C.J. Nitkowski: ‘Nationals Should Win NL East’

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SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JUNE 11: Jayson Werth #28 of the Washington Nationals is congratulated by Adam LaRoche #25 after he hit a solo home run in the fifth inning of their game against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on June 11, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth (Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

It’s been an interesting three years for the Washington Nationals.

In 2012, they looked like the best team in baseball but decided – foolishly, according to John Feinstein – to slap an innings limit on Stephen Strasburg. Washington fell to St. Louis in the NLDS, losing Game 5 at home.

In 2013, the Nationals were considered a lock to reach the World Series but spent much of the season below .500.

And, this year, the Nationals got off to a slow start – 25-27 – but have since won 10 of 12. They’re 35-29 and lead Atlanta by one game in the NL East.

Most impressive, perhaps, is that Washington has done this despite injuries to Gio Gonzalez and Bryce Harper.

“The Nationals are in really good shape,” FOX Sports 1, MLB Network Radio and CBS Sports Radio analyst C.J. Nitkowski said on The John Feinstein Show. “You talked about Gio Gonzalez coming back. Bryce Harper will be back sooner than later. But (Tanner) Roark has been very good.”

Roark, 27, was a 25th-round draft pick. He’s 5-4 with a 2.92 ERA.

“He’s very pitchable – and (what) that means (is), he doesn’t have overwhelming stuff,” Nitkowski said. “He has a really good curve ball and really good command, and he’s been a nice bonus in that rotation of guys with much, much bigger names.”

Those big names have been just as good. Strasburg is 6-4 with a 2.99 ERA, Jordan Zimmerman is 5-2 with a 3.17 ERA and Doug Fister is 5-1 with a 2.68 ERA.

“From a pitching standpoint, the Washington Nationals are in great shape,” Nitkowski said. “They have one of – if not the – best bullpen in baseball right now. Guys are getting it done up and down. Drew Storen (2-1, 1.29 ERA) has been great after a rocky year last year. He’s been solid.”

The Nationals, unlike many teams, also have pros who are acting like pros.

“Ryan Zimmerman (moved) to left field and (didn’t) even (say) a word about it; he’s just doing it,” Nitkowski said. “We hear about some guys like Matt Kemp (pouting) because he’s going from center field to left field, and we hear (about) guys like Rickie Weeks not wanting to go the outfield when the Milwaukee Brewers ask him to do it. And so for the Washington Nationals, they have to be happy that they have a very unselfish player who says, ‘Yeah, I’ll go to left field’ – and you don’t hear two words about it. So that’s certainly a good thing.”

“They’ll have a decision to make when Bryce Harper comes back and what they’re going to do there, but that’s a good problem to have. I really feel like the Washington Nationals are poised to (make a run).”

Indeed, the Nationals look like a lock to win the NL East, pending a series of injuries.

“That division should be theirs,” Nitkowski said. “The Braves are about the same (as last year), but they lack an ace. That lineup has too many question marks. (The Nationals) have the deepest lineup, so they shouldn’t have any issue unless all of a sudden there’s a big injury or somebody just out of nowhere starts underperforming. But they’re deep enough where they can actually overcome that. They are doing well right now without Bryce Harper, so I don’t see how it doesn’t happen outside of health.”


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