The Washington Nationals — a heretofore pathetic franchise if ever there was one — are about to give up their best shot at a championship, under the assumption that there’ll be more later.
Mike Bauman of MLB.com writes today…
The decision centers around the Nationals’ decision to shut down ace pitcher Steven Strasburg, who is coming off “Tommy John surgery.” There’s no indication there’s anything wrong with Strasburg, but the Nationals, who have a 6 1/2 game lead in their division, don’t want to take any chances.
This is a situation that remains unfathomable for some critics of this plan and this decision. How can the Nats pass up this rare chance at a championship? Well, if the management of the Nationals looks at this opportunity as merely a starting place, and not a once-in-a-lifetime situation, that puts the decision to shut down Strasburg in a different perspective.
Strasburg is a singular talent, and the urge to protect his career is understandable. There will be people, however, who will never accept any rationale for shutting him down in the middle of a pennant race. But this isn’t a popularity contest, an election or a referendum.
And this is pretty much the party line adopted by sports commentators everywhere, dismissing the yearning of fans — the ones who actually pay to go to a game — as somehow irrational.
It’s not irrational. Ask me, a fan of the Cleveland Indians for the last 50+ years.
In 2007, for example, the team was on the upswing, and it appeared headed for a World Series after taking a
3-0 3-1 lead in games over the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship series. They lost four three straight games, missed the Series and the team has not enjoyed a winning season since.
Moral? When you get a chance to win a World Series, you better take it because there are no guarantees you’ll get another.
There is no question that the Nationals are settling for delayed gratification. They are limiting their current championship chances, but they believe they are taking steps to protect the future of Stephen Strasburg, thus enhancing the future of the entire franchise.
The Nats’ stunning success this season has not changed their direction on this issue. Perhaps that success has increased the potential for the “Oh, no, they can’t possibly do this now” reaction, but that same success has undoubtedly reinforced the idea that the long-term future of this franchise is bright. And if that is the core belief, then shutting down Strasburg now, hoping that he remains healthy in the future, becomes a more logical proposition.
The assumption here is that the Nationals are only delaying the inevitable champagne celebration. But in Major League Baseball, the clock is always ticking. Strasburg can be a free agent in 2017, and his agent is Scott Boras, which means he’ll eventually pitch in either New York or Los Angeles.
Minnesota Twins’ fans, too, know a little bit about how the world can change quickly. The team is now just two seasons away from their 94-win season in 2010. They lost 99 games last year and are on a pace to lose 96 this year.
Coincidentally, a once-promising Minnesota pitcher is one of Washington’s exhibits in presenting the case to shut Strasburg down short of the goal.
According to Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated...
The Twins let (Francisco) Liriano make 34 starts (minors included) and throw 199 1/3 innings in 2008, his first full season after Tommy John surgery. He was 24 years old. Since then Liriano is 33-44 with a 4.78 ERA. He doesn’t look like the same pitcher who dominated in 2006.
Unlike Minnesota, there’s plenty of hope for Washington’s future, unless Strasburg comes back from an off-season of rest and blows out his arm next season.
But Washington isn’t much of a baseball town and perhaps the fans aren’t as keen on winning a championship as fans in “baseball cities” might be. There, it’s rumored, fans would sell their souls — or Steven Strasburg’s — for a World Series title.
Is that a bad thing?