Washington Nationals: Should Nats Consider Stephen Strasburg for Playoff Roster?
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As the rigorous MLB regular season schedule comes to a close, many around baseball continue to question whether or not the Washington Nationals should consider including Stephen Strasburg on the postseason roster.
A move that would defy all plans put in place by general manager Mike Rizzo before the season began would inevitably generate positive and negative reaction alike.
The innings limit for Washington's young ace has been arguably the most controversial topic in baseball for 2012.
For a team with World Series aspirations, it must be infinitely difficult to sit your team's best starter when it matters most. In a city where winning has been absolutely absent, it is almost unreasonable to detract from title chances in any scenario.
But with the future in mind, that is exactly what the Nationals have done.
They have elected to shut down Stephen Strasburg after 159.1 innings, with no indication that he will make a return in 2012.
Critics argue that the time is now. Proponents contend that the future outweighs the present.
Was it the right call?
That is for you to decide...
Here's my take on whether or not the Nationals should consider Stephen Strasburg for the playoff roster:
Stephen Strasburg pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals on Sept. 2
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Well, the reasons for why Stephen Strasburg should be included on the Nationals' postseason roster are both predictable and numerous.
Aside from the obvious—the fact that Strasburg possesses more talent than arguably any pitcher in the game—we will start with the surrounding circumstances in D.C.
2012 will mark the first time in nearly 80 years that a baseball team from Washington will participate in playoff action. Given the extended postseason drought in the nation's capital and the Nationals surprising success this season, the anticipation entering October is immeasurable.
So after years of unprecedented failure, the fans in D.C. are both desperate and deserving.
Back-to-back 100+ loss seasons in 2008-2009 highlighted a six-year stretch of losing that few organizations in baseball can relate with.
Now, Washington finally has the pieces in place to make a run. And the inclusion of Stephen Strasburg on the playoff roster would certainly help raise morale amongst fans and confidence in the clubhouse.
In addition to the immediate advantages his services would provide the Nationals are the long-term benefits that postseason play would yield for Strasburg himself.
For a 24-year-old fresh off of Tommy John surgery, experience is invaluable. And while Washington celebrates their first playoff season since 1933, the team's ace won't learn much watching from the bench.
With a strong foundation in place, the Nationals figure to be winners for the next handful of years. But with heaps of inexperienced youth on the current roster, every playoff game will be critical to their development as players.
So even if it is just for a few games, or even a couple of innings, postseason baseball would undoubtedly be beneficial for Strasburg.
That way, the next time the Nationals play in October, their young No. 1 can say something few on the current squad can:
That he's been there before.
Stephen Strasburg looks on from the dugout during a Sept. 4 game against the Chicago Cubs
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As obvious as the advantages of Strasburg's inclusion on the postseason roster were, the negatives may be more even more apparent.
And for some, they might be indisputable.
Such an announcement would inevitably be two-sided. The inclusion of Strasburg in the playoffs would generate increased interest amongst fans and confidence among players.
But at the same time, it would warrant valid criticism and doubt.
Less than one month after shutting him down, the choice to allow their ace pitch in October would put Washington's future in jeopardy.
It would highlight Mike Rizzo's indecision after the Nationals general manager stuck with his proposed innings limit throughout the entirety of the 2012 regular season.
It would cause chaos in the nation's capital.
Of course the avoidance of injury would eliminate all judgment. A successful appearance for Strasburg could make Rizzo and the Nats look brilliant.
But is it worth the risk?
That is what we still have to decide...
Best Case Scenario
Stephen Strasburg congratulates teammate Bryce Harper after a Sept. 12 victory over the New York Mets
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Let's play the hypothetical:
The Nationals finish the year (as they are) limping slightly into the postseason.
After clinching their first playoff berth in nearly 80 years, Washington announces that young ace Stephen Strasburg will transcend his imposed innings cap and will pitch for the team in October.
All is well in D.C.
The extended rest and Wild Card round allow Nationals manager Davey Johnson to set up his ideal playoff rotation. Strasburg pitches game 1 of the NLDS in front of a sold-out crowd at Nationals park and picks up the win.
