Nats GM Mike Rizzo shut down ace Stephen Strasburg in the heat of a playoff chase, valuing Strasburg's arm more than the players, the city and the game of baseball.
Stephen Strasburg’s innings limit has dominated baseball conversation for weeks. It was THE topic. His stellar season is done at 159 1/3 innings pitched. Now maybe someone will start talking about the rest of the Washington Nationals team. Just don’t expect that someone to be Nats General Manager Mike Rizzo.
By yanking his ace from the rotation leading into the playoffs, Rizzo is sending a clear message to Nats fans and players that Strasburg’s golden arm is worth more to him than everyone else combined. While people are applauding Rizzo for his forward-thinking and caution with Strasburg (who had Tommy John elbow surgery in 2010), other Nats players like Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman have got to be a little ticked.
With Washington’s first postseason berth since 1933 within reach, Rizzo pretty much flattened his team’s chances to win its first World Series ever. Nats players also have to be pissed that, lately, the only major Nats news concerns Strasburg’s innings limit.
Bryce Harper has got to be tight. He started the year with almost Ruthian hype. These days he can barely get a sidebar. Desmond and his 21 homers, and Zimmerman with his 80 RBI have to feel like D12 to Strasburg’s Eminem. When your GM lets it be known that one player is bigger than the team as blatantly as Rizzo has, it’s got to get in some craws. Rizzo claims he is saving Strasburg from harm and ensuring that he has a long career. He says the Nats will be good for years to come. Is he a soothsayer, as well? This is all just a really nice – albeit transparent – way of telling his team that if they go in the tank at this point he understands. The cash cow is going out to pasture. Deal with it.
Rizzo knows that baseball is a crap shoot. He obviously doesn’t care. You don’t always get a second chance to be the best in the league. Regular season wins are great, but they don’t automatically translate to playoff success. Just ask Seattle which, in 2001, won a major league record 116 games and then lost to the Yankees in the ALCS. The Mariners never returned to the postseason again. Eight MLB clubs still haven’t won a World Series: the San Diego Padres, Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, Nationals, Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, Tampa Rays and Milwaukee Brewers. The Nats and Mariners are the only teams with no World Series appearances. You’d think that would inspire Rizzo to try and grab a part of baseball history.
Instead, “Hope for the best while Strasburg rests,” is the new Nats slogan. Nats players haven’t openly complained, but I’ll bet a World Series ring that some of these dudes are feeling salty and short-changed.
The Nats pitching staff is still formidable even without Strasburg. Gio Gonzales is very good. He has 18 wins and an ERA under 3.00. Edwin Jackson helped pitch the Cardinals to last year’s World Series title, but Strasburg is the one that brings that Roy Halladay playoff no-hitter filth to the mound.
In a normal season, the Nats could ride without Strasburg. In this magical season, he is needed more than ever. His 15-6 record and 197 strikeouts say a lot. It would have been incredible to see him on baseball’s biggest stage. Maybe the Nats can shock the world without their ace. Who knows? They do know that Strasburg can’t help them win a chip sitting in the dugout blowing chunks of chew. Rizzo can talk about the future all he wants. The time is now for The Nats. He owes his team that shot.