The Nationals won 98 games, thanks largely to a Cy Young candidate and one of the greatest 19-year-old baseball players ever. But is there someone else who deserves Player of the Year honors?
The Washington Nationals were supposed to improve in 2012. They weren't supposed to win 98 games, more than anybody else in the major leagues. But they did, and became the first team from Washington, D.C. to qualify for a postseason berth since the 1933 Nationals won the American League pennant. Which was two franchises and a lot of years ago. Gio Gonzalez is a top Cy Young candidate, and a bunch of different hitters made big contributions. But which National best symbolizes his club's 98-win season?
Fair or not, this is probably always going to be remembered as the Year of Stephen Strasburg, simply because he was the first name that came up when discussing the Nationals, from roughly April through October.
Which was no mean feat, considering a) über-prospect Bryce Harper came up in April and wound playing in the All-Star Game, and b) Stephen Strasburg didn't even pitch in October.
Ah, but of course that was the thing.
This isn't really the proper forum for rehashing (again) the arguments for and against shutting down Strasburg after (roughly) 160 innings. Except I will mention that while Nationals management claimed they had the right plan for Strasburg, specifically, it was exactly the same plan they used for Jordan Zimmermann one year earlier.
And it's worth noting that Zimmermann has pitched exceptionally well since then. So perhaps the Nationals have a general plan that just happens to work. Which is fine; they don't have to tell us everything they're thinking, and sometimes duty even compels baseball executives to
lie be less than truthful.
Somewhat oddly, all the fuss about Strasburg was over a guy who actually ranked third among the Nationals' starting pitchers, with a 3.16 ERA; both Gio Gonzalez and Zimmermann finished with slightly lower marks while pitching significantly more innings than Strasburg. But of course, everyone knows which of the Nationals' starters was the most talented; Strasburg was the Nationals' youngest starter, and struck out 197 batters in only 159 innings. If he'd pitched just three more innings, Strasburg would have led the National League in strikeouts per nine innings, and been fifth in strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Next year, maybe.
This year, alas, the story was less about how well Strasburg pitched than about how little he pitched. And while it's not really fair to assume he would have made a difference in the Nationals' loss to the Cardinals in their Division Series -- after all, Strasburg probably would have pitched instead of Ross Detwiler, and the Nats won Detwiler's start -- people always want to find a reason for why something happened. And in the absence of anything obvious except Drew Storen's Game 5 meltdown, it seems likely that 2012 will be remembered for two things: the Nationals becoming the District of Columbia's first postseason team since 1933, and their best pitcher not being around when they couldn't get out of the District's first postseason series since 1933.
Next up: World Series foes Detroit and San Francisco, to close out THIS EXCITING SERIES. In case you missed any previous entries, here's the archive.