Last season when the idea of shutting down Stephen Strasburg before the playoffs became a national story, Davey Johnson stood in line with Nationals brass and said it was the right move. The Nats figured they would be back in the postseason several more times and it was wise to put the future of the organization first.
Now, however, Johnson has apparently softened that stance. He appeared on 106.7 The Fan on Wednesday morning and said the Nats “probably” would have beaten the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2012 National League Division Series if they had their ace.
“I just say probably," he said. "Your best pitcher?"
This debate will likely never be put to rest, at least until or if the Nationals win a World Series with the help of Strasburg along the way. But there were several key factors regarding Strasburg last season and that series itself that make the debate quite complicated.
For one, by the time the Nats shut Strasburg down for the year, he was not pitching his best. There was a reason they shut him down a start earlier than originally announced, as he posted two of his worst outings of the entire year in his last two weeks. On Aug. 28 against the Marlins he gave up five earned runs in five innings and in his final game, again vs. Miami on Sept. 7, he allowed five through just three frames.
Players that have recovered from Tommy John say they felt much stronger the second full year back, especially as they approach and pass the 160 innings mark. It was enough for the Nationals to cut his season early because he appeared to be slowing down.
Secondly, in the series itself, the Nationals actually won Game 1, the day Strasburg would have started. Sure, Strasburg would have then been available for Game 5, but starting pitching wasn’t the problem that day. It was the bullpen that collectively collapsed and surrendered a three-run lead.
And third, if Strasburg did pitch in the series, he would have removed Ross Detwiler from the postseason rotation, and Detwiler was their best starter in that series. He pitched brilliantly in Game 4 against St. Louis, allowing just one run on three hits through six innings.
If Strasburg started Game 1, the Nats would have stuck with the more experienced Edwin Jackson for the fourth game, and he was a disaster in his only start. In the Nats’ 8-0 loss in Game 3, he coughed up four runs by the third inning and allowed eight hits overall through five frames. They had no chance to win.
A lot went on in that series, enough to suggest hindsight would not have changed anything. The way the series played out essentially left no definitive evidence that Strasburg would have been the difference.
Now, Davey also made a point to 106.7 that the Nats were 5-1 against the eventual champion San Francisco Giants during the 2012 regular season. The Giants would have been their opponent in the next round.
"Well we manhandled the Giants," he said.
It’s a fair argument, but there was something special about that World Series team. Not only had they been there before, they rallied from down 0-2 in a five game series to beat the Reds, overcame a 1-2 deficit to beat the Cardinals in seven games, and then swept the Tigers on the way to their second title in three years. We’ll never know what would have happened, but it’s not like their run was a fluke.
(Via 106.7 The Fan and The Washington Post)