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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. pinkfloydprism - Oct 10, 2012 at 5:01 PM

    It is Bryce Harper’s fault for exposing the demon inside him with those red eyes…

  2. thebadguyswon - Oct 10, 2012 at 5:02 PM

    The Gnats front office made their own bed. They had to know this issue would resurface if they had an unsuccessful postseason. This is on Mike RizZo, the biggest idiot in Major League Baseball.

    • bensonlukose - Oct 10, 2012 at 7:14 PM

      Yeah the idiot who turned the Nats a team who had 20 wins at the all star break with no direction to team that team that is built to be a perennial playoff contender. Please call me when you have done something resembling this

      • pinkfloydprism - Oct 11, 2012 at 12:10 PM

        I do it on MLB the show all the time… not that hard

  3. jdrew506 - Oct 10, 2012 at 5:05 PM

    How long will it be till someone blames the loss on a 1 o’clock game that no one could watch because it was on the MLB network and thinking of the traffic after the game was a major distraction?

  4. illadelphiasphinest - Oct 10, 2012 at 5:06 PM

    So how bout that already planned route and date for that parade…….? Such hubris.

    • Tim OShenko - Oct 10, 2012 at 6:51 PM

      I would not be surprised to learn that every playoff-bound team goes ahead and makes preliminary plans for a parade. It’s less embarrassing to schedule a parade you’ll never have than to bring home the trophy and find you can’t get the permits to have your little triumph.

    • marvinband9 - Oct 10, 2012 at 8:34 PM

      If you knew anything at all this is ordained by major league baseball prior to playing one game as well as printing all tickets for the playoff games again prior to the end of the season as well as the ticket prices for all games. Know before pontificating, such hubris?

  5. realitypolice - Oct 10, 2012 at 5:08 PM

    That sound you hear is the Baseball Gods laughing and saying to to each other, “did they honestly think we were going to let them win when they PURPOSELY refused to put their best team on the field?!?!?”

    And your logic is flawed- if Strasburg and Gonzalez win games 1 and 2, the Nats come back with 3 games at home only needing to win 1, and if Zimmerman and Jackson spit the bit, they come back with Strasburg in game 5 on 4 days rest.

    A little better than the scenario they are stuck with now, no?

    • ezthinking - Oct 10, 2012 at 5:51 PM

      Was there some guarantee that Strasburg would win, that the game was not even going to be played if he started? Oh, there wasn’t. So what are we talking about here?

      • realitypolice - Oct 10, 2012 at 6:00 PM

        You’re right, there was no guarantee, so why bother to put your best team on the field? Yes, absolutely, that makes perfect sense.

        More teams should do that. They should check before the game to see if they are guaranteed to win, and if they are not, they should just not bother playing their best players. Great idea.

        What we are talking about here is a team that had a legitimate shot at delivering the first championship in the history of their franchise, and chose to take less than a full shot by protecting their investment.

        And what we are seeing here is Baseball Karma running over Mike Rizzo’s dogma.

    • brazcubas - Oct 10, 2012 at 6:21 PM

      You’re assuming Strasburg would have started game 1, but that’s unlikely since Gio has been their best pitcher all season. More likely, Strasburg would have started game 2, and Gio would have gotten the ball for game 5. The same thing that will happen if Detwiler wins tomorrow.

      Also, a Strasburg win is not a foregone conclusion. After all, this was his first full season in the bigs, and even if he was still in top form, it’s highly unlikely that he would have pitched a complete game shutout. The bullpen has been less than spectacular this series and would have probably given up a run or two, and while Strasburg was hitting the ball pretty well the first half of the season, he probably wouldn’t have been able to provide enough scoring by himself.

      They’re a better team with Strasburg, undoubtedly, but it’s unlikely he would have done enough by himself to completely change the series as it stands right now.

      • realitypolice - Oct 10, 2012 at 7:52 PM

        Good christ, would people please stop telling me that a Strasburg win was not a “forgone conclusion”. I realize you don’t know me, but I promise you I am smarter than that. Again, I fail to see the relevance. No one ever knows if their ace is definitely going to win, but for some reason, they start them anyway.

