The Nats will have a curious advantage. They’re perhaps the only team ever to have a designated scapegoat before October arrives. “I’ve been beat up, barbecued, shellacked and ‘shillelaghed,’ ” said General Manager Mike Rizzo, the man solely responsible for Strasburg’s shutdown. “We’ll be fired up and ready for battle. And that guy [Strasburg] will be right in the dugout with us.”
“We can win without Strasburg,” said closer Tyler Clippard, who saved Sunday’s 4-3 win. “If we do and we have him next year, it’s even that much better. That’s the way I look at it. And it’s going to be exciting to do that. . . .
“I plan to use all the comments as a motivational tool. A lot of other guys will, too,” Clippard said. “Some people around the country think we can’t win without him. They haven’t been watching this ballclub very much — because we can. I think our fans understand that.”
The Nats will have limitations in October. Their offense is No. 12 in runs per game out of 30 teams. Their bullpen is good and deep, but not one of the most intimidating. They’re miserable at holding base runners. Even Ryan Zimmerman’s arm at third base on routine throws is one of the scarier sights in baseball with two one-hop-the-tarp jobs against the Cards.
However, the Nats have a strength so ridiculously deep they can sacrifice a star and perhaps only be marginally affected. You have to sense how unique their rotation is to understand how you could subtract Strasburg from it and still challenge for a pennant. With Strasburg, the Nats have five of the NL’s top 15 ERAs and five of its nine hardest throwers (which seems impossible). All five, are, essentially, in the top 20 in everything.
“You only need four” in October, said Manager Davey Johnson.
So, if you prefer, pity the poor Nats and believe that, in 10 days, their chances will shrivel. That’s what you’ll hear anyway.
But, even without Strasburg, the Nats are still neck-and-neck with the Reds, perhaps just a bit behind, as the best overall team in the NL.
Once you’re that good, anything can happen. No matter what anybody says.
For previous columns by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/