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Sitting Strasburg Only Fosters Washington’s Losing Culture

Flickr | L. Richard Martin, Jr.

Washington's run at the pennant will come without their star pitcher, which is a shame.

The Washington Nationals have looked a lot more like the Washington Generals for the last 79 years.  Going back to 1933 as the Washington Senators, there have been no pennants, no World Series Titles.  They haven’t had a winning season since moving from Montreal in 2005 and Washington hasn’t seen a winning baseball season since 1969.

To go a step further, there hasn’t been a winning team in Washington period since 2007, a year when Gilbert Arenas and the Wizards failed to advance past the first round of the NBA Playoffs and the Redskins, led by backup quarterback Todd Collins, fell in the first round to the Seahawks.  The Washington Mystics of the WNBA sit in dead last this season.  Even the Washington Commandos of the AFL folded after a few years in 1991.  No success, no winning culture by any team in Washington. 

My point in explaining the depressing nature of Washington D.C. sports relates to flamethrower Stephen Strasburg.  He’s a great young pitcher who burst on the scene at San Diego State University, striking out nearly two batters per inning his final collegiate season.  Scouts were always concerned that his strenuous delivery would eventually be a significant problem for the right hander, and they were correct.  Strasburg blew out his UCL, a ligament in his elbow, which required Tommy John Surgery.  He missed the majority of the 2011 season but came back to accumulate a 1.50 ERA in five starts at the end of the season.

Fast forward to 2012. Stephen Strasburg might be the best pitcher in the National League.  His stuff is electric, buckling the knees of baseball’s best hitters.  He was named to the all-star team and, despite what a 2.91 earned run average would indicate, has utterly dominated hitters.  He’s struck out 173 batters in 139 1/3 innings, the best mark in baseball.  His starts are the hot ticket in D.C. right now, but his season is about to be over.

Having never pitched over 122 1/3 innings in any collegiate or professional season (in 2010 before he was injured), a number he has already surpassed. The Nationals have planned to shut down Strasburg once he reaches 160 innings, and that’s a shame.

Is Strasburg going to be injured if he throws 180 innings? If he feels no ill-effects from throwing 160 frames, why not run him out again, or place him in the bullpen where his filthy repertoire of pitches can be called upon to make great hitters look silly in big situations.  Isn’t that a better alternative then turning your best player into a glorified cheerleader?

Strasburg’s been the key to the Nationals great run so far this season, and he makes Washington a legitimate World Series contender.   You read that right, a contender to bring the first world championship to the nation’s capital since 1991.  Instead, the Nationals will shut down their biggest weapon for the most important games of the season, despite knowing that they are in the midst of a campaign where the Phillies and the Marlins have fallen flat on their faces, a situation that is unlikely to occur again anytime soon.

Yes, Strasburg being healthy in the long term needs to be a major focus of the team.  That doesn’t mean he should sit out when he is completely healthy in the name of following a prefigured number of innings that has no real value.  It’s preposterous.   But that’s exactly what Davey Johnson and the Nats will do, they will hope that next year they can make a similar run when they can keep Strasburg all year even though the Nationals have been fairly healthy and have avoided any real problems along the way to this point. Seasons like this, ones that don’t test the depth of a still building but talented team, don’t come along often.  But the Nationals will hope that lightning strikes twice.

Baseball could have taken the spotlight in Washington this October.  The Wizards are one of the NBA’s worst teams, and the Redskins are more than an RG3 away from being a Super Bowl contender, or even a division contender for that matter.  Instead, they’re content to hope that they’re good enough to take their best player off the field in October. 

And I’ll say it now; this is the Nationals’ chance to turn Washington into a baseball town for the first time since the Great Depression.  They have a chance to turn the District of Columbia into a winner this fall, ending years of incompetence.  And it looks like they’re going to blow it.