Saturday, October 13, 2012

Strasburg decision will haunt Nationals

This post will not revisit the debate surrounding the decision to shut down Stephen Strasuburg after 159+ innings. The right and wrong arguments do not matter at this point. What does matter is that the Nationals were one and done for post season series in the aftermath and fans of the team, writers and perhaps even the players themselves will forever ask, "What if."

The Nationals were among the best stories of 2012. But the team's wonderful season became a footnote when the circus began about Strasburg. Instead of being celebrated for what the team had become, the team became embattled by its stoic stance to stick to the plan. And to show just how fickle baseball writing can be, the same writers who have long passed judgement on Dusty Baker for "killing" Prior and Wood were lambasting the Nationals for their decision making.

The Nationals did not have to win a World Series title to put aside these questions. But a win in Game Five against the Cardinals would have at least blunted some of the finger-pointing. Instead, a pitching collapse of epic proportions will keep the story in people's minds for a very long time. Nobody knows if Strasburg would have made a difference. Heck, he couldn't have done worse than the way Gio Gonzalez handled that six run lead. It seems that if Strasburg was in there, he would have at least thrown strikes. But he wasn't there, so we will never know.

Much of this current reality can be overcome if the Nationals again make it to the playoffs next year. But if they don't? Well, then the fans grown by that team's season this year will never get over the questions of what might have been.

It has been written this week that the Nationals loss of Strasburg in these playoffs had only a marginal effect. Tell that to the Nationals' fans that just witnessed that pitching meltdown. It had to effect them. Take away one stone from an archway and that archway is not nearly as stable. He was a major stud in that rotation. Did he have his share of clunker starts? Well, yes, he did. Would he have performed well against the Cardinals in the post season? Who knows. We'll never get to know. He would not have been worse than what transpired.

The lost series to the Cardinals was the worst thing to happen to Mike Rizzo and the Nationals. They needed to win at least one series to keep Strasburg from becoming the anchor around their necks. Everything they accomplished this season will be overlooked by the decision. Their 98-win season is moot. A series win might not have made the question go away. But it would have helped. Now, these 2012 Nationals will be plagued by the decision they made forever.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

You are absolutely right. I am sick and tired of the mindset of this era of sports, no matter what the sport.. This is a great example of that thinking. What ever happened to giving 100% for the team, everytime, all the time.
In this case not Strasburgs fault but certainly one of the stupidist moves in sports history. Does anyone actually beleive having Strasburg not pitch in the series is a guarantee he wont injure his arm next season. As Charles would say, Turrible, just Turrible!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Could not agree more! You sit down your Ace when you are in the playoffs? Not, I repeat, NOT a very bright move! I understand wanting to keep him healthy, but to sit down your Ace when you make the playoffs?! Give me a break! Who knows if he would have helped. What we DO know is that it surely would not have Hurt! If I am tring to win a Title I want my Very Best IN THE GAME! Bonehead move. Now, we will never know. Stupid.

carl sonn said...

I love baseball and the Nationals were on my radar all season...I was under the impression they saved Strasburg FOR THE PLAYOFFS !!! When I found out he wasn't pitching in the series I wanted to scream at the decision makers...that's like saving Kobe for the second round !!! If u make the playoffs it is time to turn it up !!!...Common sense coach!!!..Your Fired !!!

Anonymous said...

There's a reason Curt Schilling's bloody sock is on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Rizzo should visit sometime and get a look at what it means to compete.

Bill Stewart said...

The decision to not have Strasburg available to pitch and thus leading to their ouster from the playoffs will mark the beginning of the end of the Nats GM's job...COUNT ON IT!!!

Bill Miller said...

This was all very predictable. There's no question that having Strasburg available for the playoffs might have made a huge difference. The Nats, in effect, are betting that there will be many more playoff years to come. But the future is a funny thing. This could be the last time the Nats see the playoffs for Strasburg's entire career.

netherton said...

There is another side to all of this, and it is very frustrating as a Cardinals fan. Instead of the news being a miraculous comeback, perhaps even bigger than Game 6 of the World Series last year, the lingering story of the NLDS will be Strasburg.

I'm old school and admire the players that could barely walk, but did what they could to help their team (Kirk Gibson, Curt Schilling). While the future looks very bright for the Nationals, nothing is assured. An injury here or there (Jayson Werth for example), or another team getting a lot better in the off season (Atlanta, perhaps) and the Nationals may not see another post-season for some time. It is a fair criticism to say they didn't go all in on this season. It is not fair to believe the outcome would have been any different. We just don't know.

On the other hand, or shoulder, remember John Denny, Pete Vukovich, Kerry Wood, Herb Score (wasn't the eye), Dizzy Dean. Shoulder injuries, especially ones that are caused by elbow troubles or altered mechanics, have ended many a career. The Nationals had other options than just shutting him down. Skip a turn, limit his innings per start.

Instead of blaming Mike Rizzo, I have to accept that this is what free agency has given us. It is unfortunate, but when a team has that much invested in one player, you can understand why they take a long view. I don't like it, I wish it was not that way, but it is. It will be far easier to fire one General Manager than to seriously look at changes to the next CBA.

I think I'd rather be fired if Strasburg gets hurt than be fired for shutting him down and losing the divisional series as the top seed.