Category Archives: Playoffs

NLDS Post-Mortem: Heros and Goats

I take back what I said before about the Nats lineup lacking clutch hitters who can produce in the playoffs.  They do have one–his name is Bryce Harper, but he sure can’t do it alone.  That was the story of the 2014 NLDS, about five Nats players looked like they came to play.  Most of the rest looked like they had already booked their late October tee times.

Without further ado, here is the Nats’ EXPOSed list of heroes and goats of the 2014 NLDS.

Heroes:

1.  Bryce Harper – young Mr. Harper was literally a one man offense, hitting 3 of the Nats’ 4 home runs in the series and, more incredibly, collecting 4 of the measly 7 RBIs and 4 of the 7 extra base hits the team managed to in the equivalent of five games played.  He also flashed the leather on defense, and overall looked every bit as much the superstar that he hasn’t resembled for a large portion of the last two seasons.  If, on Opening Day 2015, Harper is not in the lineup batting third or cleanup, Matt Williams should be fired on the spot.

2.  Jordan Zimmermann – what else could a pitcher do to win a game for his team?  Eight and 2/3rd innings, 4 baserunnners, none of whom made it past second base while he was on the mound.  It makes me sick just thinking about Zimmermann not getting the Game 2 win.

3.  Doug Fister – Do you think maybe Fister is quite happy right now that he turned down the Nats’ contract extension offer right after he was traded from Detroit?  If he can even come close to repeating his 2014 performance next year, he’s going to be a VERY rich man come the free agency period next offseason.

4.  Anthony Rendon – The Nats’ other young star hitter did what he was supposed to do near the top of the order–set the table by collecting 7 hits and a walk in the series.  Too bad there was nobody behind him to drive him in.  Rendon also almost had the hit that would have won the marathon Game 2 in the 15th inning.  A “what if” in an excruciatingly frustrating series that was full of them.

Goats:

1.  Jayson Werth/Adam LaRoche/Denard Span – The top of the order, save Rendon, absolutely KILLED the Nats in this series, collecting a total of 4 hits, all singles, in the equivalent of 5 games.  These over-30 guys were supposed to be the veteran team leaders–yet they failed time after time after time.  If anyone out there was pining for LaRoche to return next year, I hope this horrid series has disabused you of such notions.

2. Drew Storen – I was in the camp who blamed Davey Johnson for misusing Storen in the 2012 NLDS by pitching his closer in the 8-0 Game 3 blowout to keep him “fresh,” despite knowing there was every chance Storen might then need to pitch three games in a row.  But this time?  There is no excuse for Storen blowing Zimmermann’s gem.  All he needed was one lousy out and he couldn’t get it (at all–only a close play at the plate allowed the game to move into extra innings).  My hope is that young Mr. Storen gets a change of scenery via trade–because the Nats going into a third playoff run next year (assuming they get there) with him as the closer would be quite insane at this point.

3.  Gio Gonzalez – Despite his marvelous 2012 regular season, Gio’s underwhelming performance was a big factor in the Nats losing the Game 5 of the NLDS after he had narrowly escaped not completely blowing it in Game 1.  It was thought going into this playoff run that not being expected to be the ace this time would calm him down a bit.  Instead, it was his horrible error that gave the Giants the margin of victory in Game 4 and thus the series.  Would the Nats have been better off had Tanner Roark started the game?  We’ll never know.

4. Aaron Barrett – Though it wasn’t quite as dramatic as Storen’s Game 2 failure, Barrett was the pitcher who literally threw the series away.  His final stats: 4 batters faced, 2 BBs, 1 Hit, 1 Wild Pitch, one October ruined for the Washington Nationals.

I was also tempted to put manager Matt Williams on the “Goat” list for putting Barrett in the deciding game and not using Clippard or Stammen, or heck, just about anybody else.  After all, there WAS no tomorrow to save anyone for.  On the other hand, Game 4 probably could have gone another 9 innings without the Nats scoring another run, so really any move he made at that point was likely to be futile.

I’ll be back over the next few days with some season-in-review posts.

