Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Let Strasburg Pitch: Washington Has to Go For It


So, the Washington Nationals are likely to shut down Stephen Strasburg when he gets to 180 innings pitched this season.

I understand wanting to preserve the future.  Stopping him from pitching now, so that you’ll have him in 2013 and beyond, is every bit as understandable as a team in rebuilding mode getting of its biggest, most expensive stars and starting over, thus sacrificing one to three bad years to make five to ten good ones.

But the Nationals, as of this writing, are 76-46.  They lead the National League East by 6 games over the Atlanta Braves, whom they are playing this week, and whom they’ve beaten the last two nights.

Throw in the two-wild-cards system we have starting with this season, and, according to CoolStandings.com, the Nats have a 99.8 percent chance of at least making the Playoffs.  Their chance of winning the NL East is 90.9 percent.

Here are the percentages each team has of at least getting its League’s 2nd Wild Card:

1
Washington
99.8
2
Cincinnati
97.5
3
N.Y. Yankees
97.4
4
Texas
95.3
5
Atlanta
86.2
6
Chicago Sox
81.7
7
Tampa Bay
76.1
8
San Francisco
61.2
9
St. Louis
57.0
10
Detroit
54.4
11
Oakland
52.8
12
Pittsburgh
43.3
13
L.A. Dodgers
39.2
14
Baltimore
24.4
15
Arizona
15.8
16
L.A. Angels
12.1
17
Seattle
2.9
18
Boston
2.6
19
Kansas City
0.2
20
Toronto
0.1
21
Cleveland
0.1
22
Minnesota
0.1
23
Philadelphia
0.1
24
N.Y. Mets
0.1
25
Miami
0.1
26
Milwaukee
0.1
27
San Diego
0.1
28
Chicago Cubs
0.0
29
Houston
0.0
30
Colorado
0.0
So if you’ve only got a 1 in 500 chance of missing the Playoffs, why would you bench your best pitcher? It would be like being a boxing trainer, getting your exciting young fighter into a fight for one of the championship belts, with a shot at possibly unifying the title, and then sending him out to face the champion with one hand tied behind his back.

Look at Washington's record.  And I’m not just talking about the Nats, I’m talking about Washington sports in general:

This is the Nats’ 8th season since they moved to the District of Columbia.  Before that, they were the Montreal Expos.  None of the previous 7 seasons were winning seasons.  Their last season above .500 was 2003 in Montreal, 9 years ago.  Their last season of at least 84 wins was in 1996, 16 years ago.  That was also the last season in which, had the current Playoff setup been in place, they would have made the Playoffs.  Had the 1994 season been played to a conclusion, and had the standings that were frozen at the time of the strike held, the Expos would have gone into the Playoffs with the best record in baseball, and thus home field advantage all the way through the NL Playoffs, and, under the systems in place then (alternating between Leagues) and now (League that wins the All-Star Game), would have had HFA in the World Series as well.

The Nats finished 80-81 last season, and 81-81 in their first season in D.C., 2005.  No Washington-based baseball team has finished above .500 since the 1969 Washington Senators, who went 86-76.  That was 43 years ago.  It was the only time the 1961-born franchise, which became the Texas Rangers in 1972, would top .500 until 1974.  The last time before that was the “old Senators,” the team that became the Minnesota Twins in 1961 to be replaced by the Senators/Rangers franchise, going 87-67 in 1945.

That 1945 Senators team was also the last Washington baseball team to really be in a Pennant race, finishing a game and a half behind the Detroit Tigers.  That was 67 years ago.  Two-thirds of a century.

The last Washington baseball team to win a Pennant was the 1933 Senators.  That was 79 years ago.

The last Washington baseball team, and the only one, to win a World Series was the 1924 Senators.  That was 88 years ago.

Think about that for a moment: Washington has an 88-year drought.  That’s as long as Chicago’s got (1917-2005), and it’s longer than Boston’s got (86 years, 1918-2004).  San Francisco recently ended a drought (53 seasons, 1958-2010), and Cleveland’s is still ongoing (64 years, since 1948).  And, while it’s true that Washington didn’t even have a team for 33 seasons (1972-2004), the fact remains that no team currently in the major leagues has waiting longer for a World Series, a Pennant, or even a Pennant race.

No D.C.-area team, in any sport, has won a World Championship since the Redskins won Super Bowl XXVI - 20 years ago.

None has reached the Finals since the Capitals got swept in the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals. In the 14 years since, lots of noticeably smaller markets have made Finals: Neighboring Baltimore, Calgary, Cleveland, Edmonton, Houston, Nashville, Orlando, Ottawa, San Diego, Seattle, Vancouver, San Antonio four times. In two sports: Atlanta, Buffalo, Carolina (Charlotte in the NFL, Raleigh twice in the NHL), Denver, Indianapolis, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, St. Louis. In three sports: Detroit and Tampa Bay! That's not New York, L.A., Chicago or even Boston achieving that.  While Washington hasn't reached the Finals in any sport in 14 years – unless you count Georgetown basketball reaching the National Championship in 2007.

The Caps have made the Finals just that once in almost 40 years, winning exactly zero Finals games.

The Bullets/Wizards haven't won a title in 34 years, or reached the Finals, or even the Conference Finals, in 33.

Even Georgetown, for all its success, has won only one National Championship, in 1984.  The University of Maryland is inside the Capital Beltway, and they won the National Championship in 2002.  But that’s still not major league.

Think about it: The Caps have never won a title; the Redskins, not since George Bush – the father, not the son – was was living in the White House a few miles away; the Wizards, not since Jimmy Carter; and Washington baseball, not since Calvin Coolidge.

The Nats have to go for it.  They have to send their best pitcher out there.  If they think he’s throwing too much, they can always give him an extended spring training next season and debut him in the majors on May 1, 2013.

But how many chances does a team get to play in the World Series? Look at the 1980s Mets: People thought they’d be a dynasty.  They only got into one World Series.  Look at the Rays: For all their surprising success, they’ve gotten into just one World Series so far.  Look at the Rockies: They won 21 out of 22 down the stretch in 2007 and won their first Pennant; they’ve won a grand total of one postseason game since clinching that Pennant.

Look at the Phillies: They were a young team when they won the 1950 Pennant, hence the nickname “Whiz Kids.” They thought they’d get into a few more.  They didn’t.  When they finally got back to the Playoffs in 1976, they figured there’d be lots of Pennants.  There were only 2.  When they won a surprise Pennant in 1993, they thought there’d be more; it took them until 2008 to get back, and for all the games they’ve won – since opening Citizens Bank Park in 2004, they’ve at least been in the Playoff race every year until this one – they’ve only won the one title in that stretch.

The Nats have to go for it.  For, as the saying goes, tomorrow is promised to no one.

2 comments:

sloanxavier said...

2004 MLS Cup Champions
Alan I. Rothenberg Trophy
D.C. United 3 — 2 Kansas City Wizards
November 11, 2004

Uncle Mike said...

D.C. United takes it up the ass. As you'll see next Wednesday night when the Red Bulls march into RFK and slice ya and dice ya.

Of course, what the ESC and the GSS don't realize that, regardless of the history between the clubs, every New York team's real rival (aside from the intrametro ones) isn't Washington, or even Philadelphia, it's New England.