In their 7 years of existence prior to 2012, the Washington Nationals have finished .500 just one time, have finished last in the National League East 5 times, and have never made the postseason. In fact, the last time the Montreal Expos made the playoffs was 1981, the lone appearance they made in October in their history. If you want to go back even further in history, there hasn’t been a championship in our nation’s capital since the Washington Senators won the World Series in 1924 and there hasn’t been playoff baseball since 1933.
With that being said, the Nationals currently sport a 51-35 record, the best in the National League and third best in the majors. They hold a three game lead over the Atlanta Braves and seem to be in good position to make the postseason and are even a solid contender to win the World Series.
You would be hard pressed to find a better team in the National League, especially when you consider that outfielder Jayson Werth is still rehabbing from his broken wrist and has played in just 27 games this season.
So with the Nationals ready to make their run at a championship this season, why does GM Mike Rizzo seem intent on limiting his ace pitcher? Rizzo has gone on record multiple times saying Strasburg will have a limit of around 160-170 innings. Strasburg, however, has told reporters that he hasn’t even been approached about the innings limit.
When asked about the possibility of being shut down, Strasburg said, “I have no clue how many innings I’m going to throw this year. I’ve answered that question multiple times, and nobody’s said anything to me. I feel great right now.”
He later added, “They’re going to have to rip the ball out of my hands.”
When you look at the Nationals pitching staff, they are by far the best in baseball. They lead the MLB in ERA (3.16), WHIP (1.20), and BAA (.231). They are second in the majors in quality starts with 56.
While Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann are having tremendous years, Strasburg has been the ace and the anchor of the staff. He is 10-4 on the season with a 2.66 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. Even more impressive are his 135 K’s, which lead the National League, as does his 11.64 K/9. While his fastball is in the high-90′s, his changeup is in the high 80′s, and his curveball is around 80 mph, control has never been a problem – his 4.57 K/BB ratio is 4th best in the National League.
The one problem with Strasburg is that he generally runs a high pitch count due to the fact that his stuff is so good and he is a strikeout pitcher. The deepest he has pitched into a game this season was 7 innings, which he has done 4 times. While you generally want your ace to be an innings eater and pitch deep into ballgames like Justin Verlander does (140.2 IP to Strasburg’s 105 IP), this could actually benefit the organization because he will be able to pitch deeper into the season, if he does in fact get shut down around 160 innings.
Teams want the number one draft pick to get a star player, a face of the franchise who will ultimately lead them to a championship. When the Nationals drafted Strasburg, they envisioned getting an ace who would lead them to a World Series one day – that day could realistically be in about 3 months, but the organization seems intent on shutting him down and depriving the team and the fan base of a potential World Series title.
We all know that Strasburg is only 23 years old and coming off Tommy John surgery. The franchise understands that they have a golden arm in Strasburg, one that they feel they need to protect so that they can be a force in the National League for years to come and not just a one year wonder.
But still, imagine the disappointment that will be inside the mind of every Nationals fan out there. To suffer for so long and support a losing franchise for years, only to see your best pitcher shut down in the middle of a pennant race, erasing all hope of a World Series.
The idea of a dynasty is very rare and to achieve one is very improbable. The Atlanta Braves had Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz and only won one World Series in that era. Can you reason that a trio of Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmermann will bring you more than one World Series over an extended period of time? You never know. But most teams have a shot at winning a World Series one season and do not get another chance for some time. Shutting down Strasburg would be a mistake - let the kid pitch and go for a championship because one is well within reach this season. You never know what the future holds – an injury to one of your players, a big free agent signing by a team in your division, a disappointing upset in a future postseason and your chance to win a World Series may never come again.
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