Want to Blame Someone? Blame the Offense, Not Williams

It’s the 9th inning, one run lead–the starting pitcher has been dominating the opposition lineup all day–the manager would like to see him get that complete game.  The starter gets the first out, but then the next hitter manages to get to first base.  The manager decides to leave his starter in the game despite the fact that the next batter up is the opposition’s best hitter.  Next thing you know–BANG, ZOOM GO THE FIREWORKS–Ryan Zimmerman has just hit a 2-run walk off homer against Chein-Ming Wang and the Yankees on Father’s Day 2006.

Referring back to my post about Game 1, my worst fears about the Nats going into this series has proven to be correct–their offense has retreated back into its shell and can’t score when they don’t hit home runs.  And in October, when the air is heavy especially at Nats’ Stadium, home runs are hard to come by.  As insinuated by that first paragraph, I don’t blame Matt Williams for pulling Jordan Zimmermann in the 9th inning with a runner on first–that’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.

It seems that the Nats’ offense, which was said by the analysts to have “no holes” going into this series, actually has one gigantic hole–no clutch hitters.  I realize there is a debate about whether there really is any such thing as a truly “clutch” hitter, that such quantifiable stats as hitting with runners in scoring position tend to rise and fall quite precipitously for any player from year to year.  Nevertheless, some players often seem to come though in the big moments–especially in the playoffs–while many others don’t.

The Nats do have one of those guys, but unfortunately Ryan Zimmerman is relegated to bench duty these days.  Given a chance to pinch hit last night, Ryan collected one of the merely 9 hits the Nats managed during 18 excruciating innings.  Now we see why this team was so desperate to get Ryan back into the lineup, even in his hobbled state.  There’s a big difference between racking up wins for a month at the end of the season against the putrid NL East and coming up big when it counts against the other contenders in the postseason.  And unfortunately, the one guy who has been known as “Mr. Walkoff” ever since his memorable Father’s Day blast against future teammate Chien-Ming Wang (not not mention all the other walk off hits he’s had during his career) can’t play enough right now to be able to  make a difference.

Offense Reverts to Old Bad Habits…Nats Lose Game 1

Being your typical superstitious baseball fan I didn’t want to vocalize it by writing it here, but my greatest fear going into the 2014 playoffs was that the Nats’ offense would revert to its previous frustrating ways, namely failing to get hits in the clutch and mostly scoring via (usually solo) home runs.  It was formula that we saw all too often from this team during the first two-thirds of last season and much of the first half of this one.

Fittingly it was Ian Desmond, the Nats hitter who most epitomizes an all-or-nothing approach at the plate, who was this big goat in their 3-2 game one loss.  Up twice in the the later innings with a total of five runners on base, Desmond struck out meekly each time, doing so in the second at bat by waving at two pitches so far outside they practically crossed into the left-handed batter’s box.

Given his first chance on the big stage, Stephen Strasburg also reverted to his subpar form of earlier this season, but he was able to limit the damage and overall the pitching staff did its job by holding the Giants to just three runs (only two earned).  All it would have taken to win this game was one timely hit.  But the Nats, especially Desmond, just didn’t have it in them.

This is also why I hate the short five-game NLDS format.  We’re only one game in and already the Nats’ backs are up against the wall.  Hopefully, things will go better offensively tomorrow with me in the stadium for my one ticketed game of this series.  They have to, or the Nats will be unlikely to return from the West Coast with any more games remaining to be played this season.

So Which Nats Team is Better Heading Into the Postseason: 2012 or 2014 (Part 2)?

Yesterday, we compared and contrasted the pitching staffs of the 2012 vs the 2014 Nats playoff teams heading INTO the postseason (ignoring actual performance from 2012 as unfair bias).  Today, let’s see how the bats shake out:

Catcher: Kurt Suzuki 2012 vs Wilson Ramos 2014

The early August 2012 trade that brought Kurt Suzuki to the Nats marked the beginning of a career revival for him.  “Zook” hit well those final two months of the 2012 campaign, bashing 5 home runs, driving in 25 and putting up a .725 OPS in 43 games.  Meanwhile, injuries robbed Wilson Ramos of just under half a season this year.  Even so, he still hit 11 home runs and drove in 47, though his OPS was lower that Suzuki’s at .705.  Nevertheless, it would be hard to argue that the Suzuki of 2012 was better than Ramos today either offensively or defensively.

