Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Stephen Strasburg tossed for his fourteenth win of the season yesterday as Robbo’s beloved Nats took another series off San Francisco.  This got Robbo pondering again on an issue that is beginning to roil Your Nation’s Capital  to a fevah pitch that may rival or indeed eclipse anything in the political arena.  (Jeesh, what a hell of a fall it’s going to be.)  Friends of the decanter who follow baseball will know of what I speak already and may want to skip ahead.  For those of you not up on these things (yes, that means the Mothe), a little background.

The Back Story

Three years ago, when the Nats were no longer 100+ loss laughingstocks but were still pretty lowly, a young kid named Stephen Strasburg appeared on the scene rayther in the manner of Luke Skywalker.  This New Hope had the most dazzling arm in memory.  Our psychotic (and now, thankfully, former) center fielder Nyger Morgan nicknamed him “Jesus” because that’s what everyone said when they saw him throw.

Strasburg came up very rapidly through the minors.  And when he made his debut in the Show, a game the eldest gel was privileged to attend, he lived up to the hype, fanning (if memory serves) fourteen batters.  However, the honeymoon ended rayther abruptly.  Stras only lasted a couple weeks in the rotation, tearing something in his elbow.  Tommy John surgery was required.  End of season.  (Even then there was controversy.  “Angry” Rob Dibble got himself sacked as the MASN color guy for saying on the air that Stras should have just sucked it up and pitched through his tears.)

Stras spent the rest of that year and most of last year recuperating and rehabing, eventually coming back to the majors in September to help the Nats along the way that new manager Davy Johnson had started them when he took over after Jim Riggleman stormed off in a huff.  Things looked pretty good, but the general feeling on the team was that there was no need to rush and that Stras should take it easy.

General Manager Mike Rizzo made that same pronouncement during spring training this year.  No need to rush.  Stras is a long-term investment and the team is on a long-term build up to greatness.  And indeed, Rizzo was even more specific:  He would let Stras pitch 180 innings this year and then yank him.

The Dilemma

When Rizzo uttered his dictum at the beginning of this season, most punditistas thought it was good medicine.  While everybody agreed the Nats were definitely headed in the right direction, nobody but the most optimistic lunatic (oh, and ahem, me) thought they might be competitive late.  At best, the feeling was that we’d go somewhere between five and ten games over .500 and probably place second or third in the division, with either Philly or Atlanta or both ahead of us.

Well.  So much for predictions.   Robbo’s beloved Nats haven’t just improved, they’ve transmogrified.  We’re already at 73 wins and have the best record in baseball.  We have the best starting rotation in the game.  We lead or are near the top in all kinds of fielding and hitting statistics.  As for the division competition, it’s come down to the Braves  and only the Braves, and I seriously believe we can put them away, although it will be tight.  (Philly’s fall from the ranks of the elite this year has been so painful to watch that I can’t even bring myself to indulge in the schadenfreude I have dreamed of for so long.   When I saw the other day that they’d sent long time star Shane Victorino to the Dodgers, I wrote (a la Gregg Easterbrook) “game over” on my scorecard.)

So there you have the problem.  Here it is mid-August and we’re not jogging comfortably along as predicted, but are in serious running to bag a wildcard slot or possibly win the division.   People are even beginning to speculate about pennants and even winning the whole damn thing.  (There are many comparisons to the ’86 Mets and the ’10 Giants floating about.)  So how does that 180 inning limit on your ace pitcher look now?  As I say, this has ignited a firestorm here in Dee Cee.  On the one hand, Rizzo is still adamant that it stands.  On the other, a growing chorus is howling that he should lift it and let Stras pitch on into the postseason.   (I don’t know exactly when the limit will be hit, but it’s coming up pretty soon.)

Robbo’s Two Cents

I have two thoughts about this matter.

First, I don’t know whether Rizzo should lift the limit or not, but I do know what he should be thinking about.  I’m as enthusiastic to see the Nats go postseason as any other fan.  I even begin to have visions of that championship ring.  (So shiny…..So beautiful……So….preciousssssss………)  But Rizzo’s still got to keep the long-term in mind.  This is a very young and very talented team and is poised to be the dominant power in the NL East for years and years to come.  He simply can’t take shortcuts in order to get to immediate success.   On the other hand, I expect that Stras is being reevaluated on a near constant basis and the club is getting real-time updates on the prognosis.  So maybe instead of an arbitrary number, Rizzo should be reconsidering day by day.

That may be a near-complete non-position position, but then again I don’t get paid millions of dollars to manage the club.

Second, I must protest with some heat the very notion powering the lift-the-limit argument that, without Strasburg, the Nats’ postseason hopes are de facto dead.   It’s not as if the guy’s carrying the team – As I noted above, everybody is playing well.  As for the rotation, the other four starters are strong, and when I saw John Lannon – a likely replacement for Stras – pitch a couple weeks ago, he looked as good as I’ve seen him.  Sure, not having Strasburg in the lineup will be a loss, but I simply refuse to believe it will be a fatal one.

So what else is there to say other than GO, NATS!!

UPDATE:  Did I mention Angry Rob Dibble above? Well, he’ s baaaaaaack!  And via Jason Epstein over in Right Field, here’s the man his own self bloviating on the Stras situation.  Feel the anger flowing in you!