The Washington Nationals finally engaged Stephen Strasburg with the precautionary tale they had been putting off for the past year or so, a chat that any father whose son is two years removed from Tommy John surgery apparently might have: The shutdown talk.
On Monday morning, the Nats told their young ace what otherwise was the worst-kept secret in Major League Baseball, that Strasburg's amazing season would end because of a rigid post-surgical schedule designed to keep his elbow healthy. Strasburg is scheduled to make his last start of the season Sept. 12. No more pennant race, and no playoffs for Strasburg, even though his team has the best record in the majors.
After speaking with manager Davey Johnson, pitching coach Steve McCatty and GM Mike Rizzo, does Strasburg agree? Does he even understand?
"Probably not," writes reporter Amanda Comak of the Washington Times:
Asked how the conversation went, Johnson quipped: "Well, he hates McCatty more than he did before the meeting. And me. And Rizzo."
That makes most of us. I kid! But, no matter how much data the Nats claim exists to support this course of action — and Johnson says it's "tons" — it's a bummer, unless you root for a team that will play the Nationals in the postseason. Or are columnist Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post.
The four-man rotation, primed for October that I've described is Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler.
So all of the pundits who say the Nats can't go to the Series or even win it, just because they won't have Strasburg, can kiss my press pass.
The three best teams in baseball this season have been Cincinnati (.607), Texas (.594) and Washington in games Strasburg didn't pitch (.585).
The Nats are better with Strasburg, his 15-6 record and 2.94 ERA. But they aren't enormously better.
It's fine to suggest the Nats are better off, long-term, by shutting down Strasburg now. I can go with Davey Johnson's tons of data and Mike Rizzo's plan because I don't know better. But they're also much better off in these playoffs having their best player. To suggest otherwise just doesn't make sense. Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler are good pitchers. Strasburg, to use a Boswell word, is an enormous pitcher. Give me him once or twice in a seven-game series and I'll take my chances.
The playoffs are a lottery. The Nationals are several balls (and many more strikes) worse off without their ace pitcher. C'mon, Boswell!
(You guys know what this means, though? The Nats will win the World Series this season and Strasburg will never get to pitch in one.)