Washington Nationals Analysis: Consistency crucial for Gio Gonzalez in 2016

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Gio Gonzalez can be a valuable part of the Washington Nationals’ starting rotation, but he has to stay consistent.

While their roster is mostly set for the 2016 season, the Washington Nationals still face many questions as we get closer to Spring Training. And although health and winning are undoubtedly the most important concerns for the Nationals right now, one of the biggest question facing the team this year is the starting rotation.

The rotation — though still better than many (if not most) in the National League — is a far lesser version of what it was last season. As we know, the Nationals lost right-hander Jordan Zimmermann to free agency this offseason, turning the team’s once formidable 1-2-3 of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Zimmermann into the still powerful but not as commanding 1-2 punch of Scherzer and Strasburg.

After the team’s two aces, the rotation is largely unpredictable. Tanner Roark will slide back into the rotation after seeing mixed results as a starter and reliever last season. Joe Ross, one of the few bright spots of the 2015 season, will likely enter 2016 as the team’s No. 5 starter. Ross was stellar in his rookie season last year, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be able to adjust next season when hitters will undoubtedly be more prepared to face his stuff than they were last year.

While Roark and Ross aren’t exactly sure bets for the Nationals, Gio Gonzalez is the likely the biggest question mark facing the rotation right now. When Gonzalez pitches well, he can be as good as any left-hander in the game. When he doesn’t, he can be among the worst. Gonzalez’s inconsistency has hurt the Nationals in the past, and it could play a huge role for the team in 2016 as well.

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Inconsistency plagued Gonzalez throughout 2015, particularly in the second half. In July, for example, the left-hander went 3-0 with an impressive 1.88 ERA. But just when it looked like he had turned his season around, he then posted a less-than-impressive 5.46 ERA in August. He improved once again in September, posting a 2.89 ERA.

For the Nationals’ rotation to be successful next season, Gonzalez needs to pitch well on a consistent basis all season long. The left-hander showed flashes of brilliance last season but also struggled mightily at times. For a rotation that needs to somehow make up for the loss of Zimmermann, the Nationals simply can’t afford a pitcher who gives up one run one night and six runs the next.

Gonzalez is a crucial part of the rotation — he’s a lefty, he’s been with the team for years, and he’s shown that he has ace-type stuff in the past. But for him to help the Nationals in 2016, he’ll need to find the type of consistency that he hasn’t seen since his 21-win 2012 campaign.

The Nationals showed their faith in Gonzalez by not trading him (as of yet) this offseason. In 2016, the left-hander needs to prove that they made the right choice.

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