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Nats Pitching Staff Stronger Than It Looks

[December 15th] -- Jim Bowden is worried. So is Frank Robinson. Scores of Nationals fans are concerned. Some of my fellow bloggers are down-right angry.

The Nats' starting pitching staff is bad. Terrible. Poor. Even with the improved offense for 2006, the team will be in for a long summer.

Well, maybe. Maybe not.

Livan Hernandez and John Patterson are the only holdovers from opening day in Philadelphia. Tony Armas [who hasn't been resigned by the team as of yet but most certainly will] was on the disabled list. Ryan Drese joined the team after being plucked off the waiver wires in June. Brian Lawrence was obtained from the Padres in a trade for third baseman Vinny Castilla.

Basically, the Nationals have a stud, a star, and three guys named Joe. Can the Nationals win with this starting staff? Well, define the word "win." They'll win more than 75 games, but won't get close to 85. With a little luck, they'll match last season's .500 record and finish out of the basement of the NL East. How much better they do depends on the backside of the rotation.

Livan Hernandez is going to win 15 games. He's averaged 14 wins a season over his career with a high of 17 wins. John Patterson is predicted to have a break-out year and become a stud by just about every baseball pundit and prognosticator. Count on him to notch at least 15 wins too. Now it becomes tough to predict. Even when Brian Lawrence's disastrous 2005 season is included, he's averaged 10 wins a season since he made it to the majors, with a high of 15 in 2004. Ryan Drese has averaged 11 wins despite his 'up-n-down' career. He won a high of 14 games in 2003. Tony Armas Jr. hasn't made it through many seasons healthy. When he has, however, he's won an average of 10 wins with a career high of 12. Add 'em up and you get an average of 61 combined wins per season. Last year, the Nats fab-five didn't come close to that total, notching 52 wins between them.

The projected starting staff could win 70 games, or they could win 50. I don't know. But if Armas remains healthy and Patterson does what everyone believes he will, 60 wins is an easily reachable number. The offense is stronger with the addition of Alfonso Soriano, and the health of Nick Johnson, Jose Guillen, Jose Vidro [hopefully] and Ryan Church, and the return to life of Cristian Guzman.

The staff can be upgraded further [and cheaply] with the addition of Brett Tomko as a free agent [see story below for details on Tomko's career]. Tomko has aveaged 11 wins a season over his eight year career. The advantage of Tomko over Tony Armas Jr. in the rotation is that Tomko has averaged 200+ innings a season during his career. Armas Jr. has never thrown 200 innings in a season, and has only came close one time [2001]. If the team were to sign Tomko, Armas could become a spot starter and long inning reliever, taking the spot held by Senor Sizzle, Hector Carrasco.

I don't love the starting staff, but I do like it. It's the kind of rotation that made Esteban Loiaza a $21 million dollar man this year. I'd like nothing more than to have other teams beating down the team's door trying to pry away our pitchers because they were better than expected.

Don't you?


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