Verdict: Slight Advantage, Wilson Ramos 2014

First Base: Adam LaRoche 2012 vs Adam LaRoche 2014

Adam LaRoche had a fine 2014, leading the Nats in both home runs (26) and RBIs (91).  Nevertheless, 2012 was his career year as he hit his career high in home runs (33) tied his career high in RBIs (100), led all Nats in OPS (.853) and won the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards for his position.

Verdict: Slight Advantage Adam LaRoche 2012

Second Base: Danny Espinosa 2012 vs Asdrubal Cabrera 2014

If it were just a matter of season stats, Danny Espinosa wins this contest going away.  Unfortunately, though we fans were kept in the dark about it at the time, Danny hurt his shoulder in September that year.  After the injury, his slash line crashed to .171/.241/.271 with only a single home run and 4 RBIs in 22 games, in other words the kind of putrid offensive statistics he’s been putting up ever since.  Cabrera has hardly been an All Star at the plate since he was acquired from the Indians, but he looks like Frank Howard compared to the hobbled Danny E of two years ago.  Only Espinosa’s great glove keeps this one close.

Verdict: Slight Advantage, Asdrubal Cabrera 2014

Shortstop: Ian Desmond 2012 vs Ian Desmond 2014

You would think that with 2014 being his third consecutive 20-20 season that a more experienced Ian Desmond would have the advantage.  But Ian’s 2012 breakthrough season was a much better year for the Nats’ shortstop both offensively (.845 OPS vs .743) and defensively (15 errors vs 24).  Ian is obviously still a vital component for this team in both areas, but 2012 was simply a better year for him.

Verdict: Slight Advantage Ian Desmond 2012

Third Base: Ryan Zimmerman 2012 vs Anthony Rendon 2014

This is actually the strongest position for both teams as Zimmerman’s .824 OPS, 25 HRs and 95 RBIs compare quite favorably to Rendon’s .822 OPS, 21 HRs, 81 RBIs and 111 runs scored.  Rendon, however, gets the nod for his team-leading 6.4 overall bWAR vs only 3.9 for Zim two years ago.

Verdict: Slight Advantage, Anthony Rendon 2014

Left Field: Mike Morse 2012 vs Bryce Harper 2014

Both players missed significant time due to injury, each playing around 100 games.  Morse was better offensively (.791 OPS vs .752, 18 HRs vs 13, 62 RBIs vs only 32) while Bryce has a slight advantage defensively (-0.7 d/bWAR vs -1.0).  Bryce also stole only 2 bases all season (the lumbering Morse had zero), which is a real disappointment for a player with his speed.  Surprising as it may seem, Morse was the better player two years ago.

Verdict: Slight Advantage, Mike Morse 2012

Centerfield: Bryce Harper 2012 vs Denard Span 2014

These two are such different players that I’m going to have to resort to their Wins Above Replacement figures to come to a conclusion.  Bryce put up an amazing bWAR of 5.1 in 139 games his rookie year (where oh where has THAT guy been lately?), while Span has a very respectable 3.5 bWAR in 144 games this year.

Verdict: Slight Advantage, Bryce Harper 2012

Right Field: Jayson Werth 2012 vs Jayson Werth 2014

Werth missed half of the 2012 season with a wrist injury that sapped his power when he did return.  Realizing he could help the team better by batting leadoff, Werth selflessly sacrificed RBI opportunities so that his high OBP could set the table for the lineup.  This is another case in which we’ll have to let the WAR decide.  Doubling Werth’s 2012 bWAR of 0.6 in 81 games still gives him only 1.2, while he managed to put up a 3.6 overall score this year.  Statistical bias against leadoff hitters?  Perhaps, but there you go.

Verdict: Slight Advantage, Jayson Werth 2014

Bench Players: Chad Tracy, Tyler Moore, Steve Lombardozzi, Roger Bernadina & Jesus Flores 2012 vs Ryan Zimmerman, Danny Espinosa, Kevin Frandsen, Nate Schierholtz & Jose Lobaton 2014.

