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The Nationals are even better with Max Scherzer, so let's pick them apart

The Nationals are clearly the best team in baseball, which means it's time to look for cautionary tales.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Say it out loud. "Gio Gonzalez, fifth starter." That's the guy backing up the big fellers, the afterthought. Even the Dodgers are crossing their fingers and hoping for the best from Brett Anderson. There shouldn't be known quantities in the No. 5 spot. That's where the reclamation projects, the raffle tickets, the rookies go. That's what the Max Scherzer signing did for the Nationals, though. It made Gio Gonzalez a fifth starter. For now.

And what about the sixth starter?

Henchman: Hey, boss. Where you want I should put this guy with 15 wins and a 2.85 ERA?

Mike Rizzo: Uh, in the garage for now. Put a blanket over him or something.

Tanner Roark was an unexpected surprise for the Nationals, refining his command when he was 26 and in Triple-A, then using that command to be a ludicrously effective starter in the majors the very next year. Now he's a reliever. Short reliever, long reliever, setup man? No idea. Put him in the garage for now. They'll figure it out later.

So, yes, the Nationals are the best team in baseball. They were before the Scherzer signing. Then they signed a pitcher worth six wins above replacement last year so they could send the pitcher worth five wins to the bullpen. Hey, every win counts in the wacky NL East. You never know what the Marlins are ... I mean, the Braves could ... the thing about the Mets' chances is that ... the Phillies, uh ...

/cut to Phillies' fielder facing the wrong way before the pitch is thrown

Okay, so it doesn't make sense for the Nationals to spend something like $200 million to chase after additional wins in 2015 -- they were already the best team by a wide margin. This contract is almost more about 2016, when Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann might not be around, with the benefit that it sure makes them better in 2015, too. That's great, but when a team is riding this high in the offseason, the only thing to do is knock them down a peg. Here are some cautionary tales that the 2015 Nationals should pay attention to:

Don't forget about the 2014 Tigers

What, like the Indians were going to contend for the AL Central? The Royals? Ha. The only question for the Tigers was how many games they were going to win the division by.

It almost worked out like that! Then the Royals stopped losing. And even though the Tigers did win the division, here's the important part of the cautionary tale: The 2014 Tigers forgot to pack a bullpen. They didn't ignore the bullpen before the season, signing Joe Nathan for many millions, and they didn't ignore the bullpen during the season, trading good prospects for Joakim Soria. When they got to the postseason, though, their bullpen was a pot of warm water suspended over a pan of boiling bacon grease.

What the Nationals have, currently:

  • A low-strikeout closer who has been a part of two memorable postseason bullpen collapses for the Nationals

  • A pitcher with great stuff and iffy control who looked lost in the postseason as a rookie last year

  • A former starter who started walking fewer batters last year, but at the expense of strikeouts

  • A 38-year-old LOOGY picked up of waivers last August

  • An annoyed starter who is probably grumbling things like, "What in the heck more do I need to do?"

  • Another lefty, but one who was supremely ineffective/unlucky last season

You know how bullpens work. The Nationals will call up three hard-throwing arms from the minors, a non-roster invite will log heavy innings late in the game, and the Nationals will trade for Craig Kimbrel or something by August 1. The bullpen we're looking at right now might not be the bullpen the Nationals ride to the postseason with.

Still, without Tyler Clippard, without (an unbroken) Rafael Soriano, this bullpen isn't exceptional. Who needs a bullpen when you have five starters who have all finished in the top-10 of a Cy Young vote, you ask? The 2014 Tigers, for one. Who also had Max Scherzer. Don't forget about them or their fate.

Don't forget about the 2010 Phillies

That was the team that got a little too cute with their aces. "Who needs three aces when you can have two aces and prospects?" The '10 Phillies could have had Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels. But that would have cost money, see. It also meant that they couldn't cash in on prospects before Lee left as a free agent.

It also meant that Joe Blanton had to start a playoff game.


Indeed. Then the following offseason, the Phillies tried to un-cute their rotation by signing Lee to a huge deal. That toothpaste was not going back in the tube, though, and the Phillies are still wondering "What if?" about the 2010 season they spent without Cliff Lee. They also had to give away possible long-term solutions like Anthony Gose to build a super-rotation on the fly that year, too.

The Nationals might not start the season with Tanner Roark in the bullpen, after all. They might deal one of the pending free agents, Zimmermann or Fister. They could deal Gonzalez when his value is low. They have options, just like the 2010 Phillies, and at the other side of that rainbow is a pot o' prospects.

Except, having a super-rotation right now, with the potential downside being a supplemental first-round pick or two instead of handpicked prospects, should be far more appealing than the pot o' prospects.

I almost used the 2014 Tigers for this, who TRADED AWAY DOUG FISTER FOR NO GOOD REASON and then had to scramble to get David Price to help rebuild their super-rotation on the fly, but I don't want to be unfair to Tigers fans. That would just be rude.

Don't forget about the 2012 Tigers


Ha, just kidding. This job is 58 percent more fun when I'm being rude. The 2012 Tigers got double checkmarks from Tim McCarver because their rotation was so impressive, so deep. Double checkmarks! The postseason is a pile of free jazz, though. It prides itself on hitting the wrong note just at the right time. Be warned. Depth in a starting rotation just means more ways an unbeatable team can disappoint in the postseason.

(Mostly, this is a note to remember the 2014 Tigers again. Get another reliever or two, Nationals! Ask very nicely if the Athletics will loan Tyler Clippard back!)

Don't forget about the 2013 Nationals

Ah, this was another Nationals team that was clearly the best team in baseball. They had the best rotation in baseball, and then they added Dan Haren, whose 2012 season was surely a fluke. They spent exorbitantly on Rafael Soriano because they didn't have any other holes.

And then ... things happened. The real Danny Espinosa got locked in a closet. Wilson Ramos got hurt. Adam LaRoche was ordinary, and Drew Storen was bad. More than anything, though, the bench was the villain, the unexpected killer at the end of Masterpiece Theater. The Nationals got about 1,400 at-bats from their reserves, and just about everyone involved was awful.

The '13 Nationals were supposed to win 100, but they finished with 86. Baseball was a total jerk to them. Baseball is a total jerk to 29 teams every year.

Does this all seem like nitpicking, like an article searching for cracks in the foundation? Ayup. Absolutely. But what do you want me to write, that the Nationals were the best team in baseball before the Max Scherzer signing, and now they're even better? That would be a one-paragraph article. Of course they were good. Of course they're even better. And over the next three or four months, we won't have any evidence that suggests they're not as talented and outstanding as everyone believes.

Don't forget about those other unstoppable teams, though. That's all I got. Because, hot dang, look at the Nationals, everyone. Look at that team they've built. Look at the way it glistens in the sunlight and haunts your dreams. Look at the Nationals. Look at that pitching staff.