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The Nats are on the brink, but let’s not blame the absence of Stephen Strasburg

Oct 10, 2012, 4:56 PM EDT

Ryan Zimmerman strikeout

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The Nationals had the best record in baseball and the best rotation heading into the postseason. But now, after consecutive awful outings by the pitching staff, the Cards lead the Nats 2-1 in this best of five series. They lost 8-0 today.

Edwin Jackson was shaky out of the chute, and gave up four runs on eight hits. He settled down a bit, but as he made way for the bullpen, the fire began to rage again, and before it was all done the Cards had hung eight on the Nats. Pete Kozma‘s three-run homer in the second was the big blow, but the Cardinals ended up needing only one run to secure the win.

The hittability of Nats pitchers led broadcasters Bob Costas and Jim Kaat to note the absence of Stephen Strasburg. And to note that his absence will turn into serious heat on Mike Rizzo and the Nats brass should Washington go on to lose this series.  I think they’re right about that.  And indeed, anyone who has read this blog over the past few months knows that I disagreed with the Nats shutting down Strasburg too. But let me say this: the way the Nats are losing this series shouldn’t bring any more heat on Rizzo for the Strasburg shutdown than he’s otherwise getting.

The Nats won Game 1 with Gio Gonzalez. They lost Games 2 and 3 due to poor outings from Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson. Guess what: barring a sweep, all three of those pitchers would have gotten starts in the NLDS. They needed Jackson and Zimmermann to pitch well even if Strasburg was there. They didn’t. The biggest difference will be seen in Game 4 when Ross Detwiler gets the nod, but his presence has yet to damage Washington’s chances.

Beyond the poor outings from Zimmermann and Jackson, the real culprit here has been the Nationals’ somnambulistic offense.  Washington was shut out today, leaving scads of runners on base — I counted 11. On Monday they were down 7-1 before the bats woke up. Even in the win on Saturday they scored only three. You can’t give up 22 runs in three games and expect good things, but you gotta score some runs yourself too, you know.

So no, I’m not changing my mind about the Stephen Strasburg shutdown. I still think it’s a bad call to willingly deprive yourself of your best pitcher entering a playoff series. And if the difference in this series ends up being one solid pitching performance, I’ll be willing to entertain the notion that Strasburg was as critical as people will soon be saying.  But, as it is right now, let’s not pretend that Stephen Strasburg’s absence is the difference here.  The Nats are in serious trouble, and it is because of a total team failure, not because of some front office decision.

Oh, it also has a lot to do with the fact that the Cardinals — who just so happen to be the defending World Series champions — are a good baseball team who have gotten strong performances from just about everyone. Let us not lose sight of that when everyone rushes to blame the outcome of this series on the absence of Stephen Strasburg.

  1. ezwriter69 - Oct 10, 2012 at 7:23 PM

    Semantics. Of course they’d be a better team if they still had one of the top pitchers in the league. Is it the only reason they’re struggling? Of course not. Is it a huge part of the problem? I and a lot of others think yes. They can’t beat the world champs with one hand, their best hand, tied behind their back… and it HAS affected the attitude of this team, it HAS to, they are human beings.

  2. rick1922 - Oct 10, 2012 at 8:04 PM


    • jl9830 - Oct 10, 2012 at 11:20 PM

      I don’t think he should be fired, but I agree with the first part. If the Nats knew they were gonna shut him down, they should have worked in a DL stint in June or July (blame anything you want) and skip his spot once or twice through the rest of the season to make sure he’s here in October.

  3. dannythebisforbeast - Oct 10, 2012 at 8:20 PM

    I say the fans are a big reason. Instead of enjoying the ride, too much talking about not needing Strasburg, Gnattitude, best pitchers in baseball, blah blah blah.

    May have a great future like the phillies in 07 who got beat up and came back in 08 on a mission. And I can guess if they lose, fans will fade away if they dont get out too a fast start next year.

  4. buzzjunior42 - Oct 10, 2012 at 10:23 PM

    Hey Schmedley, name a fan base that went from being losers to being good so soon, and their fan base was behind them BEFORE they became relevant. I would live to hear it…the Nats have been building a new fan base, one that hasn’t had baseball since the 1960’s…what do you expect?? Come in dude. Anyone who thinks this team is one and done need to find a new pastime. This team is built for the next 10 years. They weren’t ranked the number 1 farm system in baseball for nothing. This 98 win season is just scratching the surface, whether they can pull out this Cards series or not. Get used to it!!