The 2012 “Goon Squad” was the best group of offensive bench players the Nats have ever assembled.  The only reason the 2014 group is in the conversation is because of the presence of Ryan Zimmerman as the top pinch hitter who will also likely get a start here and there, moving one of the other starters to the bench.  Of the rest, the 2014 group has a slight edge defensively, but Tracy, Moore and Bernadina all had outstanding seasons at the plate.  Only Lobaton from the this year’s team is a clear upgrade over his counterpart (Flores).

Verdict Slight Advantage, 2012 Nats

Manager: Davey Johnson 2012 vs Matt Williams 2014

Forgetting for a moment the mistakes in bullpen management Davey Johnson would make in the 2012 NLDS, the Nats went into the playoffs that year with a Hall of Fame manager who just guided a team that had never been over .500 in 7 seasons in DC to MLB’s best record.  Williams, on the other hand, took a very talented squad and, after a few growing pains early on, got it to do exactly what was expected of it after an unexpected down year.

Verdict: Slight Advantage, Davey Johnson 2012

Score for Position Players and Manager:

2012 Nats: 6 Slight Advantage = 6 points

2014 Nats: 4 Slight Advantage = 4 points

Total = +2 points 2012 Nats

Pitching Total (from yesterday’s post) = +5 points 2014 Nats

Overall = +3 points 2014 Nats

So there you have it, the 2014 Nats come in slightly better overall than the 2012 squad going into the playoffs.  Most importantly, thanks in large part to the presence of Doug Fister and the emergence of Tanner Roark, this year’s team is significantly better in the most important area and the one that let them down the last time: pitching.

Let the PLAYOFF games begin.

So Which Nats Team is Better Heading Into the Postseason: 2012 or 2014?

The regular season is over, but the Nats still have a few days and a wild card play-in game determining their opponent before they finally get to start on their quest to redeem 2012’s NLDS collapse.  While we wait, I thought it might be fun to compare and contrast the likely 2014 playoff roster with that of the 2012 squad to try and determine which one is truly better.

While it is true that the 2012 squad won more regular season games, this year’s bunch seized the NL East crown much more authoritatively and is riding into the postseason on a much higher note thanks to Jordan Zimmermann’s heroics.  One might also be inclined to argue that this year’s bunch has the advantage of being more experienced–to which I would argue that sometimes that’s an advantage and sometimes it isn’t.

As this is a fairly long exercise, I’m going to split it into two parts, pitchers today and position players tomorrow.  I’ll compare each aspect of the team (treating each starting pitcher slot as one position) and assign one of three values: even, slight advantage, significant advantage.  Even will = 0 points, while slight advantage will = 1 point and significant advantage will = 2 points.  Then we’ll add ’em all up at the end and see what we’ve got.  One caveat, I will NOT be including the actual 2012 playoff performances for each player on that roster in my analysis (as that would be cheating), just what the expectations were for them going in.

So here goes:

No. 1 Starter: Gio Gonzalez 2012 vs Stephen Strasburg 2014

Much like the Doug Fister trade this year, the trade for Gio Gonzalez was the most important move that contributed to the Nats’ 2012 playoff run.  Gio became the Nats’ first (and so far only) 20 game winner that year and their first pitcher to record more than 200 Ks in one season (207) while finishing 2nd in the NL Cy Young Award balloting.

Meanwhile, after having some ups and downs, in 2014 Strasburg assumed his rightful place late in the season as the ace of the Nats’ staff and its workhorse, throwing 215 innings and recording an NL leading 243 Ks.  His modest 14-11 won-loss record was reflective of his inconsistency early on, but in his last 6 starts he sparkled, putting up a Walter Johnson-esque ERA of 1.13 and looking like the true ace the Nats have been waiting for ever since he blew out his elbow four years ago.  Still, based on the totality of their respective seasons, Gio 2012 gets the nod here.

Verdict: Slight Advantage, Gio Gonzalez 2012

No. 2 Starter: Jordan Zimmermann 2012 vs Jordan Zimmermann 2014

In the battle of Z-nn vs Z-nn, let’s go to the numbers.  In 2012, JZ was 12-8 with a 2.94 ERA, and had 143 Ks against 43 BBs.  In 2014, he was 14-5 with a 2.66 ERA, and 182 Ks vs only 29 BBs.  What those numbers show is a remarkably consistent pitcher who has continued to improve as he’s gained experience.  Oh, and then there was that no-no performance in his last game of the season.

