It was a year and five days ago I stood in the visitors clubhouse of Toronto’s Rogers Centre and asked Stephen Strasburg The Question. Yes, with capital letters.
He had gone six innings in the Washington Nationals’ 6-2 win over the Blue Jays, struck out eight and improved to 8-1 with a 2.45 earned-run average. The win capped a 6-0 road trip and pushed the Nats’ record to 38-23.
But even though we were less than halfway through the season, a monstrous dilemma was brewing and I asked Strasburg point-blank how much he had thought about having to sit out October if the Nats were still playing.
“I try not to think about it but with the direction that we’re going and everything, it makes it even harder to not think about it,” Strasburg said. “I can’t control that. Hopefully things can change and we get to where we want to be and somehow I’m part of it still.”
As it turned out, the Nationals stayed with their plan. Strasburg was shut down. They went to the playoffs without him but the team that finished with the best record in baseball at 98-64 was ousted by the Cardinals in Game Five of the division series.
It was supposed to be short-term pain for long-term gain. The Nationals would be back many, many more times. I was one of many who said the plan was stupid then, long before the result was known. You look back on it now and it appears even more ridiculous.
When you have a chance to win the World Series, you take it. You never assume you’ll automatically get another one. It’s the height of arrogance.
There’s that famous scene in “All the President’s Men” where one of the foreign editors was questioning Editor Ben Bradlee about the Post’s work on Watergate and broaches the question, “When did the Washington Post suddenly get the monopoly on wisdom?”
It was a fair point. As history turned out, obviously, the Post was right to pursue its story. Maybe the Nationals will turn out to have the last laugh, too, but they’ve won exactly nothing in their history. They have looked like a one-year wonder so far in 2013.
They entered Monday’s game in Philadelphia completely stuck on neutral, at 34-34, and then lost in the bottom of the ninth to fall a game under .500. That’s far from the big expectations of the Florida spring.
Strasburg has been good again but is suffering from a lack of run support and is just 3-6 with a 2.50 ERA. He was 15-6, 3.16 last year in 28 starts and was shut down after 159∑ innings.
At least give GM Mike Rizzo credit. He stuck to his guns in June, through the summer and even after the devastating Game Five collapse against the Cardinals. Washington lost, 9-7, when its bullpen gave up four runs in the ninth after being a strike away from sealing the deal.
Plenty of folks will correctly tell you Strasburg had nothing to do with that. I say the series isn’t in Game Five if Strasburg is a part of it. Others will point to the fact Strasburg was 4-2 with a pedestrian 4.19 ERA in his last eight starts and was wearing down anyway. I say he was wearing down mentally from all the questions. They could have started his season later, skipped starts or ended some earlier.
I’m still baffled by it all.
Strasburg was good Sunday in Cleveland, allowing one run and one hit in five innings after a brief disabled list stint due to a back problem. It was a 2-0 loss, another no-show by an offense that has fewer runs than any team except the pathetic Marlins.
Hitters struggle. Guys like Bryce Harper can’t stay off the disabled list. There’s no sneaking up on the opponent when the Nationals come to town or opponents go to DC. They had their chance in 2012 and didn’t take it. Who knows when their next one will come?