May Jose Fernandez live forever

fernandez_o967wnri_7zsln5k2I woke up this morning intending to write something on the Nationals 2016 NL East Championship.  Sadly, reality cancelled those plans.

The death of Jose Fernandez hit me hard, and it’s difficult to articulate why.  Celebrities die all the time.  It’s become commonplace, along with the (possibly excessive) public mourning associated with the news.

But there’s something exceptional about Jose Fernandez’s death.  He was the best baseball had to offer.  If you didn’t enjoy watching Fernandez pitch, you’re not a baseball fan.  His talent was incomparable, and he had only started to scratch the surface.  Fernandez was 24.  His talent and trajectory suggested a Hall of Fame career.  More than that, his electronic personality gave baseball a charismatic character it so desperately needed.

More so than his talent, age, and personality, Jose Fernandez represented what’s great about our society.  Forgive me for going there, but Jose’s tragic departure seems particularly salient in 2016, when almost half the country appears poised to vote for a Presidential candidate with reckless disregard for the dignity of human life and the diversity that’s always been America’s greatest strength.  Fernandez came to the county like so many thousands of refugees unfortunate enough to be born in a country with considerably less freedom and prosperity than the United States.  He barely survived his journey from Cuba at age 15, saving his mother’s life in the process.  If you haven’t read about Fernandez’s journey to America, I suggest you do so.

Baseball, rooted in history, has always represented the progress and evolution of our culture.  Ethic minorities–Honus Wagner, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg, Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente–have always represented something greater than their contributions on the field.  Jose Fernandez built on that tradition. Unlike many of his fellow refugees and immigrants, Fernandez was born with the physical gifts to immediately find success in his new country.  Every strikeout belonged to the Cuban American community rooting him on.  His success was theirs.  His success was ours too because–put simply–the immigrant story is the American story.

Jose Fernandez’s death is unspeakably and unconscionably sad on every level.  For his family, his teammates, his community.  He was taken from us too soon.  But his story should live forever in the replays of his devastating slider and magnetic smile.  More importantly, his story should live forever in the vibrant and ethnically diverse society he leaves behind.  God bless America and God bless Jose Fernandez.

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Can the Nationals win without Stephen Strasburg?

It was a small crowd at Nats Park last night, but the groan was loud enough. When Stephen Strasburg made his all-too-familiar walk of shame back to the dugout, glove over his face, trainer in tow, every Nats fan in attendance started to picture a 2016 playoff run without him.

A day later, we all received a temporary reprieve when Strasburg’s MRI came back clean, relatively speaking. The UCL is fine–or so they say–but Strasburg nonetheless has a flexor mass strain sidelining him for an indefinite period. With the playoffs set to begin in less than a month, Strasburg doesn’t even need to have Tommy John surgery again to miss the rest of the year.

So where are we? If there’s one thing that’s certain, the Nats will be cautious. Aren’t they always cautious? It’s not even worth discussing whether the team throws Strasburg back on the mound before he’s 100 percent, just for the sake a pennant run. If Strasburg was shut down in 2012 as a matter of routine, the Nats will surely take their chances in the 2016 playoffs without him, for the sake of his future with the team. Don’t bother holding your breath for the deadline to announce playoff rosters. Just assume Strasburg is done. Trust me, it’ll be healthier for you mentally. Any Strasburg the rest of this season is a bonus.

If there’s one thing that clear, it’s this. It’s on Max now. Scherzer was signed to be the ace of this staff–to take the ball in Game 1 of a playoff series and shove it. He always had a critical role, but now he’s operating without a safety net. With Joe Ross hurt and Gio turning into a rookie again, the Nats starting pitching was looking tenuous enough–before this injury. Now the team has Max in Game 1, Tanner Roark in Game 2 and then what? Gio in Game 3 is a revolting thought given his predictable command and control issues. Behind him are a bunch of rookies.

Max was signed to be The Man. Now, he’s probably the only hope. With a battle against Clayton Kershaw probably looming in Game 1, he’ll need more than a little luck.