Verdict: Slight Advantage, Jordan Zimmermann 2014

No. 3 Starter: Edwin Jackson 2012 vs. Doug Fister 2014

Oh please, how much convincing do you need on this one?  I’ll make it really simple.  Jackson: 10-11, 4.03.  Fister: 16-6, 2.41.  Enough said.

Verdict: Significant Advantage, Doug Fister 2014

No. 4 Starter: Ross Detwiler 2012 vs Gio Gonzalez 2014

This one is not as cut-and-dried as it seems as Detwiler actually had a better won-loss record (10-8 vs 10-10) and ERA (3.40 vs 3.57).  The peripheral numbers, however, favor Gonzalez, especially strikeout rate (9.2 K/9 rate vs 5.8).  The 2012 season turned out to be the one (and likely only) good season Ross Detwiler had in a Nats’ uniform, but even then he still wasn’t good enough to hold off being moved to the bullpen for awhile in favor of Chien-Ming Wang.

Verdict: Slight Advantage, Gio Gonzalez 2014

Closer: Drew Storen 2012 vs Drew Storen 2014

Put the NLDS Game 5 disaster out of your mind for a moment and recognize that Drew Storen had a good second half coming off the disabled list in 2012.  Though he only won the closer’s job back in September and thus had only 4 saves, he pitched 30.1 innings with an excellent 2.37 ERA and an outstanding 0.989 WHIP.

In 2014, having again only recently regained the closer’s role, Storen’s numbers are even better (1.14 ERA, 0.958 WHIP).  He’s also matured  as a pitcher since 2012, using secondary offerings more instead of just trying to blow every hitter away.

Verdict: Slight Advantage, Drew Storen 2014

Setup Man: Tyler Clippard 2012 vs Tyler Clippard 2014

Clippard spent much of 2012 as the closer, and the fact that he began to fade down the stretch (and actually had the worst full season of his career) is the reason Storen regained that role.  Overall, his 2012 numbers look far worse than this year (3.72 ERA vs 2.21, 1.156 WHIP vs 0.995 and 10.2 K/9 vs 10.5).  Bottom line is, Clippard has been a better pitcher this year.

Verdict: Slight Advantage, Tyler Clippard 2014

Middle Relief: Mike Gonzalez, Ryan Mattheus, Sean Burnett & Cristian Garcia 2012 vs Rafael Soriano, Jerry Blevins, Matt Thorton & Aaron Barrett 2014

The late addition of Thorton really shores up what would otherwise be a questionable group for the 2014 Nats as Soriano blew up spectacularly and lost the closer’s job, Blevins sports a staff-high ERA of 4.95 and Barrett was sent to the minors in August to clear his head.  On the other hand, the 2012 group was relying on a midseason call-up retread (Gonzalez) and an untested September call-up (Garcia).  Mattheus and Burnett had been solid all year, however, which gives the edge to the 2012 squad.

Verdict: Slight Advantage, 2012 group

Long Relief: Craig Stammen & Tom Gorzelanny 2012 vs Craig Stammen & Tanner Roark 2014

These are the guys you hope you don’t have to use, but who will be vital if one of your starters doesn’t have it that night or the game goes to extra innings.  That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tanner Roark finds himself pitching some high leverage short outings.  His presence trumps the fact that Stammen had a much better season in 2012 than he had this year, and had the single worst outing of his career to close out his season.

Verdict: Slight Advantage, Craig Stammen & Tanner Roark 2014

So let’s add it all up:

2012: 2 Slight Advantage + 0 Significant Advantage = 2 points.

2014: 5 Slight Advantage = 1 Significant Advantage = 7 points.

Overall: 2014 Nats over 2012 Nats by 5 points.

Tomorrow we will evaluate the position players and the managers.

