So John Feinstein's Washington Post column on what he sees as the continuing ripple effects of last September's shutdown of Washington Nationals' right-hander Stephen Strasburg has the nation's capital once again talking about the decision that dominated the discussion last Fall as the Nats brought the postseason back to the D.C. for the first time since 1933. You can read Mr. Feinstein's article HERE if you haven't already, but the quick synopsis is that the Nationals should have found some way to have Strasburg available down the stretch, in spite of the fact that they were on a rehab program based on the team's experience dealing with recovery from Tommy John surgery and the advice of the surgeon who performed the procedure, which somehow never gets mentioned in articles arguing against the Nationals' decision. They should have just changed the plan. That's all.
The jump Mr. Feinstein makes is to connect the decision to shut Strasburg down to the struggles the Nationals underwent this season as they fell short in their attempt to return to the postseason:
"And now it can be said, with almost no doubt, that the decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg last September didn’t cost Washington one chance to win a World Series, it cost the team and the city two chances. Because if one thing is clear about the debacle that was this summer it is that it was set up by the disaster of last fall."
The Nationals, Mr. Feinstein argues, in their attempts to justify the decision to shut their "best" pitcher down, (with "best" put in quotes by me because anyone who watched Strasburg's last few starts, which got him shut down earlier than planned, would argue that the right-hander wasn't himself at the end of the season, whether because of the pressure of the situation and national attention or because of fatigue in his first full year back from reconstructive elbow surgery), overcompensated this season and wilted under the pressure of trying to prove they did the right thing:
"Everyone in the organization was trying too hard to justify the Strasburg decision. All of them heard the critics who said Strasburg’s season should have been stretched out to include October — either by resting him after the all-star break, shortening his starts or allowing him to pitch perhaps 10 to 20 more innings with what appeared to be a healthy elbow."
Resting a pitcher recovering from Tommy John for a few weeks and then ramping him up again to pitch in "important games" in September and October? Sounds like a great plan. And it was considered and dismissed as anyone who followed the story closely knows. Starting him late in June as others have suggested so he would be available late? So what does he do for two months to keep the rehab going? Side sessions? Simulated games w/ minor leaguers at the Nats' facilities in Florida? They considered that too. All the options were considered and dismissed in favor of the plan the Nationals had gone with before and went with again (which was set up in consultation with Strasburg's doctor). It was a plan that was set in place long before the start of the season when some like Davey Johnson and Rizzo thought the team would contend but not a single game had been played.
Feel like we've gone over all this before? It's because we have, hundreds of times at this point. It's old news as Nats' GM Mike Rizzo will tell you in a moment. It got brought up again today because outgoing Nationals' manager Davey Johnson was asked this morning on 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s The Sports Junkies what he thought of the WaPost column and asked if he thought Washington would have won the World Series had Strasburg been available...
"Do you think you guys would have beaten the Cardinals last year in the playoffs if Strasburg was pitching?" one of The Junkies asked.
"Probably," Johnson said with a laugh.
"So you're saying, that you possibly could have won the World Series last year, but it had no carry-over to this year?"
"Well, I don't know about that," the Nats' skipper said. "It was a little different ballclub this year, guys. It wasn't the same crew. We had some adjustments to make. A couple new key players. The bullpen a little different..."
Johnson went on to say that people are just trying to rewrite history. There were plenty of reasons why the Nationals lost last year including impatience, inexperience in postseason play, a sudden inability to throw strikes, etc. But if they had Strasburg they might have won? "I just say probably," Johnson said. "Your best pitcher? I mean..." and, he noted, the Nationals were good against the San Francisco Giants in the regular season. "We manhandled the Giants," Johnson told the show's hosts, "I think we were 5-1 against them."
The comments by the Nationals' manager were played for Nationals' GM, Mike Rizzo, when he appeared on 106.7 the FAN later in the morning on "The Mike Rizzo Show" with Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier.
"Well, that's a good hypothetical, amusing little anecdote there," Rizzo said, "but you never know. We had a plan in place for [Strasburg] and my mindset was to protect the player for the long-term. We did that. We did what in my mind was best for him, which was what's best for the organization. This is old news..."
They're not going to let this narrative go are they? Something tells me that even if the Nationals win the World Series in the next few years, some will still lament the fact that they should have been on their second or third title at that point if they hadn't made the decision to shut Strasburg down...
More from Federal Baseball:
- Davey Johnson On Nationals Getting Swept By Cardinals: "They Just Kicked Our Butt."
- Cardinals 4-1 Over Nationals: Cards Sweep Season Series With Nats, 6-0
- Davey Johnson On Michael Wacha's No-Hit Bid; Ryan Zimmerman's 9th Inning Single
- Game 158 WPA: The curse of SGINHO. Nats 0, SCA 2
- Michael Wacha Loses No-Hitter With Two Out In 9th Against Nationals: 2-0 Cardinals In St. Louis