And as yet another starting pitcher, Gio Gonzalez, had a poor outing, one question hung over the entire series: Where was Stephen Strasburg?
There is going to be a tremendous amount of bitterness directed towards Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo over the decision not to pitch one of his best pitchers in the postseason. It is one thing to come up a strike short with your best team. It is quite another to lose by the tightest of margins with a weapon that was never taken out of the holster.
Oddly, there are some people, like CBS Sports insider John Heyman, who tried to brush aside any connection with the loss and Strasburg not being used. He wrote on his Twitter feed, "#nats defeat had nothing to do with strasburg. so let's stop talking about it like it did."
How can anyone say that with a straight face?
The Nationals starting pitching posted a 5.25 ERA, and that includes Ross Detwiler's wonderful outing in Game 4. Washington's bats scored enough to win Games 2 and 5 with a decent start.
Instead, they got two subpar outings from Gio Gonzalez and horrible starts from Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson.
So pointing out that an All-Star pitcher with electric stuff could have been used in one of those games and given the Nationals a better chance to win is out of line?
According to Amanda Comak of the Washington Times, Rizzo responded to the Strasburg question after the collapse Friday night by saying, "I'm not going to think about it."
Would Stephen Strasburg have made a difference in the post season?
Well, it is nice to see that someone is not going to think about it. But that will be Rizzo's legacy.
The Nationals, a franchise that had not played in a postseason series since Prince Charles and Princess Diana were newlyweds and in a city hosting its first baseball October since FDR's first year in office, played their hearts out all year.
And Rizzo chose to not put the best team on the field because he wanted to win later.
With the disastrous performance by the Strasburg-less rotation and an overworked bullpen that did not get it done, the level of success that the Nationals will have to reach to justify the decision is sky high.
Nothing less than a World Series title in the very near future will be acceptable to put the debacle of the 2012 postseason behind Rizzo.
In the same Washington Times article, pitcher Tyler Clippard toed the company line and had an interesting quote:
And we showed to everyone that we had the personnel without Stephen in the playoffs to get it done. At the end of the day, it didn’t happen, but we showed we were good enough.
Actually, Tyler Clippard, you showed you were not good enough to get it done without Stephen Strasburg in the playoffs. And that is the point.
Had the Cardinals defeated Strasburg the way they defeated Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee last October, you could tip your cap and say, "They defeated our best."
When they win a series like this, the lingering reality that they did not defeat your best is fair game to point out.
Mike Rizzo might not want to think about it, but he will be reminded every day until Washington, D.C. celebrates its first title since 1924.