Originally written on The Baseball Page  |  Last updated 11/10/14

When talking about sports people always like to bring up ‘times’–’this is our time‘, ‘the time to win is now’, ‘it’s time to make major moves’ etc, but if ever a team was having their quote unquote ‘time‘ surely it’s the Washington Nationals. The Nationals have been a floundering expansion team that’s been relying on developing their farm and drafting well in hopes of one day having enough talent to make a real push. While the experts have been making bold predictions about them finally making it to a playoff, this year the Nationals are in line to win 100 games and have a league best’s 69-43 record.

So you can kind of start to imagine Nationals fan’s chagrin when their GM Mike Rizzo came out and said that in order to keep Strasburg healthy he’d put to a strict innings pitched limit of 180, then shut down for the year. Ok, initially that sounds a lot worse then when you break it down: if Strasburg pitched 6 innings in every start he has while being skipped here and there, especially if they get a big lead on the NL East then you can make reason of it. But the way the Nationals have gone about Strasburg’s innings limitation is kind of like using up all the fresh water you have while on a stranded island–pitching him consistently in his starts and shutting him down the second he hits 180 innings no exceptions. Currently Strasburg stands at 133 and one third innings pitched, leaving him with 47 and a quarter innings left to go before he’s shut down. Right now, if he pitches all his remaining starts and goes 6 or more innings he will not make the post season pitching roster–also, even if they do skip him around and he does make playoffs he won’t go very deep. So what’s a team who’s finally making a run to do?

In the immortal words of Herm Edwards ‘you play to win the game’. It’s what makes all the games played, all the time spent developing skills, and all the hard earned fan money to buy tickets possible–winning. The Nationals are hot now, but they cannot as an organization be naive enough to think that things can’t drastically change next year, and nothing will bring you down as a sports franchise faster than failing to capitalize on a moment. The Nationals have been a team who’s always moved at a glacial like pace, always telling their fans just wait a few more years while we develop the farm, just wait until we get a big star, just wait until the team clicks at the same time–well you have the developed farm, you have the stars and everyone’s clicking when  will they finally get the gall to just push ahead stop making everything a long waiting process–there’s a reason baseball is called a ‘simple’ game, don’t overthink things.

But, let’s see things from the Nationals front office perspective for a moment, shall we? Stephen Strasburg suffered a season ending injury and underwent Tommy John’s surgery last year, he’s the Nationals $15 million dollar investment so it’s only natural that they move to protect him. Also, Strasburg is not the team ace and losing Strasburg for the post season wouldn’t be an instant death sentence or even close, if they can get consistent efforts from the likes of Jordan Zimmerman, Gio Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler (who’s been putting on a clinic since the AS break). Currently the Nationals are grappling with the inning limit situation that they got themselves in and GM Mike Rizzo is now saying he’s uncertain about an exact number. Rightttt

While I can certainly see where the Nationals are coming from trying to protect their prized young pitcher who’s capable of being the ace very soon, I still don’t see the logic in a hard cap limit. While I’m also not in favor of the whole ‘let’s just go by how he feels’ argument, which will not help much–a young player who’s poised to play in the game of his life will lie about any pain he may be experiencing just so he can pitch. But if you’re going to do the strict number thing, you have to ration his starts–maybe restrict him to bullpen sessions down the stretch so that his arm stays fresh. Shutting down one of your best pitchers right when the team needs him most is taking a gamble, and it’s like you’re telling the fans that we’re investing more in the future than in this moment. Well, frankly unless there’s psychics in the Nationals front office you don’t know if this moment will ever come again, having the league’s best record is nothing to take for granted. The Phillies thought they’d have more ‘moments’ too, and they just shipped off have their team to rebuild from scratch. Don’t be the kind of franchise that puts winning on the shelf for a rainy day, win now, push hard and be gutsy.

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