Stephen Strasburg’s Shutdown Has Backfired Because Nationals Are Too Busy Playing What-If to Focus on Winning

by NESN Staff

October 11, 2012

Stephen Strasburg's Shutdown Has Backfired Because Nationals Are Too Busy Playing What-If to Focus on WinningShutting down Stephen Strasburg
for the season was a bold move by Washington general manager Mike Rizzo, and
one that he knew would come with its fair share of criticism.

While Rizzo might have been
tempting the baseball gods by so openly promising the team's return to the
postseason, however, it is not the wrath of those gods or any amount of karma
that has pushed the Nationals to the brink of elimination.

Instead, it is the
wrath of the Nationals players that has done so, as the team grows more
frustrated with each passing day at the absence of their ace pitcher.

Even before the Nats were one
game away from being eliminated by the Cardinals, the Washington players were
openly distracted
by Strasburg's shutdown. One anonymous player confided to FOX
Sports' Ken Rosenthal on Tuesday, "If we had 'Stras, we'd be up 2-0."

Therein lies the folly of
Rizzo's (and the organization as a whole's) decision to stop the 24-year-old
righty from continuing his season after just 159 1/3 innings. By indicating to
the players that the organization was focused on the long-term, they sapped the
clubhouse of its urgency right now. Instead of going all-in on the 2012 campaign, the
Nats signaled to the players that not winning this year is an acceptable

It has become all too easy for
Washington to make excuses in the light of Strasburg's shutdown, and the
players have pounced on that opportunity. Which is a shame, because even on the
days that Strasburg wasn't pitching, the Nats were a formidable opponent. Now, they're a shell of their
former selves.

Yes, Strasburg isn't responsible for the 30 runners that
Washington has left on base during the first three games of the NLDS. But
instead of the focus being on the underperforming lineup, it has been on Rizzo
and the team's front office. And while Rizzo might be the team's Dark Knight,
willing to have the vitriol directed at him "because he can take it,"
a little pressure on the field might not be so bad, either.

The Nationals are not out of
this series, and a win on Thursday would force a Game 5 at home. That's a
game in which anything can happen, even without Strasburg on the mound.

Instead, they appear to have
resigned themselves to their fate, realizing that they are no longer the best
team in baseball. The Nationals are right about that, but that doesn't mean
that their season should be over.

Hopefully someone, maybe even
Strasburg, should tell them that before Game 4.

Click here for an opinion on Chris Carpenter's gritty Game 3 start >>

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