The Washington Nationals continue to battle as October draws closer and closer. Although they have already clinched a playoff berth and are on the verge of clinching the NL East, they are still faced with the reality that their team is not the same team that was on the field Opening Day.
Stephen Strasburg, the team's ace, was shut down after his start on Sept. 7. Since then, the Nationals have been trying to remain the dominant team that they have been all season; however, it appears that the loss of Strasburg might already be wearing on them.
The Nats pulled the plug on Strasburg abruptly, and it might have had negative consequences for the rest of the team at the most important time of the season.
The Nationals will be bringing a playoff game back to D.C. for the first time in 79 years, yet since Strasburg was shut down, the Nats are only 7-7.
They entered his final start (a loss for the team) on a five-game winning streak, and they have simply been average since then.
The Nats certainly have not been playing at the same level as they were earlier on, and their pitching rotation has lacked the consistency of knowing Strasburg would be taking the mound every fifth day.
The Nats might have been rattled after learning Strasburg would be shut down. Just a few days after the news broke, the Nats went to Atlanta to play an important series.
Strasburg was 3-1 against the Braves this season with 34 strikeouts in 26.1 innings pitched. The Nationals went to Atlanta and were swept, but if Strasburg were available, things might have gone a bit differently.
Since Strasburg was shut down, the Nationals have lost three one-run games. Anytime that Strasburg pitched, the opposing team knew that runs were going to be tough to come by.
One-run games could have turned out much differently had Strasburg started any of them.
The baseball world watched as Strasburg was shelled in his final outing of the year, likely due to the pressure of the looming innings limit.
If Strasburg was affected in such a way, then it would seem logical that his teammates were beginning to feel the burden as well.
Strasburg getting rocked in his last outing was bad for management, Davey Johnson and his teammates from a morale standpoint.
Davey Johnson seemed to absorb a large amount of the media pressure by answering the questions with brutal honesty. Johnson implied that Strasburg was forced to be shut down earlier than expected because of the media.
If the media is influencing team decisions, then it likely is impacting the team's psyche.
As the postseason begins, the questions will once again surface as to what impact the absence of Strasburg will have on the Nats rotation in October.
It is a legitimate question, but only bringing a World Series championship to D.C. will alleviate the pressure.