        Strasburg would have started game 1. Teams don’t start from scratch at the end of the season and remake their rotation. Strasburg was number 1 in the rotation all year, and would have started game one.

        Whether he could or could not have done enough by himself is irrelevant. My point is that the Washington Nationals went into the playoffs with a real shot at a championship and chose not to put their best team on the field. And that point is 100% undebatable.

      • woodenulykteneau - Oct 11, 2012 at 7:04 AM

        Like most half-wits, you’re only half-right. It’s true that the Nationals have (note the present tense, they haven’t been eliminated yet) a real shot at a championship, but to assert that they “chose not to put their best team on the field” is specious and as arrogant as you and others purport the Nationals to be.

  6. lucidsportsfan - Oct 10, 2012 at 5:09 PM

    But if Strasburg had won game 1, 2, or 3 it’s a whole different series. This is their chance. They may never get back here. Saving him for the future is silly when the future is now. http://www.lucidsportsfan.com/2012_09_02_archive.html#222586377042988317

  7. sgtr0c - Oct 10, 2012 at 5:14 PM

    Probably was no more then the Card’s manager saying the “they don’t think you belong here, they already planned the parade route” speach.

  8. mungman69 - Oct 10, 2012 at 5:17 PM

    Fire that GM.

    • bensonlukose - Oct 10, 2012 at 7:16 PM

      you build this team from where they were 4 years ago to what they are now o great expert

  9. rs2driver - Oct 10, 2012 at 5:20 PM

    Stating the obvious… the Nats are dead. As I stated in posts after Monday’s loss you can see a young team melt under bright lights of playoffs. Actually, the Nats have crumbled under pressure all year. Yankee series between two best AL and NL teams at the time in June. Nats fell apart that entire weekend and were swept. Couldn’t clinch with 8 1/2 game lead early. Swept by Braves when world watched Nats have chance to bury Braves. Backed into division title. Played tight choked up ball entire month of September. Strasburg was VERY average and hittable his last few starts his difference would have been minimal. You all have born witness to a team that was as I put it Monday…a car in a hydraulic press in a junk yard…just crushed by pressure.

    • nolanwiffle - Oct 11, 2012 at 8:25 AM

      It’d be a miracle if they even suited up to play Thursday. Did you sound the death knell for the Giants and A’s earlier this weekas well?

  10. brianforster - Oct 10, 2012 at 5:21 PM

    not even a nats fan and i am still flabbergasted (kinda like tiki) that they shut down strasburg. how arrogant of a decision, i mean this could be the last time the nats make the postseason in strasburgs entire career. what a botched move, as soon as this became an issue his innings should have been limited. its been hilarious watch this unfold.

  11. El Bravo - Oct 10, 2012 at 5:21 PM

    Somnambulistic: neat word. Thanks for expanding my vocab, C-money.

    • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Oct 10, 2012 at 6:20 PM

      I was just going to post that! Apart from being an opera fan, I would never have known the word or used it in a sentence.

      • blacksables - Oct 10, 2012 at 6:37 PM

        ‘Word of the Day’ toilet paper.

  12. buzzjunior42 - Oct 10, 2012 at 5:22 PM

    So the series is 2-1 Cards and not over….if the Nats win 2 straight, which is very possible in baseball, will you please write a positive article about the Nats?? I have never seen a team bashed so much. Did they piss in your Wheaties or something??

    • Craig Calcaterra - Oct 10, 2012 at 5:23 PM

      No, they have sucked butt for two games. You want me to say they haven’t?

      But sure, if they rally for two wins I’ll certainly say nice things. Why wouldn’t I?

    • Francisco (FC) - Oct 10, 2012 at 5:34 PM

      I have never seen a team bashed so much

      http://i3.kym-cdn.com/photos/images/original/000/211/409/3567og.jpg

    • xmatt0926x - Oct 10, 2012 at 5:47 PM

      Yeah Craig. Stop picking on the Phillies….I mean the Red Sox…….I mean the Nats.. You bastard!