    • schmedley69 - Oct 11, 2012 at 12:00 AM

      You are proving my point about being arrogant and naive. 10 years? It’s really hard to project 2 years into the future in baseball, let alone 10. Funny thing about prospects. The majority of them turn out to be busts. Dom Brown was the #1 prospect in all of baseball 2 years ago, and now his stock is about as low as you can get. What if Strasburg gets hurt again? Is Gio Gonzalez really THIS good? I doubt it. Things can change pretty quickly in baseball, but we can’t expect you DC fans to know that, seeing as how this is your freshman year. The Nats should be in the hunt the next few years, but like I said, don’t go printing playoff tickets just yet. You have two really good organizations in your division (Phillies and Braves) and a sleeping giant in New York. It’s not easy being the hunted. You will find that out in due time. As of now, you are the only organization in the division without a ring. It might be a long wait before you get one.

      • nolanwiffle - Oct 11, 2012 at 8:16 AM

        Can we please dispense with the notion that Nats fans are naive newbies? Too many commenters here believe that because the DC metro area hasn’t had a MLB team that we didn’t follow the game for the last 41 years.

        We all know how baseball works.

  5. teamo68 - Oct 10, 2012 at 11:05 PM

    Been a Nats fan from day one, attended every home opener and been a STH for the last 6 years. Just giving some background before the following:

    1) The Strasburg Situation – The Nats did the same thing with Zimmermann last year and, since they only won 80 games, nobody blinked. Rizzo has long said the plan was to contend in 2013. It happened a year sooner but, they weren’t going to deviate from Strasburg’s innings limit. And it was not just because of TJ surgery. The most innings he’s pitched in a season was the 125 or so he pitched in 2010. No way they were going to go past 160, regardless of the situation. We’ve come to grips with it, why can’t everyone else.

    2) Nats fans – You’re talking about building a fan base in a town where most people are from somewhere else. It takes time. Granted, DC loves a front runner (see Washington Caps) and hyped players (hello Ovie, RG3, Harper and Strasburg) but, this team has been here 8 short years, it will take time for real fans to develop. Show me a team that succeeds who doesn’t get fairweathers (i.e. Boston Red Sox).

    3) This team is a contender – Say what you want (I know Championships are not quaranteed) but, this is a good young team that will compete for the next several years. Mets are in trouble and Loria is going to blow up the Marlins yet again. We’re going to see some great races between the Nats, Phils and Braves over the next few years so, rather than bitch about arrogant fans (haven’t mentioned Phillie fans once), maybe we should all just enjoy what is to come in the NL East.

    The Cards are a hell of a good team but, I have confidence that Davey can get these guys ready for Game 4. And, if not, only about 130 days until pitchers and catchers report.

    • jl9830 - Oct 10, 2012 at 11:24 PM

      You can’t assume you’ll be back here every year. Take it from me: I’m a Mets fan. In ’06, we thought “it’s ok, we’ll be back every year.” We’d just been the first team to topple the Braves in 15 years, and had the most dominant team in the NL built around Wright & Reyes. How’d that turn out?

      Baseball is littered with teams cursed with the “woulda, shoulda, coulda” curse. Point is, you can never just assume you’ll be back. You can’t actually think the NL will be this weak again for a while (this is the weakest NL, overall, in years). Championships aren’t easy to win. Anytime you have a shot at it, you have to go for it. What else are you saving him for?

      • schmedley69 - Oct 10, 2012 at 11:51 PM

        The ’86 Mets looked like a dynasty, but they never made it back to the WS. It happens all the time. One thing is for sure, until the Nats win one, Rizzo will be hearing about this Strasburg thing.

  6. franklinandbashandflorio - Oct 11, 2012 at 3:55 AM

    Gnats management needs to put a denim Adult Dispr on Strasburg.

  7. franklinandbashandflorio - Oct 11, 2012 at 3:56 AM

    Correction: Denim Adult Diaper

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