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Stellar rotation has Nats well armed for 2018

MLB.com @JamalCollier

WASHINGTON -- The backbone of the Nationals' transformation into one of the most successful teams in the Majors during the past few seasons has been the team's starting staff, always a strength they can rely on. It should be no different in 2018, with the Nats poised to bring back one of MLB's best groups of starting pitchers. They will return their top four starters in a rotation headlined by the two-time reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, who also won the honor in the American League in '13. The Nats will have a starting pitching advantage in most games they play.

Nats' potent 2017 lineup returns mostly intact

WASHINGTON -- The backbone of the Nationals' transformation into one of the most successful teams in the Majors during the past few seasons has been the team's starting staff, always a strength they can rely on. It should be no different in 2018, with the Nats poised to bring back one of MLB's best groups of starting pitchers. They will return their top four starters in a rotation headlined by the two-time reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, who also won the honor in the American League in '13. The Nats will have a starting pitching advantage in most games they play.

Nats' potent 2017 lineup returns mostly intact

MLB.com is taking a look at the projected rotation of all 30 teams ahead of Spring Training. Here's how the Nats stack up:

ROTATION IF SEASON STARTED TODAY
Max Scherzer, RHP
Stephen Strasburg, RHP
Gio Gonzalez, LHP
Tanner Roark, RHP
A.J. Cole, RHP

STRENGTH
A year ago, Washington finished with two of the Top 3 finishers in the NL Cy Young Award balloting in Scherzer and Strasburg, who finished first and third respectively. That duo at the top of the rotation can stack up with any other pair in the Majors. If Scherzer and Strasburg can remain healthy, the Nats own a pair of aces capable of dominating opposing lineups.

Video: Strasburg finishes third in 2017 NL Cy Young voting

QUESTION MARK
The Nats do not have a fifth starter set in stone at this point in the offseason, and could enter camp with some sort of competition for that spot. For now, the favorite to win that job is A.J. Cole -- a once highly-touted prospect who has bounced around between the Minors and Majors as a spot starter for the past few seasons. During his final six starts of 2017, Cole posted a 3.51 ERA. He is out of options next season and impressed some in the organization with his showing during the final month. Whether it was enough to win the job, however, remains to be seen.

WHAT MIGHT CHANGE
The Nats seem very likely to add more starters before Spring Training begins. General manager Mike Rizzo has said adding depth to the rotation has been a priority from the beginning of the offseason. But how will he go about adding pieces? Will he add to the top of the rotation by entering the free-agent market for one of the frontline starting pitchers lingering on the market after the New Year? Or, will the Nats be comfortable bringing in a few veteran pitchers to compete for the job in Spring Training? The answer will likely rely on how confident the club is in Cole or Erick Fedde, the club's top pitching prospect, to begin the season in that role.

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals