The Nats are on the brink, but let’s not blame the absence of Stephen Strasburg

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It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The Nationals had the best record in baseball and the best rotation heading into the postseason. But now, after consecutive awful outings by the pitching staff, the Cards lead the Nats 2-1 in this best of five series. They lost 8-0 today.

Edwin Jackson was shaky out of the chute, and gave up four runs on eight hits. He settled down a bit, but as he made way for the bullpen, the fire began to rage again, and before it was all done the Cards had hung eight on the Nats. Pete Kozma’s three-run homer in the second was the big blow, but the Cardinals ended up needing only one run to secure the win.

The hittability of Nats pitchers led broadcasters Bob Costas and Jim Kaat to note the absence of Stephen Strasburg. And to note that his absence will turn into serious heat on Mike Rizzo and the Nats brass should Washington go on to lose this series.  I think they’re right about that.  And indeed, anyone who has read this blog over the past few months knows that I disagreed with the Nats shutting down Strasburg too. But let me say this: the way the Nats are losing this series shouldn’t bring any more heat on Rizzo for the Strasburg shutdown than he’s otherwise getting.

The Nats won Game 1 with Gio Gonzalez. They lost Games 2 and 3 due to poor outings from Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson. Guess what: barring a sweep, all three of those pitchers would have gotten starts in the NLDS. They needed Jackson and Zimmermann to pitch well even if Strasburg was there. They didn’t. The biggest difference will be seen in Game 4 when Ross Detwiler gets the nod, but his presence has yet to damage Washington’s chances.

Beyond the poor outings from Zimmermann and Jackson, the real culprit here has been the Nationals’ somnambulistic offense.  Washington was shut out today, leaving scads of runners on base — I counted 11. On Monday they were down 7-1 before the bats woke up. Even in the win on Saturday they scored only three. You can’t give up 22 runs in three games and expect good things, but you gotta score some runs yourself too, you know.

So no, I’m not changing my mind about the Stephen Strasburg shutdown. I still think it’s a bad call to willingly deprive yourself of your best pitcher entering a playoff series. And if the difference in this series ends up being one solid pitching performance, I’ll be willing to entertain the notion that Strasburg was as critical as people will soon be saying.  But, as it is right now, let’s not pretend that Stephen Strasburg’s absence is the difference here.  The Nats are in serious trouble, and it is because of a total team failure, not because of some front office decision.

Oh, it also has a lot to do with the fact that the Cardinals — who just so happen to be the defending World Series champions — are a good baseball team who have gotten strong performances from just about everyone. Let us not lose sight of that when everyone rushes to blame the outcome of this series on the absence of Stephen Strasburg.

And That Happened: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Indians 15, Rangers 9: The Rangers took a 4-0 lead after one, a 7-1 lead after two and had a 9-2 lead heading into the bottom of the fourth before the Indians decided to wake up and score 13 unanswered runs. Francisco Lindor, Lonnie Chisenhall and Carlos Santana each had three RBI as the Indians scored a run in the fourth, four in the fifth, five in the sixth and added three in the seventh. Cleveland set their season high in runs and tied their season best with 19 hits. Every starter except Kipnis had at least two hits. They also regained first place in the central because . . .

Red Sox 4, Twins 1: Chris Sale outpitched Jose Berrios, allowing one run and striking out nine while working into the seventh inning. The Sox got to Berrios early with two in the first, including a Mitch Moreland homer. It was his third straight game with a dong.

Cubs 5, Nationals 4: It was only a 2-0 game heading into the ninth when the Cubs piled on three insurance runs. They needed all of the insurance as the Nats scored four in the bottom half. Close —Wade Davis had to struck out Ryan Zimmerman with runners on second and third to end the game — but no cigar. Willson Contreras hit a leadoff homer. Catchers don’t lead off that much. Jason Kendall used to do it a lot. Kurt Suzuki and John Jaso have. I feel like Russell Martin did a fair amount. But it’s not common. You could probably take all of the catchers who have batted leadoff more than ten times a year in the past 25 years, put them in a Volkswagon Vanagon with the Westphalia camper mod and still have a lot of room leftover for bikes and stuff.

Diamondbacks 6, Phillies 1: Zack Greinke wasn’t efficient — he needed 102 pitches to make it through five innings — but the Phillies got bubkis off of him regardless. Left fielder Chris Herrmann homered and walked with the bases loaded to drive in two. Daniel Delscalso drove in three with a pair of RBI singles.

Cardinals 8, Reds 2: Randal Grichuk homered for the second straight game. He had been in the minors until this past Sunday, spending about a month down there after being demoted for poor play. In his two games since coming back up he’s 4-for-10 with two homers and four RBI. Jedd Gyorko homered too. Michael Wacha, who has been terrible recently, allowed only one run on five hits in six innings. The Reds bein’ kinda interesting and frisky seems like a million years ago.

Yankees 6, White Sox 5: The Yankees had a 6-1 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth. They held on to win, but the Sox made it interesting, scoring four runs off of Chasen Shreve — who gave up a three-run shot to Tim Anderson — and Aroldis Chapman, who gave up an RBI double. Tyler Austin homered and the bottom third of the Yankees order — Chase Headley, Austin Romine and Ronald Torreyes — each knocked in a run.

Giants 9, Rockies 2: San Francisco snaps a five-game skid overall and a nine-game skid against the Rockies as Jeff Samardzija struck out five and worked into into the seventh. Buster Posey hit an RBI double. Brandon Belt and Denard Span each hit RBI triples. Colorado now, just recently the talk of the league, has dropped six straight. They’ve been outscored 57-17 in those losses.

Angels 4, Dodgers 0: Another skid was snapped: the Dodgers’ ten-game winning streak. Doing the snapping was Ricky Nolasco, who snapped a winless streak of ten starts. Nolasco shut out the Dodgers into the seventh inning, only to be knocked out by a comebacker that hit his shin. He’s fine. For the Dodgers, the silver lining here was that Rich Hill pitched seven innings. He lost, but it was the first time he made past five innings all year.

Rockies acquire Zac Rosscup from Cubs

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The Rockies announced a minor swap of relief pitchers on Monday evening. The Cubs sent lefty Zac Rosscup to the Rockies in exchange for right-hander Matt Carasiti.

Rosscup, 29, was designated for assignment by the Cubs last Thursday. He spent only two-thirds of an inning in the majors this year and has a 5.32 career ERA across 47 1/3 innings. Rosscup has spent most of the season with Triple-A Iowa, posting a 2.60 ERA in 27 2/3 innings.

Carasiti, 25, spent 15 2/3 innings in the majors last year, putting up an ugly 9.19 ERA. With Triple-A Albuquerque this season, he compiled a 2.37 ERA and a 43/13 K/BB ratio in 30 1/3 innings.