Why Stephen Strasburg Has to Pitch All Season for Nationals to Win NL East

Michael NargiSenior Analyst IJune 3, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 02:  Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals delivers against the Atlanta Braves during the third inning of their game at Nationals Park on June 2, 2012 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images)
Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images

Stephen Strasburg continues to dazzle for the Washington Nationals this season and is a big reason why they are on top of the NL East this far into the season.

As amazing as Strasburg has been on the mound, his presence on the bench due to being shut down could single-handedly sink the Nationals.

Of Strasburg's 11 starts, the Nats won nine while Strasburg compiled a 6-1 record. To the Nationals' hierarchy, it is not the wins nor the record they are concerned with at this point.

It is his innings.

Strasburg is currently at 65 innings pitched through 11 starts. Many have speculated that he will be removed from the rotation at 160 innings, although GM Mike Rizzo has never given a firm number as to when he will be shut down, according to Kevin Kaduk of Yahoo! Sports (h/t federalbaseball.com).

Let's assume that he is shut down at 160 innings. This means that at this pace, Washington will have Strasburg for 27 starts. Most team's aces have 33 or 34 starts in the regular season. The Nationals will be without Strasburg for at least six or seven starts, and more importantly, they will be playing down the stretch, when this team is fighting for a playoff spot, without him.

With the addition of the new wild-card spot in each league, there is a better chance to get in the playoffs, but no team would rather be in a wild-card play-in game instead of winning their division. This emphasizes the importance of the Nats coming out on top in the NL East.

Is it possible that they can do it down the stretch without Strasburg?

The way the division looks right now, it appears nearly impossible.

Every team is above .500, and all of the teams have reasons to believe they will only improve as the season goes on. While all the teams are improving, the Nationals will be shutting down their ace.

The Nats have won 82 percent of Strasburg's starts this year. Thus, of the potential seven starts he would miss, the Nats would win six of them.

Six games could mean not only a division title but a chance at the wild card, as well. The division could be long gone if the Nats were to drop the majority of those six games that they statistically otherwise would have won, especially considering that as of June 3, all five teams in the division were within 3.5 games of each other.

The New York Mets look to be serious contenders led by Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey, while the Miami Marlins are beginning to play like an All-Star team. Although the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies are struggling, they both have tremendous talent that is capable of putting together a winning streak quickly.

Beyond the number crunching, there is a mental aspect of shutting down Strasburg that might resonate throughout the clubhouse.

What kind of message would it send to the players if they were told that management would rather contend years down the road as opposed to the final month or two of this season?

If D.C. wants to celebrate they need Strasburg to pitch all year.
If D.C. wants to celebrate they need Strasburg to pitch all year.Greg Fiume/Getty Images

That could have a toll on the mindset of the players resulting in a performance drop-off that will show in more than just seven games. It would not be surprising if the Nats went into a slump when the move is made.

The Nationals and the fans in D.C. are ready to win now. All of the excitement, all of the hype and front-page headlines that this team has been a part of in 2012 will be forgotten if the Nats miss the playoffs due to Strasburg being pulled from the rotation. 

If the Nats are close when the decision has to be made, and the result is a missed division title or missing the playoffs completely, the fans might never forget.

The hope of success in the upcoming years might never have a chance to come to fruition if Strasburg is shut down this season.