Why Shutting Down Stephen Strasburg Looms Very Large in Game 5

Kenny DeJohn@@kennydejohnAnalyst IIIOctober 11, 2012

On the strength of possibly the biggest home run of Jayson Werth's professional career, the Washington Nationals have put themselves in a position to win the National League Division Series after being down 2-1 to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Gio Gonzalez is slated to start the do-or-die game for Davey Johnson's Nationals, and he's been one of the best pitchers in the National League this season.

His first season in Washington was easily the best of his young career. He went an impressive 21-8 while posting an ERA of 2.89. Gonzalez may not win the NL Cy Young Award, but there's no doubting the fact that he'll receive his fair share of votes.

Even still, baseball fans across the nation can't help but wonder whether or not Stephen Strasburg would be the better bet for Game 5.

Strasburg was shut down on September 7 after tossing 159.1 innings. He was arguably the most dominant pitcher in baseball for a vast majority of the season and many questioned the decision to shut him down given the Nationals' unexpected success.

The Nationals were able to overcome all the distractions. Even without Strasburg, Washington finished above the Atlanta Braves in the NL East, as well as above the Cincinnati Reds for the top spot in the National League playoffs.

Guys like Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler have all stepped up to fill the void left by Strasburg, but Friday's Game 5 against the Cardinals is an entirely different ballgame (pun intended).

Should the Nationals lose this game, the decision to end Strasburg's season early will surely be thrust upon them as the reason for their demise.

Whether that's fair or not is irrelevant—the media will undoubtedly put all the blame on general manager Mike Rizzo and Johnson's shoulders.

Strasburg is the next great pitcher in MLB, and the Nationals' surprising season made the decision to shut him down all the more questionable. Situations like the one Washington faces on Friday were the ones that Strasburg was expected to pitch in if he was active. Now, Gonzalez will have to step up.

If Gonzalez pitches like the ace that he's been all season long, the Nationals have a very good chance of winning Game 5. With a win, all the critics will be silenced—at least until the Nationals face another elimination game in the National League Championship Series.

To say that the decision to shut down Strasburg could be the downfall of the Nationals season may seem like a vast exaggeration, but it may actually end up being the case.