    • DelawarePhilliesFan - Oct 10, 2012 at 7:29 PM

      Yea Craig, why not articles that say things like “the Nats’ dominance is becoming clear”, or write nice cutsey stuff every time Bryce Harper says 3 words?

      http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2012/08/14/the-nationals-are-looking-pretty-scary-right-now/

      http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2012/08/17/bryce-harper-to-kids-be-as-sexy-as-you-can/

  13. El Bravo - Oct 10, 2012 at 5:24 PM

    You know what is tiring? People claiming that teams are dead when they are facing one-game elimination. That is dumb thinking. Pouliot is my first example b/c the Giants were totally f@cked 48 hours ago…let’s see that 180 now, shall we? Same goes for calling the Nats dead right now (see comments above). Give me a break. So were the Braves AND Cards both dead in the one-game elimination? Even when up 3-0 in a best of seven, that shit ain’t over, just ask the 04 Red Sox. Have some perspective people!

  14. buzzjunior42 - Oct 10, 2012 at 5:25 PM

    RS2driver…..do you even follow baseball?? They choked under pressure all year?? The Braves were on their ass all year…they had injuries to key players the entire first half of the season, still won 98 games….get a clue before you post. Series is 2-1, and last I checked it is a best of 5 series….

  15. 18thstreet - Oct 10, 2012 at 5:25 PM

    It’s not remotely premature to start writing obituaries. No team has ever won two consecutive home games.

  16. ceruleanplains - Oct 10, 2012 at 5:30 PM

    That’s what you get when Teddy wins… bwhahahahaha.

    • nelsonsaint - Oct 10, 2012 at 5:46 PM

      maybe he should start game four.

  17. jtorrey13 - Oct 10, 2012 at 5:37 PM

    I’m beginning to think Stephen Strasburg is the second coming of Derek Jeter. With just his presence, grit and baseball savvy, to say nothing of the fact that he is the best pitcher since the beginning of time immemorial and pitches 14-inning shutouts each time Mike Rizzo graces us with his presence on the mound, he can will Edwin Jackson and Jordan Zimmerman to pitch better and the Nationals to get more timely hitting. That’s what true leaders do. That’s what Baseball Gods do.

  18. sumerduckman - Oct 10, 2012 at 5:53 PM

    Well….. to quote that great American philosopher Louis Jordan, ” I ain’t foolin’, you gonna get a schoolin’ !” The Nats front office, and players, have just received a schoolin’ .

  19. joejaws75 - Oct 10, 2012 at 6:00 PM

    Nats suck

  20. East Coast Raider - Oct 10, 2012 at 6:00 PM

    I can’t believe how much vitriol the Nats have managed to cause in one season. My wife asked my why, and I think there are three reasons. If anyone disagrees or thinks there are more, please feel free to add:

    1. Some Nats fans are really, really excited that the team is winning this year and can be overly annoying and childish with their celebration and taunting.
    2. There are a lot of people who “became” Nats fans this year, and so (some rightfully so) they are labeled as bandwagon fans.
    3. The Braves and Phillies don’t like having another team with whom to contend, and the Marlins and Mets don’t like seeing someone leave the basement.

    I’m genuinely trying to be objective there, as a Nats fan who sat through many, many losses in DC. The one thing I’ll disagree outright with is the idea that this was and still is a fluke season. This team’s young talent is mostly locked up for the foreseeable future. It’s not going to be some fire sale where all the talent goes once the season is over.

    • realitypolice - Oct 10, 2012 at 7:55 PM

      I think alot of people are annoyed with Nats fans not because of their excitement or celebrations. People are annoyed, particularly fans of teams that have suffered a long time without a title, with the way Nats fans have drank the kool aid as to how great an idea it is to shut down your ace when he is healthy in a year where you could have won a world series.

    • schmedley69 - Oct 10, 2012 at 8:03 PM

      There are a lot of reasons to dislike the Nats. Arrogant GM, manager, players and fans. The biggest reason is by far the fans though. Before this season, your fan-base had no pulse. None. I live near DC, and I can attest to this. Not many people gave a damn about the Nats before this season. You had a young, up and coming team the past few years, but even so, you still had low attendance and the worst TV ratings in baseball (historically low). Then the Nats get off to a good start this season, and the “fans” come out of the woodwork and immediately start talking dynasty. Any long-tenured non-Yankees fan can tell you that championships are very rare and hard to come by. To start talking dynasty before you had even made the playoffs was not only arrogant, it was naive. You will be extremely lucky to win one championship with this group, let alone more than one. Just ask Cubs fans how hard it is to win a championship. The Nats should be competitive over the next few years, but there are no guarantees. Everything broke your way this year, and it’s not likely to be as easy next year. The Nats will be the hunted. Let’s see how they respond. You guys think that you have arrived, and maybe you have, but there have been plenty of one-hit wonders in baseball over the years. Don’t make your playoff reservations for next year just yet.

