Missives From Another Universe: The Strasburg Shutdown

As this is a relatively slow period in the news cycle for major league teams, and all the Nats are doing is either waiting on or trying to force an answer from LaRoche depending on who you read, I have decided to get a bit creative. I am certain we all remember what the big story of 2012 was for the Washington Nationals, and if you don’t, welcome to the fan base. Nothing was more talked about with the Nationals and perhaps all of baseball then the Strasburg shutdown. There were basically three camps; no innings limits ever this is the Nats one shot, the Nats are doing the right thing, and those that believed in the innings limit but wanted the Nats to find another way. 

One idea that was heavily bandied about was that the Nats should have started Strasburg a month later. I want to imagine that that is what the Nats did decide to do and that the following is a column that appeared in reaction to that decision.

There is a saying that Mike Rizzo and the Washington Nationals should take to heart as they decide how to handle Stephen Strasburg, “Pride cometh before the fall.” But that assumes the Washington Nationals have something to be proud of. This is in fact an organization that has lost almost 400 games in the last four seasons. That is terrible and they have no business even trying to pretend that they are good enough to not start the season with their best team on the field.

Think about who the Nationals are. They are a franchise that no one wanted. Outcast to being owned by the rest of baseball. Homeless and in need of a home, and like the federals in Washington DC long to do with most hopeless causes they took them in. The last time the Nationals franchise was even close to winning baseball went on strike. That is how against it they were. 

So here the Nationals are. With a good team and a weak schedule to open the season. The Nationals don’t play a team thought to be a playoff contender until they host the newly revamped Miami Marlins in late April. But the Nationals don’t want to try an contend. Sure they think they are contenders and that is why they think they are good enough to win without Stephen Strasburg, but let me ask you this. How many teams have won the World Series without an Ace? I am sure the biggest stat nerd in his momma’s basement could throw out a couple, but they are few and far between, and the Nationals won’t win without their Ace either. 

Look at who the Nationals will be throwing out against the Cubs on Opening Day, Gio Gonzalez. A pitcher that can’t find the strikezone, made a name for himself in an extreme pitchers park, and has never won more than 16 games. And this is the guy the Nationals expect to lead them in the early part of the season. Sure games in August and September matter more when the pressure is on and the adrenaline is burning in the heat of a pennant race, but the games in April and May count just as much in the standings. And honestly even if the Nats are as good as they think, and they aren’t, is throwing a kid like Strasburg into the middle of the hell fire that is a pennant race in June fair?  

One former employee of the Washington Nationals once said, “They have people in that organization who think they invented the game of baseball.” And he is right. Whenever Mike Rizzo is asked about Strasburg and the innings limit he tries to pawn the decision off on medical advise. How many doctors have ever thrown a complete game shutout? These are the people that we are going to rely on to make a decision about a pitcher’s arm. What about the pitching coach or Stephen Strasburg himself. I am certain he wants to make his first career Opening Day start. 

The decision and mistake the Nationals are making by not starting Strasburg on Opening Day and waiting until June is why the franchise has never and will never win in Washington. It is the ultimate hubris for a GM to think his team is so great that they can handicap themselves in the early part of the season and allow the rest of baseball a head start. Not only that, but when they do call upon Strasburg to pitch it will be to try and force a .500 or under .500 team back into the playoff race. That kind of pressure melts the sternest veterans, and the Nats are going to put it on a 22 year old kid. 

The Nats are making a mistake and even if the innings limit is a good idea, which I am not convinced it is, there has to be a better way. The Nationals could instead of not pitching Strasburg at the start of the season they could start him for as long as possible and try and build as big a lead in the division before shutting him down, but then that leaves no answer for October. Any way you slice it the Nationals organization is and always will be a losing one, and the Strasburg delay is just another link in the ever expanding chain they continue to hang themselves with.