Gio is Pitching Better Than Ever Right Now

Gio+Gonzalez+Cincinnati+Reds+v+Washington+R3n_v3VO1Byl

There’s been a lot of debate about whether Gio Gonzalez or Tanner Roark deserve to be the Nats’ 4th starter during the playoffs this year.  After all, Roark has much better season stats (2.85 ERA and 15 Wins vs. 3.57 ERA and 10 Wins for Gio), and Gio seemed to let the pressure get to him and didn’t pitch all that well in the 2012 NLDS, his only other postseason appearance.  Not to take anything away from Roark’s fantastic season, but I discovered something surprising yesterday when looking over Gio’s 2014 statistics: right now the big lefty is pitching better than he ever has.

For while it is true that Gio’s ERA this year is the worst he’s ever put up in a season in which he’s made over 20 starts, his 1.197 WHIP is actually his second BEST, behind only his terrific 2012 campaign.  In addition his K/9 rate of 9.2 is also his second best mark behind 2012, and get this–his BB/9 rate of 3.2 is actually his best ever, even trumping 2012.

Dig a little deeper and you’ll discover something else that’s interesting.  Gio was out of the rotation due to injury from May 17th to June 18th, and the reports were that the ailment in question had been bothering him for several weeks before he went on the disabled list.  Well, it just so happens that if you throw out the two starts he made right before going on the DL as well as his first post-DL stint start, his season ERA drops all the way down to 2.89 in his 24 other starts, which would be the BEST mark of his career.

Those who are more into traditional stats might hear all of this and be inclined to point to Gio’s seemingly mediocre 10-10 record as proof that his tendency to have high pitch counts and not pitch deep into games doesn’t give his team the best chance to win.  To which I have to reply: au contraire.  The Nats’ record in Gio’s starts this year was 16-11, and was 15-9 if you throw out those same three starts sandwiched around his DL stint.  Meanwhile, the team’s record in Roark’s starts is 18-13…in other words about the same in terms of winning percentage despite his lower ERA and better personal win-loss record.

Still haven’t convinced you?  How about the fact that in Gio’s last 7 starts of the season his ERA was 2.36, and he struck out 41 batters while walking only 9?  Then there’s the added fact that during that same time opposing hitters batted only .191 against him.

Add of this up and it makes much more sense why Gio Gonzalez will likely be named to the Nats’ playoff rotation over Tanner Roark, and why with a pitcher of Roark’s ability available in the bullpen this team should be VERY tough to beat in the playoffs.

Future Shutdown Candidates: Harvey and Fernandez

MLB: Spring Training-Miami Marlins at St. Louis Cardinals

Okay, Strasburg shutdown haters, you’re about to have to step up your game if you don’t want to appear to be a bunch of hypocrites.  Because in the next two years, two teams and two ace pitchers recovering from Tommy John surgery may well find themselves exactly where the Nats and Strasburg were in 2012–and amazingly they hail from the Nats’ own division.

There’s no doubt that had Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez been healthy for all of this season, that Nats would not coasted to the NL East after the Braves collapsed.  Not to say that either the Mets or Marlins would have had the horses to beat them out for the division title–neither team did–just that they would have no doubt won quite a few more games and kept things a bit more interesting.  In fact, if Giancarlo Stanton could also have avoided that beanball the Marlins might have had a chance to slip into the playoffs as a wild card team.

The fact is that the Mets and Marlins are both teams that feature a handful of decent veterans and a number of up-and-coming players, particularly good young pitchers–in other words they look an awful lot like the Nats did circa 2011.  By as early as next season, the Mets with Harvey leading their rotation along with young guns Zach Wheeler and Jacob deGroom could easily become contenders for at least a wild card spot.

For his part, Harvey is already predicting a Mets 2015 Opening Day victory, presumably with him getting the win.  But what happens if the Mets are in the hunt come September and decide the prudent thing is to do what the Nats did two years ago?  Will the New York sports media tear them apart?  Or how about if the Mets do let Harvey keep pitching (he threw a career high 178.1 innings in 2012 before blowing out his elbow), and the wear and tear of going well over 200 innings on a recently repaired elbow becomes painfully obvious in the NLDS (kind of like Robert Griffin’s knee in that 2012 Redskins’ playoff game)?  Does that same media then start screaming for Harvey to be immediately shut down?

