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5 Reasons Nationals' Early Exit Had Nothing to Do with Stephen Strasburg

Colin KennedyFeatured ColumnistOctober 22, 2012

5 Reasons Nationals' Early Exit Had Nothing to Do with Stephen Strasburg

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    Washington's Cinderella story didn't finish as most hoped, but fans in D.C. should rest easy knowing that Stephen Strasburg's exclusion from the postseason roster had nothing to do with the Nationals' early exit. 

    Some will point to the sub-par starting pitching; others will highlight inexperience as the main factor in Washington's disappointing finish. 

    But any way you look at it, the Nationals failed to advance as a team. 

    And one player wasn't going to make the difference. 

    After finishing with baseball's best regular season record, hardly any of their impressive statistics translated into October. 

    Washington's starters struggled early and often, the offense sputtered collectively and their bullpen failed to perform when it mattered most. 

    Critics will argue that Strasburg would have won a decisive Game 5 at home. I contend that nobody foresaw a six-run lead evaporating before nearly 46,000 fans in D.C. 

    I will point to Strasburg's inconsistent production in the second-half and suggest that his performance under the bright lights would be anything but certain. 

    Because in the unpredictable game that is playoff baseball, nothing is guaranteed. 

    And that is exactly why the Nationals will watch Game 7 of the NLCS from home. 

    Here are five good reasons Stephen Strasburg's absence from the postseason roster had nothing to do with Washington's early exit:

Offense

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    When evaluating Stephen Strasburg's absence from Washington's early postseason exit, one factor Strasburg and the rest of the Nationals organization can find solace in is the team's lack of offensive production. 

    Surely no one in D.C. is pleased with the result, but it might help the team's young sensation sleep better at night knowing that his presence in the NLDS would not have helped the 'Nats score runs. 

    Washington scored just 15 total in the five-game series—a number which falls far short of the 4.5 runs per game they scored during the regular season 

    They hit just .232 as a team against the Cardinals' pitching staff and totaled only 12 extra-base-hits in 168 at-bats. 

    The pitching numbers weren't exactly staggering, but the offensive numbers were worse. 

    Only Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond showed up to play, batting .381 and .368 respectively. And Washington's Game 2 starter finished the series with more RBI (1) than Danny Espinosa. 

    Together, Bryce Harper and Espinosa accumulated 15 strikeouts over the five games. Combined, the same duo picked up just four hits. 

    Of course the statistics are going to be skewed with a small sample, but they tell the story nonetheless. 

    The Nationals pitchers put the team in a position to win the series.

    And the offense didn't get the job done. 

Inexperience Showed

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    Another factor that contributed significantly to Washington's premature postseason exit was their overwhelming lack of experience in comparison to the seasoned St. Louis Cardinals. 

    With a roster full of first-time playoff performers, the Nationals matched up with the defending World Series Champions in every tangible facet of the game. 

    The only problem was they fell short in arguably the most invaluable aspect of all: experience. 

    Washington's unfamiliarity showed early when Gio Gonzalez walked a career-high seven batters in his first ever postseason start. 

    The trend continued in Game 2 when Jordan Zimmermann surrendered five runs in three innings of work for one of the worst outings of his young career. 

    Even then, the Nationals left Washington with the series tied and a potential Game 5 return to D.C. 

    But the veterans from St. Louis prevailed. 

    Talented, yet inexperienced, guys like Bryce Harper and Danny Espinosa showed the world how tough it is to perform on the big stage. 

    Neither young stud batted over .130 in a scuffling Nationals lineup, and the two combined for an unimpressive 15 strikeouts over the five-game series. 

    Other signs of youth were apparent in the bullpen, highlighted by the Game 5 collapse, in which Washington allowed six earned runs in the final three frames. 

Bullpen Letdown

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    The strength of the Nationals all season long was their superb starting pitching and solid bullpen. 

    Unfortunately, neither showed for Washington during the NLDS. 

    Davey Johnson's club posted baseball's seventh-lowest bullpen ERA during the monumental regular season. However, when it came playoff time, the numbers didn't translate. 

    Many agree that statistics can and should be thrown out of the winder when October rolls around. 

    This season's National League Division Series proved that to be the case. 

    A Nationals' bullpen that posted a 3.23 ERA during the year more than doubled that figure in the playoffs. 

    In fact, Washington's relievers allowed as many runs as the Nationals scored during the entirety of the five-game series—15. 

    In contrast, the Cardinals' 20th-ranked bullpen surrendered a mere five runs in 21.1 innings pitched during the NLDS. 

    There is no question that the Nationals entered their series against St. Louis with supreme talent and a statistical advantage. 

    But as we all know, playoff baseball is unpredictable. And when it is all on the line, experience just might be the most important factor of them all. 

Replacement

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    Critics can point to all sorts of numbers that would have favored Washington's inclusion of Stephen Strasburg on the postseason roster. 

    But when it is all said and done, Ross Detwiler showed fans in D.C. that Strasburg's absence may not have mattered. 

    As Strasburg's "replacement" in the rotation, Detwiler undoubtedly pitched the best game for Washington in the NLDS. 

    His six innings of scoreless baseball on the road in game four stands as one of the postseason's greatest highlights thus far as it extended the series to a fifth game in D.C. 

    With the season on the line, the 26-year-old turned in one of his most impressive starts in the most important game of his life. 

    In St. Louis, Detwiler shut down the National League's second highest-scoring offense for six innings. 

    Unlike some of his fellow starting pitchers, Detwiler pounded the strike zone and made the Cardinals hitters put the ball in play for his defense. 

    He gave up only three hits and walked just three batters total (one of which was intentional). 

    Sure we can argue that Strasburg's presence in the rotation could have ultimately made the difference in Game 5. But we can't argue that his absence indefinitely changed the outcome of the series. 

    Because Ross Detwiler did more than what was expected from him. 

Prime Position

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    The controversial decision regarding Stephen Strasburg's innings limit and eventual exclusion from the postseason roster was one that occupied the D.C. media for months. 

    It filled blogs, made innumerable headlines, and plagued an entire city desperate for baseball success. 

    But in the end, it really had no bearing on the Nationals season. Because even without the services of their young ace, Washington was in perfect position to advance to the NLCS when it mattered most. 

    If you told Davey Johnson on April 1 that his team had the opportunity to enter the ninth inning of Game 5 of the NLDS at home with a two-run lead, you can bet the house that the Nationals' skipper would have taken it. 

    And so would any other manager in baseball.

    Washington was in a position that most teams league-wide would envy unconditionally. 

    They had struggled through five games and their inexperience had showed, but they were still just three outs away from advancing to the league championship series. 

    An early six-run lead had dwindled to two, but the 'Nats were still in a favorable position to defeat the Cardinals. 

    And then it all came crashing down. 

    It's easy to look back and suggest Strasburg's starts would have been the difference-maker. Hindsight is always 20-20. 

    But when you take an objective perspective and reflect on the Nationals five-game series with the St. Louis Cardinals, Washington should have won it. 

    Even without their young ace. 

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