The 2012 postseason is fully underway and the Washington Nationals are poised to prove that they made the right decision in shutting down Stephen Strasburg this season. Knowing if the plan works might not be fully understood until Strasburg successfully stays healthy in the upcoming seasons, but the first step begins now.
Can the Nationals weather the storm and continue to win in the postseason without their ace?
Strasburg's shutdown might actually be a positive for the Nats going forward this postseason. Without their superstar penciled in the rotation every fifth day, it is now up to the team as a whole to rally and become a championship team, without that one big All-Star at the top of their rotation.
The team has had to persevere all season through the constant Strasburg chatter. Now the chatter has become reality and it is time for the team to show that their management made the right decision.
It is imperative that the Nats continue to handle the media and the expectations that have been placed on this team after finishing with the best record in baseball. This team has been growing closer all season long.
With a plethora of injuries and media attention, they had no other choice. When the time was upon the Nationals to put up or shut up, they chose to put up an MLB-leading 98 wins in the regular season.
All of the methodical planning is for one thing: Strasburg's health.
If it all works out and Strasburg has a hall of fame career, then being shut down this season will be worth it. The Nationals are hoping that they can have the same success with Strasburg and the plan they set forth for him, as they had with Jordan Zimmermann when he had to have Tommy John surgery.
The soft limit of 160 innings was the game-plan with Zimmermann and it was the unsaid plan for the Nats with Strasburg as well. If the Nationals can have continued health out of Strasburg then the plan worked as it should.
Bryce Harper has shown that he has the ability to handle pressure quite well when he had to step in for his teammates when they landed on the disabled list earlier in the season. He actually prevailed in May and June when the Nationals were without key pieces of their offense. Michael Morse began on the DL and Ryan Zimmerman soon fell victim to the disabled list.
Harper went on to have two of his best months shortly after his call-up. He hit .271 in May with five doubles, four triples and four home runs, and hit .274 in June with six doubles, four home runs and six stolen bases.
Harper now has the chance to have the eyes on him again with Strasburg being shut down. If Harper can succeed, then the Nationals will benefit on the offensive side of the ball.
Jordan Zimmermann is in line to show the baseball world that he is a great talent in this game.
While he flies under the radar in D.C. behind Strasburg and Gonzalez, he now will be looked at as the second ace in the rotation behind Gio in the playoffs.
There also is a chance that he takes the mound in a critical Game 7 of an NLCS or World Series, depending on if there is one and if Davey Johnson goes that route.
Either way, it will allow Zimmermann a chance to be recognized as a legitimate No. 1 starter who fell into a rotation that forces him to be a No. 3.
In the first round of the playoffs, Gio will face the St. Louis Cardinals twice if the series goes five games, making him the only Nationals starter that will take the mound twice.
In the regular season, Gonzalez pitched one game against the Cardinals, a complete game shutout in which he struck out eight batters. Against the other two playoff teams that he might face in the second round, Gio is 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA against the San Francisco Giants and 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA in two starts against the Cincinnati Reds with 16 strikeouts in 12 innings.
A combined 3-0 record between the three teams in four starts with 28 strikeouts in 27.2 innings pitched. The absence of Strasburg will allow Gio to take the mound in Game 5 against the Cardinals if it is needed and the Nats can not complain about that.
Gio's first postseason game for the Nats was a bit of a rough ride. He struggled with command, but allowed the Nats to stay in the game.
This is his time to shine and dominate the National League as the Nats try to get to the World Series. Without Strasburg, he will be looked at as the ace by default. His performances will have to improve but if they do, he has the chance to prove that he is an ace who can pitch in clutch situations for the Nationals.
Ross Detwiler have been an undervalued part of the Nationals all season. Without Strasburg in the postseason, Detwiler will now have a chance to start a playoff game should the Nationals get to a Game 4 in the NLDS.
Detwiler was the fifth starter this season and prevailed in the job that he was asked to do. He pitched to a 3.40 ERA and was 10-8 in 27 starts. Detwiler is good enough to be on a playoff starting staff and now has the chance to do so with Strasburg being shut down.
Although the Nationals still have a great starting rotation even without Strasburg, his shutdown will allow for the offense to become a more essential part of the team. At times, especially early in the season, the Nats offense struggled. Since the All-Star break, however, the Nationals are the fifth best offensive team in terms of average in all of MLB.
This stellar offense has a lot to do with Jayson Werth being healthy, Ryan Zimmerman returning to form, Michael Morse returning to the lineup and Bryce Harper becoming settled in D.C.
The Nationals have plenty of pop in the lineup, leading the National League after the All-Star Break with 104 home runs and totaling 194 on the season, good for second best in the NL throughout the whole season.
Can you imagine if Strasburg was to get injured in the playoffs, whether fighting arm fatigue or not? The ridicule that the Nationals would face would be relentless. Similar to what they will face this season if they are eliminated in the first round for shutting him down.
When it comes down to it, however, this is a decision that will be forgotten about next season. If Strasburg pitched in October and was injured, he might never be the same and the Nats might never see the Strasburg that they are hoping for in years to come.
Through the season, Strasburg was seemingly bothered by the impending innings limit. With the limit enforced, Strasburg will have a chip on his shoulder entering next season. Strasburg has the control in his hands to turn next season into a redemption tour through the majors.
A successful regular season will likely lead the Nats to the playoffs once again, which will allow Strasburg to get a taste of the playoffs for the first time in his career.