In short, they have a chance to do some real damage in this year's playoffs.
However, as everyone knows by now, there seems to be a real good chance that the Nats are going to have to chase down the pennant and the World Series without ace Stephen Strasburg.
General manager Mike Rizzo has said over and over and over and over again that he will shut down Strasburg at some point, two years removed from Tommy John surgery.
It's obvious as to why the Nationals would want to limit Strasburg. He's their best player, and he's in a crucial part of his rehab from major surgery. They have to keep an eye on the future, no doubt.
But at the same time, shouldn't the Nationals be making a push? Rizzo's job is to put good baseball players on the field to win as many baseball games as possible. Strasburg is one of those players, and he's a darn good one at that.
Let him pitch.
The idea of an innings limit is a questionable one to begin with, too. What the Nationals should be really looking at (and it's hard to believe they're not) is the amount of pitches Strasburg has thrown. Much has been made about what the magic innings number is going to be — 160, 170, 180? — but that number only tells part of the story.
In 23 starts this season (Strasburg is slated to start Wednesday), he has thrown fewer than 100 pitches 14 times. He has three seven-inning starts in which he's thrown fewer than 100 pitches. It's not always about the amount of innings you pitch, but how many pitches you throw in those innings and how taxing those pitches may be.
The flame-throwing right-hander threw only six innings in Boston on June 8. Yet he threw 119 pitches, thanks in large part to 13 strikeouts. That was a taxing start, to say the least, considering he had to work out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning, doing so by striking out Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Kevin Youkilis.
Then again, in his start prior to that gem against the Red Sox, he threw just 90 pitches in seven scoreless innings against the Braves.
The point is, assessing a pitcher's workload purely by innings pitched doesn't begin to tell the entire story.
This season is, by far, the Nationals' best chance to win since they've relocated to D.C. These types of situations don't come along every year — once every 79 years in the Nationals' case, actually. It's not something you take for granted. You can have all the talent in the world, and well, stuff happens. Just ask the Red Sox.
And while Strasburg may be the most important player the Nationals employ, don't they owe it to the rest of the clubhouse to give the team the best chance to win? There are 24 other players in the clubhouse who are busting their butts in an attempt to do something special. Their reward? Losing their most important piece to the World Series puzzle.
So they should be making a push for it this season, Strasburg's innings limit be damned. In the world of professional sports, you're defined by what you win. Nothing is guaranteed tomorrow, so make the most of today.
Admittedly, this is what makes being a general manager so difficult. A large part of your job is making sure your team is set up for the future. But the Nationals aren't the only ones with their eyes on the future.
You can bet Strasburg envisions himself playing a long career, whether it's in Washington or elsewhere. When it comes time for him to be a free agent, will he look back on the 2012 season and feel bitter about the fact that the organization may have cost him his best chance to win? He may. At the very least, there's no guarantee he comes back either way, especially when you consider he's represented by that Scott Boras guy. While the Nationals may be worried about Strasburg's long-term health right now, it will be Boras worrying about his agent's long-term wealth in a few years. All bets are off at that point.
So, what do the Nationals do? They must get creative. Maybe it's as simple as sitting Strasburg down for a week or two. With five off days still remaining for them in the regular season, they could certainly juggle their rotation to limit his workload further. There are options, no doubt, and not all of them center around shutting their ace down when he hits this magic number, whatever it may be.
The Nationals have a chance to win now. They need to put the pedal to the metal and go for it. And Stephen Strasburg is the man they need in the driver's seat.
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