Washington Nationals: Shutting Down Stephen Strasburg Means Early Playoff Exit

Erik CottonCorrespondent ISeptember 8, 2012

The Nationals will regret not letting Strasburg pitch in the playoffs.
The Nationals will regret not letting Strasburg pitch in the playoffs.Greg Fiume/Getty Images

The Washington Nationals are the biggest surprise of the 2012 MLB season.

And Stephen Strasburg's starting pitching is a big reason for that success.  So how does this team expect to advance in their first playoff appearance in franchise history without their ace?

If the playoffs started today, the Nats would face either the Atlanta Braves or the St. Louis Cardinals in the division series.  The Braves are a division rival and the Cards are the defending champs.

Strasburg was shut down effective immediately after going 15-6 this season with a 3.16 ERA and 197 strikeouts in 159.1 IP.  Those are Cy Young-worthy statistics for the young right-hander who rebounded from Tommy John surgery in August 2010. 

So can anyone explain why—at 86-53 and atop the NL East—the Nationals wouldn't just rest Strasburg for the rest of September? 

They pretty much have a playoff berth wrapped up at this point, so I can understand giving him a few weeks off.  He could rest up and take some time to prepare himself physically and mentally for Game 1 of the NLDS.

Instead, the Nats' brass has stuck to their original game plan by ending his season prematurely...and completely.  In their eyes, the risk of Strasburg re-injuring himself is greater than the reward of a possible World Series title.  This logic defies the idea that you "play to win the game." 

The last time I checked Strasburg was 24, not 10.  Stop treating the guy like he's made of glass.

The Nats have way more to gain by stashing him until October than shutting him down for the entirety of the season.  What if Washington made it to the NLCS? Even if they lost, wouldn't the playoff experience gained by Strasburg be invaluable to his overall development?

The answer is most emphatically yes.  You can't "baby" a player of his talent, especially in the prime of his career.

Let's understand one thing here.  The Nationals are more than just Stephen Strasburg.  They have the second-best team ERA in the majors at 3.29.  Their lineup is solid if not spectacular.

However, the buzz and momentum Washington has built up over the season will deflate as October nears.  Instead of talking about what a great year they're having, all people will talk about is this decision.

It's a shame that such a promising squad is destined for a first-round exit in the division series, no matter whom they play. 

At least he'll be healthy come April, right?