Wednesday, October 10, 2012

10/10 (Nats Mania) Quickie

Phew! In what feels like a must-win game for the Nationals in Game 3 this afternoon, it sure is reassuring to know that the team will be sending out its ace, Stephen Strasburg.


Oh, sorry: Instead of Strasburg, they will be sending out this season's No. 4 pitcher -- Edwin Jackson -- to face his old Cards mates, who are entirely familiar with Jackson's postseason pitching. It might have made them cringe last October, but this year, it is cause for celebration.

This is it: The moment that the Great Strasburg Shutdown goes from being a theoretical debate to having entirely practical -- perhaps brutal -- consequences.

There is no guarantee that Strasburg -- had he been saved over the regular season for this very moment -- would pitch a Game 3 gem.

There is no guarantee that Jackson won't pitch well (after all: most Nats observers didn't think Jordan Zimmermann would get hammered in Game 2), but no guarantee he won't get shellacked.

The point of agreement in the Strasburg debate is that Strasburg would give the Nats a better chance of winning his game in a 5-game series (or his two games in a 7-game series) than Jackson/Detwiler.

This afternoon, in the first MLB playoff game that DC has hosted since 1933, it feels less like a moment to flex home-field advantage with cheers than a moment where fans will be whistling past the graveyard, hoping the team's stop-gap Strasburg-free solution can hold up against a nasty Cards lineup.

Nats fans will be hoping for the best, but this is the moment to recognize the trade-off that was made by GM Mike Rizzo back in April when he had no faith his team would be playing in October, a trade-off he doubled down on after the team's hot start by not creating a scenario where his team's ace would be available for precisely a game such as this.

Thanks to (or perhaps irregardless of) Rizzo's foresight, Steven Strasburg may yet win 200 games in his career, en route to the Hall of Fame. None of those games could possibly be as important to the franchise as this damn-near-must-win Game 3 today.

It should be Strasburg out there today, leading the Nats to a pivotal win that carries them into the NLCS, one step closer to a World Series championship. It won't be.

As a Nats fan, I hope this isn't the moment where Rizzo's original sin of the springtime -- a fundamental lack of faith in his team's chances to contend this year -- punishes the rest of us.

-- D.S.

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