    • 18thstreet - Oct 10, 2012 at 8:15 PM

      People like you better when you lose. That’s all it is. As soon as a team starts winning, the refrain is, “They used to be so much more likeable.”

      My advice is to not care what the fans of other teams think. And to start drinking heavily. You can trust me. I’m pre-med.

    • DelawarePhilliesFan - Oct 10, 2012 at 9:36 PM

      I would generally agree with that assesment. The Phillies division streak was always going to end – and sure, it makes it harder when it ends and the perenial last place team is the one in 1st.

      I don’t know about “chilidish” in their taunts – I mean all teams have fans that will do that. I think the thing that gets peoples goats up our way is the DC fans (not all, just the ones who do) that behave as though this season a dynasty makes. Not that I have a crystal ball and know what the next several years will bring. And heck, if they roll off a string of 95 win seasons, then the bragging rights are theres. But until then…..I’m telling you, it is a LOT harder to stay on top. Wait until next year when they are 3 games back, and all the press are writing there obit. It happened to the Phillies in ’08 – even September of that year. That group of Phillies was laid back, and let everything roll off of then (they still sort of do), they really had somethign special, and they just won…..and won…..and won. But a lot of Nats fans don’t realize it was HARD to do what the Phillies did – and somehow thing that what they have on paper translates to severl more crowns. All i would say is – lets wait and see

    • natslady - Oct 11, 2012 at 7:19 AM

      Also–fantasy baseball. How many people lost money because they had Strasburg on their team and they didn’t believe Rizzo would do exactly what he said he would do? I was staggered by the $$ that changed hands on that one missed call in football. There are people who think real baseball is like fantasy baseball and they are smarter GMs than Rizzo.

  21. vallewho - Oct 10, 2012 at 6:01 PM

    why not…Big-time pitchers are the difference all the time.

  22. thomas655 - Oct 10, 2012 at 6:03 PM

    They blame TR winning the president’s race on the bad mojo of the Nats. They blame Strasburg’s shutdown for the Nats losing. How about just admitting that the Cards are the better playoff team, who has a tremendous amount of experience in the post season vs. a team with no playoff experience? The Cards are just kicking butt, should have won the game that they lost and swept in 3!!! GO CARDS!!!

    • East Coast Raider - Oct 10, 2012 at 6:08 PM

      You raise a good point…people are having too much fun finding things like that and the time and everything to blame when really, it all happens on the diamond. Nats need to step it up big time for game 4. Right now, as much as it pains me to say, the Cards are simply outclassing them. Still, with two more in DC, it’s not over yet!

  23. rcali - Oct 10, 2012 at 6:21 PM

    Honestly, who didn’t see this coming? Should be a fun off season for Nats brass having to constantly explain why it wasn’t important to do whatever it takes to win their 1st world series. Stuff happens and there is never a guarantee that you’ll be back next year. Ask the Phillies, Braves, Rays, Red Sox, Angels etc….

  24. Kevin Gillman - Oct 10, 2012 at 6:37 PM

    I think the Nationals still could have been beaten by the Cardinals in this series. Yeah, they would have had a much better chance winning Game 2 if Gonzalez had worked it, with Strasburg in Game 1, but come on, it’s not like they are playing scrubs here. The Cards are the defending World Series champs, and they look like a better team now than they did last season. You have to take every advfantage you can get to beat the Cards 3 times, and the Nats have not done that.

  25. js20011041 - Oct 10, 2012 at 7:14 PM

    This is why you don’t crown the team that wins the World Series the best team in baseball. I love October baseball. It’s exciting and dramatic, but let’s not pretend that it’s anything other than another revenue stream for the owners. Nothing is proven other than that we find out who played the best month of baseball.

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