On Sunday, Strasburg fanned nine Cards in six innings of scoreless ball. The Nats, with the best winning percentage in baseball, whipped defending champion St. Louis three out of four. The Nats now have a substantial 6½-game lead over the Braves in the National League East. Teams with such Labor Day leads almost always win their divisions. That, in its way made this day hurt more. This series simply underlined what a realistic chance the Nats would have to win the pennant and maybe even the World Series.
If only . . .
Sometimes numbers are more eloquent and sadder than words because they are harder to refute. In a weak year among NL powers, the Nats will seldom have a smoother path to a pennant. Look at the pitching hegemony the Nats would have brought to bear in the postseason when all teams use four starters. They’d have four of the top 15 in ERA among all starters in the NL. Only one NL team has more than one such pitcher (the Giants).
Also, the Nats would send out four of the top 15 NL starters in WHIP (walks and hits per inning), as well as four of the top 21 in lowest OPS (on-base-percentage plus slugging).
Finally, the Nats would have an overpowering staff with four of the top nine average-fastball-velocities in the NL. That’s almost insane.
On top of all that, the Nats would finally, if they stay intact, have their best seven hitters at the top of their lineup and their entire seven-deep bullpen all healthy at the same time. All season the Nats have waited for this full complement of top players. All in all, it’s a mighty powerful mixture.
Too bad: After 79 years waiting, we’re left with “might have beens.”
Oh, I’m sorry. I seem to have made a minor mistake in my calculations. The team I have just described is the Nationals without Strasburg.
The four-man rotation, primed for October that I’ve described is Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler.
So all of the pundits who say the Nats can’t go to the Series or even win it, just because they won’t have Strasburg, can kiss my press pass.
The three best teams in baseball this season have been Cincinnati (.607), Texas (.594) and Washington in games Strasburg didn’t pitch (.585).
The Nats are better with Strasburg, his 15-6 record and 2.94 ERA. But they aren’t enormously better. In his last 13 starts, the Nats are 7-6 and his ERA in that span (3.80) is only fourth out of five in the rotation.
For generations, fans have waited for a Washington pennant race, for playoff games and for a team with a reasonable chance to go deep into October. Now, they may feel like they are being coached to be sad, or mad, counting the days to some dismal Strasburg Shutdown, rather than enjoying a team that is playing better (.640 in its last 50 games) as it gets healthier.
The Nats watch all this with hard eyes. They’d love to have Strasburg. But they’re already digesting his absence and figuring out how to use it.