Did Stephen Strasburg Decision Cost Nationals a Chance at World Series?

Greg StarddardContributor IIIOctober 13, 2012

National's Steven Strasburg
National's Steven StrasburgRob Carr/Getty Images

It's one of the most sensitive topics in Washington, D.C., these days. Did the Nationals make the right decision in sitting fireballer Stephen Strasburg during the playoffs?

Could Strasburg have helped the Nats sweep or just simply beat the St Louis Cardinals? Did general manager Mike Rizzo make a calculated decision that ultimately backfired and cost the team an opportunity at a World Series title?

Those are kinds of questions people are asking. The Nats' collapse of epic proportions will be debated in baseball circles for years to come. They blew a 6-0 lead in Game 5 of their NLDS series against the San Francisco Giants and their season ended.

Every time I saw Strasburg on television during the game, he had a blank look on his face. I'm not sure if he was disillusioned about not pitching in the hottest sporting event in D.C. in many years, or if he was tired of the camera being shoved in his face hoping for a reaction.

GM Rizzo decided long ago that Strasburg would be shut down after 160 or so innings. He was true to his word when he benched the superstar after 159+ innings. The official reason: The Nationals were trying to protect Strasburg's arm. They were looking out for his future.

Rizzo got a lot of props for making such a bold move, but he was also raked over the coals by others. What a gutsy move. Rizzo knew if the Nats were eliminated, he'd face the critics once again.

I'm trying to figure out the logic behind this decision, and for the life of me, I can't come to terms with it. Strasburg's arms had recovered. Most major league pitchers who have Tommy John surgery make a comeback.


It's a very successful procedure that has worked for the majority of pitchers who had it. Strasburg was the latest, and he looked damn good this season. Yeah, his last couple of starts in the regular season were rough, but, geez, it's a long season. All of the players are tired, even the ones who didn't have the Tommy John operation.


If Strasburg is on the roster, the Nats are a much better team,. With him and Gio Gonzalez anchoring the pitching staff, they're among the strongest in the league. That's a lot for the Cards to deal with, especially if they have to face Strasburg twice in a five-game series.

I think Strasburg would have won both his starts, with Gio winning the other, and the Nats would have advanced to the National League Championship series. From there, I had them beating the San Francisco Giants and moving on to the World Series against the New York Yankees.

I wonder how Strasburg felt. He kept giving us the "company line" when asked about being benched. But this town was crazy. There's nothing like playoff fever for a city craving a championship, especially for a team that hasn't seen baseball playoffs since, well, you get the idea. It's been a long time. Strasburg deserved to pitch. He deserved the opportunity to share in the jubilation and excitement.

Heck, he's one of the main reasons the Nats made it to the playoffs. Instead he was sitting in the dugout watching like all of us at home. It wasn't fair to the young man and I give him major credit for not trashing the team and saying all the right things. He's impressive off and on the mound. But he deserved better.


Lets talk about the surgery. He had completely recovered. Anyone who saw him pitch during the regular season knew that. His fastball was untouchable. He had complete command and control. He wasn't lacking anywhere.

He was clearly one of the best pitchers in baseball. Some would argue he was the best. He is without a doubt in the same class as Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia.


By all accounts, Strasburg's arm was fine. So what are you protecting him from? Why not let him pitch in a series he's been dreaming about since he was a little kid? Why not give your team a better chance at winning the division series and hopefully a world championship? If Strasburg has been cleared by medical experts to pitch, why not let him pitch?

I often wonder what manager Davey Johnson "really" thought about sitting down his best player for the playoffs. There were reports of internal strife between Johnson and Rizzo during the season. Both downplayed the tension, but it raised a lot of questions about their ability to co-exist.

Was Johnson voicing his displeasure at Rizzo's decision to de-activate Strasburg? Was Johnson telling Rizzo he was making a big mistake?

Let me just say I'm a Johnson fan. I thought he got the job under shady circumstances when former manager Jim Riggleman "resigned." But that wasn't Johnson's fault. It was an ownership and Rizzo debacle. If anybody knows baseball,  it's Johnson. He's been there and done that. In previous columns,  I've sung his praises.


He was a great player for the Baltimore Orioles and a winning manager just about everywhere he's been. Just ask the Orioles. Before this season, the O's were mired in ruins. The last manager to take them to the playoffs? Johnson. But he had some issues with owner Peter Angelos, and vice versa, and they parted ways shortly after Johnson took Baltimore to the 1997 playoffs.

Johnson is invaluable to any major league baseball franchise. He's tough, outspoken and opinionated. Any general manager or owner who hires him must know that before offering him the contract. Johnson's worth it. All you have to do is look at his record.

The decision to bench Strasburg and lose a series in such disappointing fashion at home after having such a large lead will reverberate throughout the clubhouse and executive offices for a while. Trust me. This won't blow over.


I find it hard to believe that Johnson said, "Sure, de-activate my best player." I've followed him long enough to say he probably had some strong discussions with Rizzo about this controversial call. I know Johnson wants to win. He knows he has the team to do it, but in order for him to achieve that goal, people have to get out of the way and let him do his job.

I'll give Rizzo credit for putting together a playoff team in a short period of time. He deserves accolades for that and he deserves them. Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman are some of the best young baseball players in the game. If they keep this team together, they'll be contenders for years to come.

But upper management decisions will have to be monitored more closely. Ted Lerner and the top brass need to closely study what happened to the Nats this year. They deserve more answers and perhaps a clearer explanation about why one of the game's top pitchers wasn't allowed to pitch. At the very least, the fans deserve that.