The past few Decembers and Januarys, the Nationals have made moves that seem to put them over the top. Whether through signing similarly to the Phillies, or simply signing former Phillies, Washington has morphed into a perennial offseason contender.
Jayson Werth, Rafael Soriano, Dan Haren and Denard Span were all signings that made people do crazy things like promise World Series appearances.
This year, the trend continued. Washington brought in former Tigers pitcher Doug Fister, making their rotation one of the staunchier in baseball. The four-sided nature of the threat draws unavoidable comparisons to the 2011 Phillies with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels:
- Stephen Strasburg
- Gio Gonzalez
- Doug Fister
- Jordan Zimmermann
Ross Detweiler will be playing the role of Joe Blanton, and excited Nationals fans will be playing the role of super, dangerously excited Phillies fans.
So, this changes the landscape of the division, slightly. The Nationals and Braves were most likely going to be the only teams sniffing contention in 2014, and now the Nationals have a better pitching staff than ever.
As far as the Phillies go, a Strasburg-Gonzalez-Fister-Zimmermann-Detweiler rotation seems more consistently superior to whatever the Phillies throw together, so why don't we skip the present and go right to the past, where we're still happy.
Let's look at it from the perspective of the offseason, prior to 2011, when all we could do was imagine how awesome the Phillies pitching staff was going to be.
Phillies big four going into 2011:
BB: 164 (Lee had only 18 walks - 18!!! - in 212.1 innings)
Nationals big four going into 2014:
So we see that the 2011 Phillies were just as dominant as we remember, though some might argue that the comparison isn't fair, as the Nationals rotation has not had a chance to be a rotation yet.
But the most critical number may be the most simple to calculate: age.
The Phillies knew that they were assembling a once-in-a-generation group of pitchers ready to smoke the National League for the summer, but they had to also know that they were - save Hamels - in their mid-30s.
This was a not a long term plan, though they would hang on to it as long they could. Oswalt wound up pitching a fraction of the season, and here we are, two seasons removed from "GREATEST ROTATION EVER?!" headlines, and Roy Halladay's career in Philly or in general may be over.
Meanwhile, in Washington, they've put together a group of pitchers ranging from solid to elite. They may not shut down entire lineups for weeks at a time, but they will get you some wins and are designed, by not one of them being 30 years old, to be around for a while. It could be said that some have not even entered their true primes yet.