Would you spend years saving up enough money to buy a brand new, 80-inch LCD-3D TV and then decide to watch the Super Bowl on your old 42-inch plasma instead? Neither would I, but that’s exactly what the Washington Nationals have decided to do with their ace Stephen Strasburg. Well, not exactly but investing in the best possible talent out there and then deciding to put him on the bench when the stakes are highest is just as asinine as the television scenario.
The Nationals had their best season since moving to Washington and made the playoffs for the 1st time since 1982 (when they were the Montreal Expos). Yet, after today’s loss to the defending World Champion Cardinals, the Nats will be faced with a must-win game Game 4 on Thursday. In elimination games, teams usually turn to their best pitcher. Strasburg is well-rested and hasn’t pitched since September 7, but since GM Mike Rizzo shut down Strasburg a month ago, Ross Detwiler will start Game 4 tomorrow instead.
I understand that the team did not want to overuse Strasburg in his first full season back after having Tommy John surgery. I also understand investing in the future, but the future is now in D.C. and there is absolutely no excuse for not having Strasburg available for the playoffs. If they knew that he was going to be on an innings limit this season (which they did), then they should have delayed the start of his season. Another viable option would have been to shut him down in August, keep him on a throwing program and allow him to use those last innings of the limit in the postseason.
I also find it very hard to believe that Strasburg pitching 2-3 postseason games would cause any damage to him in the future. He is at just as much risk for an injury now as he is any other time he takes the mound. His absence also leaves a big, inescapable “what-if” hanging over the entire series. The fans know it and the players know it – an unknown Nats player said after Game 2 that the Nationals would be up 2-0 in the series if Strasburg was on the roster. Why put yourself in this situation and make such distractions a possibility?
Shutting Strasburg down has severely diminished the Nats’ chances of accomplishing the goals they laid out at the beginning of the season. The joy from the 1st postseason game in Washington D.C. since 1933 has quickly become panic with the realization that the Nats could be eliminated on Thursday with their ace in their back pocket. Give credit to the Nationals for a great regular season and for putting together a roster of good, young, home-grown talent. They definitely deserve to be in the postseason – it’ just sad that they are not using all of that roster to ensure they advance beyond the NLDS. How long before you take the new, expensive toy out of the box and begin to reap the benefits of your purchase?