Is the Washington Nationals Rotation the Best in Baseball?
Heading into Game 162 on Sunday, the Nationals had already wrapped everything up. They had won the NL East, clinched the best record in the National League, and assured themselves of home field advantage throughout the NL playoffs.
So when starter Jordan Zimmermann took the mound on Sunday, it wasn't expected that he would last longer than 80 pitches. It was one of those "get your work in" starts, just to keep him on his regular turn in the rotation and keep him fresh.
Things turned out a bit differently, when Zimmermann decided to pitch the franchise's first no-hitter since moving from Montreal to the nation's capital.
That moment you think you lose a no-hitter ... and then you don't. http://t.co/eo1ZSFc97Fâ€” MLB GIFS (@MLBGIFs) September 28, 2014
Zimmermann gave up just one walk yesterday and struck out 10 Florida Marlins, facing the minimum 27 batters. According to Bill James' Game Score metric, it was the fourth-best game pitched in 2014.
To calculate Game Score, you start with 50 points, then add one point for each out recorded, two points for each inning completed after the fourth, and one point for each strikeout. You then subtract two points for each hit allowed, four points for each earned run, two points for each unearned run and one point for each walk.
Clayton Kershaw's flawless perfect game this year was easily the best-pitched contest of the season, with Madison Bumgarner and Jake Arrieta each twirling impressive one-hitters. But Zimmermann's gem on Sunday was actually just one point better than a two-hitter he threw back in June.
That catch in left field was pretty amazeballs, too.
Zimmermann has been terrific in 2014, with a nERD of 1.79 (meaning he would give up 1.79 runs a game less than a league average pitcher over a 27-out game). His teammate Stephen Strasburg has been even better, with a nERD of 2.07, sixth-best among all MLB pitchers. Doug Fister's 1.36 nERD, Gio Gonzalez' 1.57 and Tanner Roark's 1.72 are all terrific numbers for starting pitchers.
But it was Zimmermann's incredible no-no on Sunday that underscored the amazing roll the Washington starting rotation has been on this month.
In September, Washington's 2.25 ERA and 2.80 Fielding Independent Pitching were the best of the five National League playoff teams. And here are their numbers over the last 14 days.
Nationals starters have won their last 12 decisions, and over their last 24 innings, the team's projected 1-2-3 starters in the NLDS (Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister) have given up no runs on five hits with two walks and 26 strikeouts.
That'll get it done.
Some of their individual numbers since the calendar flipped to September are amazing.
As are their numbers over the last 14 days.
Despite Zimmermann's outstanding effort on Sunday, Strasburg has been the team's best pitcher over the last month and will likely be the Game 1 starter in the NLDS. But no Nats starter has an ERA over 1.35 in the last two weeks, and that belongs to Roark, who will likely be relegated to the bullpen. Gonzalez, he of the 1.29 ERA over the last 14 days, will probably not get a start until the National League Championship Series, if the team makes it that far.
It's clear the Nationals head into the playoffs with the best rotation in the National League, a very good thing to have in a short series where anything can happen.