The Strasburg decision, individual honors races, and the playoff picture as MLB enters its last month.
The Washington Nationals are on top of the NL East and have the best record in MLB. The Nationals announced this weekend that their young ace, Stephen Strasburg, would make two more starts this season and then be shut down for the year. While it is understandable that this is not being received well by fans of the Nationals, the Nationals are making the right move and deserve credit for staying their chosen path.
Strasburg had Tommy John surgery to replace the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow September 2010. Strasburg has been dazzling this season, compiling a 15-6 record with a 2.94 ERA and 195 strikeouts. While it may be frustrating for Strasburg, his teammates, his manager, and fans of the Nationals, it is simply a no-brainer to keep him on the innings limit that was set for him by the Nationals this year. Coming back from Tommy John surgery is now routine, but coming back from a second surgery is a whole different matter. While an innings limit can’t guarantee the health of a pitcher, either long-term or short-term, the odds are definitely tilted in the favor of a pitcher’s health by doing so.
The Nationals look very much on their way to a division title. Strasburg missing 3-4 starts that he may have made had he been allowed to pitch to season’s end will not make a difference in the Nationals making the playoffs. It isn’t feasible to shut him down now and then ask him to crank back up for the playoffs, so this was the only logical choice the Nationals could have made.
The Nationals have to consider Strasburg’s long-term future as the face of the franchise. At the age of 24, Strasburg appears set to enter a phase in his career as a dominant pitcher, a phase in which the Nationals hope to be a perennial contender. The Nationals are on the verge of winning their first division title in Washington and this success has brought them attendance and interest increases by fans. The downside of losing Strasburg to injury again would be a huge blow to the franchise, and the Nationals decision to shut him down is proof that they aren’t just in it for this season. The easy thing to do would be to justify pitching Strasburg into the playoffs and going for a first ever title. By shutting him down, the Nationals are indicating that they intend to do what is necessary to have a future as well as a now. That is the best thing a fan can ask for. As much as people fret and stress over the now, the best feeling in the world is to have faith and hope for the future.
With one month to go in the season, the four big individual honors are all up for grabs. It has been quite a while since there wasn’t a clear leader in either the AL or NL Cy Young race or the AL or NL MVP race but this year’s races are very tight and will likely be decided on what happens in the last month of the season.
At one point in time it appeared that Josh Hamilton was going to be a runaway winner. A midseason slump combined with the incredible emergence of 19-year-old Mike Trout and another incredible season by Miguel Cabrera has made this a three-horse race.
If I were voting right now I’d vote for Cabrera, who has carried the Tigers to a tie for the division lead. Cabrera has been more valuable to the Tigers than Trout and Hamilton have been for their teams in my opinion. I’d have Hamilton second and Trout third, but with an entire month of crucial baseball to be played, this one is really up for grabs.
AL Cy Young
If I were voting now I would vote for King Felix. Pitching for a team with the fewest runs scored in the AL, King Felix has gone 13-6 with an 2.51 while constantly pitching with no margin for error.
It looks like a two-man battle between last year’s controversial winner Ryan Braun and Andrew McCutcheon. Braun leads the NL in home runs and RBI’s while batting .310 with an awesome .996 OPS. McCutcheon is on his way to a batting title, hitting .344 with 24 home runs and a .972 OPS.
If I were voting now I’d give the slimmest of margins to McCutcheon, who has been incredibly valuable to the Pirates. Take McCutcheon away from the Pirates and they would be very unlikely to be in playoff contention in September for the first time in over a decade.
NL Cy Young
If I were voting now I’d go with Dickey by the smallest of margins over Cueto. Pitching for a team who is 17 1/2 games out of first place, Dickey has gone 17-4 with a 2.63 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP.
If The Playoffs Began Today
In the American League:
The Athletics would host the Orioles in a one game playoff to determine who would host the first two games of a best-of-five against the Rangers.
The Tigers would host the first two games of a best-of-five series with the Yankees.
In the National League:
The Braves would host the Cardinals in a one game playoff to determine who would host the first two games of a best-of-five series against the Nationals.
The Giants would host the first two games of a best-of-five series with the Reds.