One of the reason's this series is so compelling is because the Nationals - who last won their division in 1981 when they were the Montreal Expos - are without one of their star players, Stephen Strasburg, who was critical to the team's success throughout the regular season.
The Nationals stated at the beginning of the season that they were going to limit the 24-year-old Strasburg to fewer than 160 innings pitched as this was his first year following Tommy John surgery. The decision was made to protect Strasburg and his health for years to come.
True to their word - and the frustration of Strasburg, among others - the Nationals shut him down last month. Now they find themselves in the playoffs without one of their biggest weapons. Strasburg went 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA while recording 197 strikeouts in 159 1/3 innings pitched this year and helped lead the charge for only the second postseason berth in franchise history. To not have him out there now when it matters the most seems almost criminal, especially given the Nationals are not perenial postseason contenders.
I understand the Nationals wanting to protect Strasburg as he is expected to anchor their rotation for many years to come. I'm not a baseball professional and I'm sure there was sound logic behind the reason Strasburg was managed the way he was this year. However, I have to wonder why the situation wasn't managed differently so that he could compete in the postseason.
In the average postseason series, a starting pitcher will make two or three starts. That means if the Nationals get to the World Series, Strasburg probably would have six or seven starts throughout the playoffs. The average starter pitches about seven innings. So, Strasburg would have pitched somewhere between 42 and 49 innings in the playoffs if they got to the World Series. Given that, I find myself wondering why they didn't have him make his first start about a month into the season or have him miss some starts throughout the year so that he would at least be an option at this point.
By deciding to shut him down, they have become a less effective ballclub and if the Nationals should lose to the Cardinals this round, the Cincinnati Reds or San Francisco Giants in the next round or the American League Champion in the World Series, the question will always linger as to how things might have been different if Strasburg had been allowed to pitch.
As the playoffs progress, it will be interesting to see how the story unfolds. If it should turn out that Washington is defeated at some juncture in the playoffs, I, as a baseball fan, sincerely hope that this is not the last time we see Washington make a postseason run before some of their bright, young stars such as Strasburg and 19-year-old rookie Bryce Harper move on to greater things.
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