21-game winner and NL Cy Young candidate Gio Gonzalez follows the next day with another victory before Jordan Zimmermann disposes of the divisional series opponent on the road.
A three-game sweep by the Nationals in the NLDS is not only plausible, but also realistic given the talent they possess across the board.
Such a scenario would likely give Davey Johnson more options entering the League Championship Series.
With a sufficient fourth starter in Ross Detwiler, the Nationals manager elects to use four pitchers in the following round. The move gives their ace added rest on an untested arm and means Strasburg can pitch a maximum of two times in the series.
Ideally, however, Washington wraps up the ALCS in a four-game sweep, and the Nationals advance to the World Series having allowed Strasburg to pitch just twice thus far in the postseason.
Having pitched just under 160 innings during the regular season, Strasburg has two starts left to bring Washington their first World Series title since 1924.
By limiting him to five innings per appearance, the Nationals get four great playoff starts from their ace without exceeding the original cap. The addition of Strasburg on the postseason roster enables Davey Johnson to use guys like Edwin Jackson or even Detwiler in early and extended relief.
Behind a rested arm and a gutsy managerial move the Washington Nationals win the 2012 World Series and Strasburg's ultimate inclusion on the playoff roster becomes historically known as:
The (correct) Decision
Worst Case Scenario
Stephen Strasburg pitches to the Miami Marlins days before he suffered a torn ligament in his elbow in August, 2010
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Here is where it gets risky.
By including Stephen Strasburg on the postseason roster, the Washington Nationals would be flirting with disaster.
Two seasons removed from serious elbow surgery, an imposed innings limit was designed to allow the young ace to make a full recovery and avoid aggravation.
And by flipping on that decision to shut him down, the organization would inevitably open themselves up to all different sorts of criticism.
Let's say Mike Rizzo does revoke his pre-designed innings cap. The Nationals GM announces tomorrow that Stephen Strasburg will be available to pitch during the playoffs despite the original plan against it.
After resting his arm for the last three-plus weeks, the young ace takes the mound in game 1 of the NLDS.
His surgically repaired arm responds poorly to the inconsistency in throwing and Strasburg hides elbow soreness from the training staff during warm-ups under the intense postseason pressure.
The young ace attempts to fight through the pain before unloading a 98 MPH fastball in the first inning that triggers a noticeable reaction following his delivery.
Strasburg is pulled immediately from the game, the Nationals fail to overcome his demoralizing departure, and ultimately suffer a first-round exit from the playoffs.
Worse news follows when the organization announces that Strasburg has re-injured his right elbow and will require additional surgery. No timetable is given for the ace's return, and doctors suggest he may never make a full recovery.
A decision that was made with only the present in mind has now jeopardized much of the future.
Is it worth it?
Stephen Strasburg converses with teammate Gio Gonzalez in the dugout during a Sept. 22 game against the Milwaukee Brewers
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Yes, the stakes are high. The Nationals could enter the 2012 playoffs with baseball's best record and a favorable chance to represent the National League in the World Series.
But if anything happened to their ace, they would never be forgiven.
You see, Stephen Strasburg was arguably the most highly-touted pitching prospect the game has ever seen.
The San Diego State product entered Major League baseball with an unprecedented arsenal of "plus" pitches, which includes a 100-plus MPH fastball.
He wasn't merely untouchable. He was fail-proof.
So after the hard-throwing righty tore a ligament in his throwing elbow two seasons ago, pessimism was unavoidable. Concern arose throughout the nation's capital as to whether or not the Washington ace would be able to return to his original form following Tommy John surgery.
And that is why the 24-year-old phenom is being treated with such caution.
The Nationals simply can't afford to lose such a valuable commodity. The organization can't play with fire when it comes to one of the game's best young pitchers.
Washington realizes its potential and has accounted for the future. They have accepted vast amounts of criticism in order to preserve their young ace and maintain a firm foundation.
When it gets down to it, we have to ask ourselves: "Is the risk worth the reward?"
In this case, the answer is no. And I applaud Mike Rizzo and Co. for making the correct, but controversial call.