Washington Nationals: Gio Gonzalez biggest pitching x-factor


If the Washington Nationals score another starter, it is because they need one to win a playoff start. Gio Gonzalez’s performance is the key.

The key to the Washington Nationals rotation in 2018 is Gio Gonzalez.

If the front office does not think he can win a playoff stat, then they will grab another arm. Any sign of the regression back to 2015 and 2016, when Gonzalez sported WHIP’s of 1.423 and 1.342 respectively, and Mike Rizzo pulls the trigger.

But, you say, A.J. Cole is the fifth starter and is the weakest link. Should not Washington upgrade there? Well, like a young couple describing their relationship on Facebook, it is complicated.

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Cole’s ceiling is at five. He can give a brilliant performance one inning and look like a Quad-A refugee the next. But, that is what you should expect at the tail of the rotation. With Washington’s offense poised to strike fear into the National League, a .500 record in his starts works.

Oh, Cole is not starting in the playoffs unless something goes wrong or he channels his inner Greg Maddux. Gonzalez is slated to start come October. And, there is the potential problem.

This chatter of signing Jake Arrieta or trading for Chris Archer has nothing to do with the regular season. A nine-game favorite over the New York Mets based on the latest FanGraphs projection, the pieces are there to win the NL East a third year in a row.

The rotation upgrade is getting them over the NL Divisional Series hump.

A Gonzalez flirting with an ERA around 3.00 and fooling batters can win a Game 3. One who allows 3.5 BB/9 and 9.3 H/9 cannot. His numbers from 2015.

You need four solid starters and a fresh bullpen to win. The biggest question on the back of Rizzo’s mind, aside from renting an armored truck to deliver Bryce Harper’s extension, is this. Does Washington have the staff to win in October?

One danger reading Grapefruit League stats is drawing any sense of context. The numbers are too small and the competition mixed. With that caveat, Gonzalez, in five innings, allowed seven hits and a walk for a 1.600 WHIP. The same as Cole.

But, Cole has whiffed seven, Gonzalez three.

Again, you can argue whether Cole deserves a spot in the rotation. Not throwing first-pitch strikes and getting a three-ball count on hitters gets old in April. But, you have other options if needed there. Edwin Jackson, Tommy Milone and Erick Fedde are already here.

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Finding that pitcher who you feel confident in winning a playoff game is another matter. With free agent talent ripe for picking, watch how Gonzalez does his next start. If they sign Arrieta, Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn, it is the Nats are uncertain about what Gonzalez can do.