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.