Thanks to their great start, the Nationals are making a lot of headlines.
The young team is currently in first place in the tough NL East, and there are many reasons for their dominance. Gio Gonzalez is tied for the league lead in wins, Jordan Zimmerman has a 2.48 ERA, Ian Desmond has 17 home runs and Bryce Harper has a .273 batting average.
Overall, the Nationals have a great, well-rounded team. They have capable players at every position, and the team is built to win a championship. However, one move will have a huge impact on Washington's season.
Stephen Strasburg is recovering from Tommy John surgery, so the Nationals placed an innings limit on him before the season. The limit is expected to be 160 innings, and this year, Strasburg has pitched 105 innings. That means he would only have nine or ten starts left this year, and that he would have extra time to rest his elbow.
But more importantly, Strasburg wouldn't pitch if the Nationals made the playoffs.
Washington has Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman in their rotation, but if the Nats make the playoffs, they would have to go with Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler (or Tom Gorzelanny) on their playoff rotation. Jackson would pitch even if Strasburg didn't get shut down, but he wouldn't pitch as much. Jackson has always been inconsistent, and Strasburg is definitely an upgrade over Detwiler.
Pitching in the playoffs would definitely be valuable to the young pitcher, who could use the experience. Strasburg is 10-4 with a 2.66 ERA, and he hasn't shown any problems since returning from his elbow injury. Even though Strasburg usually doesn't go deep into games, he can throw more than 100 pitches in a start.
If the Nationals traded for Zack Greinke, Ryan Dempster or another starting pitcher, then they would probably be fine without Strasburg. However, it seems like the Nats want to leave the team as is, so they would be stuck with two inconsistent pitchers (Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler) in their playoff rotation.
Washington could skip Strasburg's starts in September and let him pitch in the playoffs, or they could just not shut him down at all. There is an injury risk, but it's unlikely that Strasburg re-injures his elbow. If Washington really wants to contend for a championship, they need to do it with Strasburg.
Strasburg is a great strikeout pitcher. He is very accurate, throws a tempting change-up and a nice fastball that is known for hitting the corners. Even though Strasburg lost three straight starts, he has still been very consistent, and he probably will be for his entire career. The young pitcher can work his way out of jams very well, as we saw in his last start against the Marlins.
Even though the Nationals will be contenders for a long time, this season is still very important. Washington is in great shape to win their first championship, and one of the reasons for that is Strasburg's performance. They can skip some of his starts, but they can't shut him down for the playoffs.
Because if they do, they might be taking a championship away from Washington D.C.