Opinion Corner: Nationals facing dilemmaSo picture this: Your team has the best record in the league. They’re one of the odds-on favorites to win the championship. However, the general manager of that team is not thinking about, but rather has made up his mind with full certainty, to shut down the team’s best player for the playoffs.
By: Brian Willhide, The Jamestown Sun
So picture this: Your team has the best record in the league. They’re one of the odds-on favorites to win the championship. However, the general manager of that team is not thinking about, but rather has made up his mind with full certainty, to shut down the team’s best player for the playoffs.
If this were a hypothetical scenario, you’d tell me it’s completely unfathomable. I can imagine the comments now: “Is this GM insane? Who in their right mind would do that?”
Unfortunately, it’s not hypothetical in the least — it’s quite real.
Meet the epic conundrum known as the 2012 Washington Nationals.
First place in the NL East division.
Best record in Major League Baseball at 73-45.
Cy Young candidate leading the pitching staff, who is second in the NL in strikeouts (173), tied for fourth in wins (14) and seventh in ERA (2.91) … and that’s where this whole scenario goes awry.
Stephen Strasburg is that Cy Young candidate, and no matter what he does or how he performs down the stretch of the regular season, Nationals GM Mike Rizzo is going to shut him down for the playoffs.
Strasburg had Tommy John surgery in September 2010 after tearing a ligament in his elbow.
Upon his return, he pitched in five games at the end of the 2011 season, and this past spring training, Rizzo set a tentative innings limit on Strasburg for the 2012 season at 160.
According to Rizzo and team doctors, preliminary research and medical studies show that a pitcher coming off that type of surgery should not only pitch less than a fully healthy arm, but rest the surgically-repaired elbow for a longer period of time than a normal off-season.
Strasburg is fast approaching Rizzo’s limit, with 139.1 IP to date.
With Strasburg averaging just shy of six innings per start, he would reach 160 IP after four or five more starts — reaching into mid-September prior to the beginning of the playoffs.
Barring a meltdown, the Nats are a shoe-in to make the playoffs, whether as NL East champions or, worst-case scenario, as a Wild Card berth.
And yet, Strasburg will watch his team from the dugout throughout the duration of the playoffs.
Realistically, could the Nats still win the World Series without Strasburg anchoring the rotation? It’s possible.
But there’s no doubt he gives them a greater chance to win when he’s on the mound. And while Davey Johnson is managing a young, up-and-coming team that, on paper, should be highly competitive for several years to come, I think this season is the best chance they are ever going to get.
Seasons like this one, consisting of the top record in MLB, accompanied by a pitching staff that has four of five starters within the top 15 in the league in ERA and a top five offense in the NL — let’s face it, they just don’t grow on trees (especially not in the history of this Expos/Nationals franchise).
If I’m in Rizzo’s shoes, I realize the possible long-term consequences if my ace pitcher injures that elbow again. But at the same time, I just cannot look my ball club in the eyes and tell them I’m shutting down its best player right before the time of the season that means the most.
When I put on my rational thinking cap, I know Rizzo is not only doing what is ultimately best for Strasburg, but also what’s best for the long-term success of the organization. Unfortunately, my rational thinking when it comes to sports has long-since been booted to the back of my brain by the little guy with a foam finger telling me “Win now — that’s what really matters!”
Willhide is a news writer with The Sun and a frequent contributor to the Opinion Corner