The Washington Nationals' magical season is one loss away from having a crushing and anti-climactic ending. After a come-from-behind victory in Game 1 of the division series in St. Louis, the Nationals were crushed by the defending world champion St. Louis Cardinals in Games 2 and 3.
Washington's 8-0 drubbing by the Cardinals has put the season on the brink.
And as much as Nationals fans are sick of hearing it, they probably would not have been in this position has Stephen Strasburg been allowed to pitch.
Mike Rizzo, according to Andrew Simon at MLB.com, famously made his decision to shut down Strasburg with an innings limit set up in spring training. Clearly not thinking the team would be in a pennant race, the plan was not adjusted when the team took advantage of the disappointing Phillies, Marlins and Mets to go into first place.
I suggested all the way back in May different ways for the Nationals to stretch his availability without compiling more than 160 innings.
The Braves were able to bring Kris Medlen back from Tommy John surgery slowly and have him available for the postseason with less than 150 innings pitched in the majors and minors this year.
And Stephen Strasburg himself, according to Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post, was lobbying to start in the postseason.
Instead, Rizzo gets to have people like Jena McGregor of the Washington Post praise his forward thinking instead of going for it all.
Rizzo had better be right. He had better hope that the Nationals are going to develop like the Philadelphia Phillies of the late 2000s and early 2010s. That team made the playoffs in 2007 but were bounced early. Then won the World Series in 2008, won another pennant in 2009 and won the NL East division for five straight seasons.
Rizzo is banking that this is that first season where they get used to the playoffs and then really take off.
But the Nationals have the best record in the game this year. They have a winnable National League this year. And there is no guarantee for future division titles, no matter how much young talent a team has.
Defenders of Rizzo online and on talk radio pointed out the depth of pitching Washington had and that Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler would be more than capable of filling the Strasburg void.
They had better hope Detwiler can pull it off.
If the Nationals are eliminated in the division series, then Rizzo will be and should be asked about Strasburg everyday until the Nationals win a World Series.
If they win a bunch of divisions and a World Series title with a healthy Strasburg, Rizzo should be hailed as a genius.
Before that time comes, he'll be known as the guy who took a franchise that had not seen a playoff game since 1981 and a city that had not seen postseason baseball since 1933 and said "Let's not try to win now. Let's wait."
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