The same scenario could play out for the Marlins in 2016 (though with Fernandez being injured earlier in the season than Harvey was last year, he might be able to log some a half-season or so worth of innings next year).  Their window to win before Giancarlo Stanton becomes free agent eligible (assuming they don’t trade him or convince him to sign an extension) will be down to exactly that one year.  Knowing that, do they ride the super talented Fernandez like a horse until his arm is ready to fall off hoping to become one-year championship wonders for the third time in team history?  Would you trust sleaze bag Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria to NOT do that, especially knowing there is no way he’ll want to pay Fernandez what he is worth when the time comes?

The point is that with the number of players undergoing Tommy John surgery skyrocketing these days this issue is going to come up over and over again with young stud pitchers needing multiple years to get back to full strength while their teams desperately need their services NOW in order to take a shot at winning that elusive championship.  Teams are going to have to decide whether to risk those valuable young assets or be patient and hope they can win in the playoffs anyway.  By ripping on the Nats for the Strasburg shutdown, the haters have boxed themselves in to a position that may be rapidly becoming untenable.

What Will It Take To Get The “Strasburg Shutdown” Haters to Finally Shut Up?

stephen-strasburg-nats

For the record, I was on board with GM Mike Rizzo’s decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg in 2012 (though as a season ticket holder who experienced the soaring high of  Werth’s Game 4 home run and the crushing disappointment the very next day, I’ll admit I wasn’t especially happy about it).  Not only was Strasburg coming back from Tommy John surgery, but his 160 innings pitched was ALREADY nearly 40 more than he had thrown in any season as a professional.  Stras was also showing signs of wearing down as September rolled around that year–in his last three starts he posted an ERA of 6.43.

Would the Nats have beaten the Cardinals has Stras been in the rotation?  Well, say he wins Game 1, and then Game 2 follows the same script–Gio walks the whole stadium but the Nats somehow pull out a win.  Then Z-nn and Jackson would have had their own bad outings in Games 3 & 4 instead of Games 2 & 3 (Detwiler would have been in the pen), so the series likely would have gone to Game 5 anyway.  Is a way-overextended Stras then better able than Gio was to hold the Cardinals down after getting the early 6-0 lead?  Does Z-nn throw smoke in the 7th inning as he did in 7th inning of Game 4 of the real series?  Does that then mean Clippard and Storen (or maybe even somebody else) get to protect a 7-1 lead instead of a 7-4 lead, resulting in an easy win instead of a crushing defeat?  We’ll never know.

What we do know is that the Nats chose not to risk re-injuring Strasburg, and subsequently he was available to be a horse this year, starting 33 games so far and throwing 209 innings already.  His 235 Ks lead the NL and his recent dominance (1.34 ERA, 33 Ks, 2 BBs in his last 5 starts), suggest an evolving ace who could match Clayton Kershaw or Adam Wainwright pitch for pitch in the NLCS, assuming the Nats reach the second round of the playoffs.

The haters claimed that championship chances come along so rarely that a team needs to go “all in” every time one comes along.  As it has turned out, the championship “window” for this current group of Nats’ players is likely to be framed at 2012-2015 before free agency defections begin to force some retooling (not to say they won’t still have enough talent to at least contend in Strasburg’s “contract season” of 2016, assuming he’s not traded).  They are now in year 3 of that window and so far have two divisional titles to show for it (which, BTW, is one more outright division title than the franchise had won its first 42 years of existence).  The shutdown haters piled on last year when the team missed the playoffs, but as October 2014 approaches the Nats are right where GM Mike Rizzo likely figured they would be when he made the decision to protect his most important asset two years ago–not only division title winners, but a favorite to get to the World Series.

Though it still isn’t really fair, I believe nothing short of a World Series appearance with Strasburg having a dominant postseason run will finally quiet those critics down.   And if the Nats win it all, Rizzo would then be within his rights to go around to every sportswriter and teevee shouting head who dog piled on him for the shutdown and yell, “in your FACE!”

Tomorrow I’m going to discuss two other teams who soon could possibly face the very same dilemma the Nats did in 2012.  If so, will the “debate” be so heated then?