Column: Strasburg’s transcendent postseason run shuts down controversy for good

October 31, 2019

In late May, the Washington Nationals were a terrible baseball team.

Bad enough that it was time to break some smelling salts under their noses to see if there were any signs of life. Bad enough, at 19-31, tied with the intentionally tanking Miami Marlins for the most losses in the National League, that I started writing a column about a topic nobody seemed to be talking about at the time:

That the Nats should trade Stephen Strasburg, who has an opt-out of his extension at the end of the season.

I gathered the relevant information about the remaining money owed to him, the possible suitors, and what price the team might be able to extract. I looked at the schedule, the team coming home from Queens to host Miami for a four-game, weekend wraparound series. I figured if they dropped three-of-four and fell into last place, I’d publish it.

That was 161 days ago. My, how things have changed.

The Nationals put together one of the most impressive postseason runs in recent history, knocking out the best team in both leagues, fighting off elimination five times, coming from behind in all five of those games, and becoming the first team in any major American sport to win four times on the road in a seven-game playoff series.

Not only that, they won four times in Houston, the toughest home park in baseball this season. The Astros never lost four games in a row at home all year, and only once dropped three straight. The Oakland A’s were the only other team to beat them four times at Minute Maid Park, and it took them 10 games to do it.

Two of those four games were started, and won, by Strasburg. He beat future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander twice, heads up. He became the first pitcher ever to go 5-0 in a single postseason. And he now owns an obscene 1.46 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in his playoff career, with 71 strikeouts and just eight walks in 55.1 innings pitched.

Some people have insisted on calling Strasburg a disappointment his whole career, despite him meeting every expectation laid at his feet. He’s got the fourth-highest strikeout rate in the history of the game, right above Scherzer. He’s got the sixth-best adjusted ERA of any active starter, right above Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Zack Greinke.

Wednesday night, he became the first No. 1 overall pick to win the World Series MVP. Ever.

So, sure, go ahead and pick your favorite storyline:

Juan Soto, the ascendant superstar, turning 21 mid-series, just in time to have his first legal beer amid a bath of championship Champagne.

Daniel Hudson, criticized by some for leaving the team during the playoffs to be there for the birth of his third child, locking down three huge postseason saves and collecting the final three outs of the season.

The clubhouse culture change that made baseball truly fun again.

Davey Martinez, fighting through a heart condition and plenty of doubters to keep the train on the tracks and guide it all the way home.

I’ll take Strasburg’s revenge, flanked by his two daughters, with a resume nobody can question ever again.

“Someday down the road if (my daughters) ever ask me what it was like, I’ll tell them it wasn’t easy,” said Strasburg Wednesday night. “There might be a lot of situations in their life where it’s not going to go according to plan and it’s not the easiest way, but we’re going to go out there and fight through it and keep battling.”

Strasburg and the Nats had to battle the echoes that were there all postseason, too.

Kershaw and the Dodgers. Wainwright and the Cardinals. Game 5, again. But none was bigger, or more oft-mentioned, than the Strasburg shutdown.

“It’s so long ago, and I think you try not to look in the past and you try not to look in the future,” said Strasburg when asked about it Wednesday night. “I think it’s much more of a challenge to not kind of see how it’s going to all play out, especially over this last month.”

It’s the decision that has defined this franchise, fairly or not, through each of their subsequent postseason runs. It’s the question that has always been asked every time they’ve fallen short.

No more.

Strasburg may still opt out. In fact, he should take his new World Series MVP Corvette for a spin, even if it’s just to run doughnuts around 1500 South Capitol St. until they present him with a new and improved deal.

The Nationals are never World Champions without him.


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