An overlooked angle of the Strasburg shutdown discussion

Will Ian Desmond make his grand return to the Nationals tonight as the team opens a series against the Mets?

We’ll have to see. As you know, Desmond took part in a simulated game yesterday, and if he feels good today, the All-Star shortstop could find his name back in the lineup tonight after missing 25 games with a left oblique injury.

Chien-Ming Wang resumed his rehab from a right hip strain yesterday, starting for Double-A Harrisburg in the Senators’ game against Akron.

Wang got stuck with the loss after allowing two runs, three hits and two walks over 4 2/3 innings. He struck out three and got seven groundouts to just two fly outs. Wang now has a 4.30 ERA over 12 minor league starts this season, to go along with a 7.61 ERA in seven appearances with the Nationals.

The veteran right-hander’s rehab assignment was put on hold recently after he experienced a setback with his hip. The timing of the setback worked out for the Nats, who would have had until Aug. 11 to either add Wang to their 25-man roster or remove him from their 40-man roster.

Now, because the rehab assignment has restarted, Wang will continue to work back from the hip strain with a return to the majors a possibility over the next few weeks.

strasburg shadows coors sidebar.jpgHe could provide depth to the Nats’ pitching staff once rosters expand Sept. 1. But at this point, it’s hard to see him overtaking John Lannan on the depth chart and working his way into the Nationals’ rotation once Stephen Strasburg is shut down.

Speaking of Strasburg being shut down, it seems like every 12 hours, there’s a new headline popping up somewhere with a different take on the Nationals’ controversial decision to eventually take the ball away from their ace right-hander.

Longtime Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone called it, “absolutely pathetic.” Even Tommy John himself got in on the discussion, saying that if he was a Nats fan, he wouldn’t buy tickets next season because he’d be so upset at the team. (No offense to the former pitcher, but why his opinion matters here, I’m not sure.)

Strasburg is obviously an incredibly talented young pitcher, the ace of the Nationals’ staff. He’s having a great season and is still pitching at a high level this deep into the year. But I feel like the discussion about his shutdown among most people outside the D.C. area is being held under the assumption that the Nationals are blowing their shot at a World Series because Strasburg won’t pitch in the playoffs.

In reality, Strasburg is just one piece of the Nationals’ puzzle. He’s a big piece, but this is a very talented team, one which can go a long way even without Strasburg in the rotation for the postseason.

Gio Gonzalez is tied for the National League lead in wins and has emerged as an ace himself. Jordan Zimmermann leads the National League in ERA. Edwin Jackson has postseason and World Series experience and, at times, has nearly unhittable stuff. Ross Detwiler and Lannan are plenty capable of winning postseason games if they’re needed.

The Nationals’ offense has come to life over the last couple months, and they’ve scored the most runs of any team in the majors since the All-Star break, even without Desmond for the last few weeks. The bullpen has excelled, as well, and only one reliever (Drew Storen) has an ERA above 3.25. The team defense has been excellent, allowing the Nats to give up the fewest unearned runs in the NL.

Strasburg’s shutdown will be a blow to the Nationals’ chances of going deep into the postseason or winning a World Series. But I feel like a lot of these national “analysts” are, in a sense, giving up on this team just because Strasburg won’t get starts in October.

In my mind, at least, that’s a mistake.

Now, hopefully we can make it through the next two hours without needing to mention the word “shutdown” again.

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