in 2023, trailing only the Colorado Rockies.

So far in 2024, they’re hovering around the middle-of-the-pack in all of MLB with a 3.75 team ERA. The starting rotation, and especially Wiliams, Gore, Parker, and Irvin, have a lot to do with that.

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Now might be a good time to start keeping an eye on the Nats’ starting rotation, which is sneakily turning this team into a fun club to root for.