Wrong State of Mind for Strasburg and Nationals
Published: Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 4, 2012 01:09
It is slowly but surely getting to be about that time, the time that everyone in baseball has been waiting for: the day the Washington Nationals shut down their ace, Stephen Strasburg.
If you haven’t heard about the situation, here is the watered-down version. Strasburg burst onto the baseball scene two years ago when he struck out 14 Pittsburgh Pirates without issuing a walk. He went on to deliver a few more gems before being placed on the disabled list. It was ultimately determined that he would require Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ligament. The surgery usually requires about a year to a year-and-a-half of recovery time, so Strasburg ended up missing the entire 2011 campaign.
Fast-forward to the 2012 season and Strasburg is pitching like the incredibly hyped phenom he was two years ago. He is currently 15-6 with an ERA under 3.00 after striking out nine Cardinals over six innings in his last night out. With the Nationals in first place in the NL East and owning the best record in baseball, it would make sense that the Washington management would be happy to ride their young star’s success well into the postseason and ultimately to a World Series appearance – the first time a Washington club would play for a title since 1933. But unfortunately for Stephen Strasburg and the rest of the National organization, management has dubbed Sept. 12 as his last start of the season, so that he doesn’t throw too many innings and reinjure his repaired ligaments.
In a vacuum, the decision definitely makes sense. Pitchers often come back from, and sometimes only find their niche after, arm injuries and surgeries. But rarely, if ever, do pitchers come back from two injuries, making the men in charge of Strasburg’s playing time nervous that his career could be a short one.
What the Nationals need to realize, however, is that this is no time to be thinking with their heads; rather, they need to start thinking a little dramatically.
Since the creation of the franchise as the Montreal Expos in 1969, the team has made the World Series all of one time: in 1981, when they lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series.
Now, let’s just compare the 1981 Expos with the 2012 Nationals. Both teams have/had a lot of promise, but both teams came up a little short (assuming that without Strasburg, the Nationals will falter come October). The attitude after both seasons was/will be, “We did not meet our potential this year, but there is nothing saying that we will not be back next year.” Back in 1982, this notion was very plausible. With a team stacked with young powers in Gary Carter, Andre Dawson and Tim Raines, everyone was expecting the Expos to be the “team of the “80s.” The only problem was that Montreal struggled to do any better than first place, and hasn’t made the postseason since that 1981 run.
Fast-forward to the 2012-2013 offseason. The Nationals lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS, thanks to a pitching implosion, and are now looking forward to next year. There is nothing saying that they won’t be a first-place team once again. The problem is the lack of a guarantee, which is where the Nationals need to start thinking dramatically. Maybe even a little too dramatically.
Let’s say that Strasburg doesn’t get shut down, and goes on to win three to five crucial games in late October to give the Washington Nationals franchise its first-ever championship. With all due respect, and with hopes that Strasburg has a long, fruitful career, let’s say that he blows out his arm in Game 6 of the World Series, requiring more surgery. Let’s say he never gets more than eight wins in a season after this.
Will it be worth it? Would the Nationals and National fans of the future mind that they lost years of potential success when they have a beautiful “2012 World Series Champions” banner in their outfield? Or would they rather give up on this season, and take a chance that maybe (although very likely) their team will be good for years to come?
This thinking may be a little dramatic, but it is how a championship team should be thinking.