The Philadelphia Phillies will have to cede their throne in the NL East this year, most likely to the Washington Nationals. What's more, Phillies fans like myself see a hard time getting it back, if the Nationals are about to become a powerhouse for the next several years. Of course, since their No. 1 ace isn't a workhorse like Roy Halladay, it is making it a lot harder for Washington to enjoy its success right now.
As the Stephen Strasburg shutdown debate continues, the Nationals still insist that shutting Strasburg down soon and having him miss the playoffs will make him healthier for the long term. If they're right, he may indeed become a 200+ inning workhorse and head up an all powerful rotation for years to comes, as Halladay does for the Phillies. Yet with Halladay's arm having finally given out this season, is he a best case scenario for Strasburg or a cautionary tale?
Before 2012, Halladay could always be counted on for 200-250 innings of work without fail. He had been among the most well conditioned, committed pitchers in baseball, and any concerns that his arm would wear down were unfounded. However, after years of this exhaustive workload, he finally got himself sidelined this May and the Phillies have tanked ever since.
Even before that injury, Halladay was not the dominant ace he used to be this season, and still struggles to regain that form now. Now there is legitimate reason to fear for his long-term future, as he is 34 and may have already peaked. It took him years to show a crack in his formerly impenetrable armor, but hopefully it did not open the floodgates - a scenario the Nationals are desperate to avoid with Strasburg.
If Washington can get years of Halladay-like durability from Strasburg, it would presumably validate their controversial shutdown plan this season. In that case, the Phillies would certainly have a hard time reclaiming the NL East, as the door could be shut for a long time if the Nationals fulfill their potential.
However, since Strasburg has already faced Tommy John surgery, one slip-up may be very costly indeed. And if even Halladay can finally wear down after so many years, what can happen to Strasburg? This both validates the Nationals' extreme caution in protecting him, and validates the view that this is pointless since anything can happen to him no matter what.
In addition, for all of Halladay's success and durability, he still has no championships on his resume. He was stuck with the mediocre Toronto Blue Jays for years, yet after he joined the much more powerful Phillies, he still couldn't put them over the top.
This would back up the view that since windows of opportunity are fragile, Washington should go all in while it has the chance. However, it also proves that even if an ace is lights out, the rest of the team still has to perform behind him - and the 2010 and 2011 Phillies couldn't do it for Halladay when it counted. Therefore, there's no guarantee that the 2012 Nationals can do it for Strasburg even if he's in the playoffs, so it all rides on those other 24 players either way.
If Washington's strategy turns Strasburg into a Halladay-like ace for the long term, Philadelphia and the rest of the NL East will suffer greatly for it. Yet even Halladay isn't someone to look up to and emulate in every way. If even he can give out after years of durability and not even reach a World Series first, through little fault of his own, then even a healthy Strasburg doesn't guarantee anything for the Nationals either way.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident who has followed the Phillies since he was eight years old.
Other stories from this contributor
- Sports & Recreation
- Washington Nationals
- Roy Halladay
- Philadelphia Phillies
- Stephen Strasburg