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Red-Hot Stephen Strasburg Gives Nationals Postseason Life in NLDS vs. Dodgers

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistOctober 5, 2019

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 04: Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first inning in game two of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 04, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

The Washington Nationals have never won a World Series. They lost franchise icon Bryce Harper to free agency in the offseason.

But Friday night, they had Stephen Strasburg...and he was enough.

In six innings of stellar work against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Nats right-hander struck out 10. He gave up three hits and one earned run.

The Nationals won 4-2.

"I just learned over the years that pressure's a funny thing, and I think it's something that you have complete control over," Strasburg told reporters. "There's obviously a lot of expectations, there's a lot of excitement in games, but I really tried over the years to train my mind into thinking that every single game is just as important."

Co-ace Max Scherzer threw an inning of perfect relief to help uphold Strasburg's win. In the National League Wild Card Game on Tuesday, Strasburg twirled a trio of dominant relief frames in support of Scherzer.

"When you get to these games—I've said this before—you're playing to win one game," skipper Dave Martinez told reporters. "Every day's crucial."

Game 2 was certainly crucial for the Nationals. They tied the best-of-five National League Division Series. They gave themselves a puncher's chance to win a series for the first time since 1981, when they were the Montreal Expos.

Let's get back to Strasburg. In 28 career playoff innings, the 31-year-old has posted a 0.64 ERA with 38 strikeouts next to a mere four walks. Dominance doesn't begin to describe it.

When the lights shine brightest, Strasburg cranks his dial to 11.

Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

It was fitting the Dodgers started Clayton Kershaw on Friday. Despite a career stuffed with three Cy Young Awards, an MVP trophy and ample other lofty moments, the Dodgers lefty has failed to lift Los Angeles to a title and has tumbled in the playoffs more often than he's succeeded.

In Game 2, Kershaw surrendered six hits and three earned runs in six innings while Strasburg glistened.

Said Scherzer: "He's fun to watch, especially in these big moments."

The No. 1 overall pick in 2009, Strasburg has carried heavy expectations throughout his career. He's made three All-Star teams and earned two top-10 Cy Young Award finishes, but injuries and inconsistency have dinged his MLB legacy.

For every high, there has been a low.

This offseason, he could pull the opt-out ripcord and become a free agent. Set aside a Tommy John procedure, a lat strain and shoulder trouble.

Strasburg's postseason resume is unimpeachable.

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

In his latest effort, he pulled the Nationals even with the Dodgers. That would be the same Dodgers who have won two consecutive NL pennants and seven straight NL West crowns.

The Nats on Tuesday had their first postseason breakthrough after four NLDS losses since 2012, a span in which they have the most regular-season wins besides the Dodgers. The starting rotation is their anchor, and Strasburg is spearheading a trio that includes Scherzer and Patrick Corbin.

For the moment, the formula is working. As FanGraphs' Dan Szymborski put it:

"In a season in which the Dodgers won 106 games and led the National League in runs scored, Strasburg has been one of the few pitchers to have continued success against the Boys in Blue. Adding in Friday night's performance, Strasburg's season line against the Dodgers (so far!) amounts to a 1.89 ERA in three starts with 26 strikeouts in 19 innings."

The Nats may not be able to keep it up. Their bullpen posted a 5.68 ERA in the regular season, dead-last in the NL. Scherzer and Strasburg may not be able to carry the load all the way to the champagne-and-confetti finish line.

On the other hand, maybe they can. And if so, Strasburg could be the one to make it happen.

   

All statistics accurate as of Friday and courtesy of Baseball Reference.

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