Strasburg or no Strasburg, Nats not playing well enough to win

I hated myself for being so tired last night that I passed out before the end of the Tigers-A’s game.

When did I get so old that regardless of how tired I was (and man, was I tired), I couldn’t fight through it and watch late-night postseason baseball? C’mon, Kolko, get it together.

This is what I get, I guess. I miss a thrilling ninth-inning comeback in which the A’s scored three runs to earn a walk-off win and force Game 5.

That game actually ended up affecting the Nationals-Cardinals series; because the Tigers and A’s will play again tonight, the Nats and Cardinals will start their Game 4 at 4:07 p.m. If Detroit had won last night, the start of the Nats game would have been bumped back an hour.

Like the A’s last night, the Nats will play to try and keep their season alive today. Trailing 2-1 in their best-of-five National League Division Series against the Cards after two straight blowout losses, the Nationals are in a tough spot. They’ll turn to Ross Detwiler today to try and help keep them alive one more day and get them to a Game 5.

The starters in front of Detwiler have struggled. That much is clear. Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson have combined to work 11 innings in this series. In that span, they’ve allowed a total of 11 runs, 16 hits and eight walks to go along with 10 strikeouts.

The team which finished the regular season with baseball’s second-best starters’ ERA (3.40) has seen its starters post a 9.00 ERA through the first three games of the National League Division Series.

That’s led some fans and media members to restart the cries for Stephen Strasburg. Things would be different if Strasburg was pitching in this series, those people say. Why is Strasburg stuck on the bench when he could be out winning games for the Nats in this series?

Well, first of all, there’s no guarantee that if Strasburg was still pitching, he’d be throwing well enough to provide much of an improvement over the three Nats starters that we’ve already seen this series. Over his final eight regular season outings, Strasburg pitched to a 4.29 ERA, allowing 20 earned runs in 42 innings.

He had a couple great starts in that stretch, like his Sept. 2 outing against St. Louis, in which he threw six scoreless innings and struck out nine. But he also had a few stinkers, including two of his three last starts, in which he combined to allow 12 runs (10 earned) over eight innings, giving up 15 hits. He showed some of the inconsistency which we often see from starters who are coming back from Tommy John surgery, and often lacked the precision which allows him to have success when he’s on his game.

More importantly, however, even if Strasburg had been allowed to start for the Nationals yesterday, it wouldn’t have mattered how well he threw. When your team goes out and strands 11, goes 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and fails to bring a run across the plate, you could be Sandy Koufax and not pick up a win.

The Nationals aren’t getting great starting pitching right now, but that’s only one of their issues. Their bullpen has been mediocre at best, giving up 11 runs (10 earned) over 13 innings in this series. The offense was nonexistent yesterday and barely provided much of anything in Game 2. Clutch hits outside of Tyler Moore’s Game 1 knock have been few and far between, and especially facing a strong-hitting team like the Cardinals, you have to score to win.

Plus, even if Strasburg had pitched this series, people are acting like he would’ve been able to take the mound every game. Gonzalez, Zimmermann and Jackson would have needed to take the mound, as well, and those guys haven’t gotten the job done.

Would the Nats be better off with Strasburg in their postseason rotation? Probably. But there’s no guarantee he would’ve changed all that much.

The Nationals’ decision to shut him down will be debated for a long time to come, and that’s fine. But I’m not entirely sure that with him on the NLDS roster, things look a whole lot different right now.

blog comments powered by Disqus