Behind six strong innings from Stephen Strasburg and just enough offense from the Nationals' bats, Washington closed the door on an encouraging 2011 season with a 3-1 win over the Florida Marlins on Wednesday.
Strasburg allowed just one hit and struck out a season-high 10 batters in the victory, while RBIs from Ian Desmond and Roger Bernadina gave Washington the offense it needed to reach the 80-win mark for the season and instill optimism and excitement heading into 2012.
For Strasburg, his performance solidified the fact that the right-hander has returned to full strength. His off-speed pitches had plenty of movement, while his fastball settled in the mid-90s, straying only to eclipse the 100-mph mark on occasion. The six innings tied his longest outing of the year and gave Strasburg his first and only win of 2011.
It came at a perfect time, too, as early on Strasburg simply had to keep pace with Marlins starter Chris Volstad, who was solid in his own right. Volstad held the Nationals hitless through the first three innings and surrendered just a pair of runs on three hits in six innings of work.
That pair of runs was just enough for Washington to come away with the win, however, as Desmond's pair of RBIs in the fifth put the Nationals ahead for good, giving the team its most wins since the inaugural 2005 season.
On the year, Strasburg pitched a total of five games for the Nationals. After making his season debut back on September 6 against the Dodgers, Strasburg made four more starts including today's, accumulating just two decisions. His six innings Wednesday against the Marlins were matched only by his other start against Florida on September 17 and his 10 strikeouts easily surpassed his previous season high of four, set twice.
Regardless of the rest of the night, the Nationals will finish the season in third place in the National League East, their best finish in the team's brief history. The 80 wins is also an 11-game improvement from a year ago, a sign that things are headed in the right direction for this young organization.
Moving forward, general manager Mike Rizzo has repeatedly said the team will look to add another starting pitcher as well as another big bat in the lineup, preferably a left-hander. One thing is for sure, however. With Strasburg back at full strength anchoring a dangerous pitching rotation and the emergence of slugger Michael Morse and rookie Danny Espinosa, the Nationals are not far off from contending for the postseason in 2012.