Stephen Strasburg

Sorry Nats fans, but history is not written by the losers


Yeah, it’s totally crazy to think that the team is better with one of the best pitchers in baseball.  In a postseason where anything can happen, and where nine of the ten teams who enter will not leave alive, it’s always the case that the best on-paper team wins it. The ones who lose never ever wish that they had an extra ace pitcher at their disposal. It’s ludicrous to suggest otherwise.

Craig Calcaterra, quite sarcastically, on September 3, 2012.

Cheap shot? Sorry, get used to it Nats fans. And not from me (well, not just from me).  Because after last night’s stunning loss, you don’t get to write the history of the 2012 Washington Nationals. Everyone else does. That history is going to always mention Stephen Strasburg, and your arguments to the contrary won’t matter. That’s just how it goes.

At the outset, yes, there were so, so many non-Strasburg reasons the Nats lost that lead and then the series last night.  Drew Storen not throwing strikes in the ninth. Davey Johnson sticking with him (and pitching him the previous couple of days too). Ian Desmond not getting to that Descalso single. Any number of things that happened while the Cards chip, chip chipped away at the 6-0 lead throughout the game.

And as I said on Wednesday after the loss that put Washington down 2-1 in the series: the failures were many. The offense in games 2-3 (and 1 and 4 too, though that didn’t matter). Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson pitching poorly. The Cards, you know, being good. In light of that, it is overly simplistic to say that having Stephen Strasburg available would have given the series to Washington. Any number of other things could have given the series to Washington. The Nats could have and almost did advance without him.

But people are certainly saying it this morning and they’re going to say it all winter.  And frankly, I don’t have a problem with that, even if it doesn’t represent the best and sharpest analysis in the world. For the simple reason that when you lose and lose big like Washington did, you no longer get to author your own narrative. The Nationals, their fans, and a great number of the team’s surrogates in the media set the terms of debate in the middle of the season and those terms were uncompromising: “this team was good enough to win the World Series without Stephen Strasburg!” they said. And woe be to anyone who suggested that wasn’t the case. We could kiss their press pass if we disagreed.

That is now undeniably not the case, and it would be beyond hubris to say “but we were good enough, we were!” The losers never get to set the narrative. Just ask the Buffalo Bills fans who want their great early 90s run recognized as a success rather than a failure. Just ask Atlanta Braves fans (cough, cough) who have tried for years to say that their team was better than any other one-time World Series champ. Ask anyone else who roots for a team that, however good, doesn’t follow through on its promise. You can say you were good enough among friends and you can all make yourself feel better about things by doing so, but you’re never going to convince anyone else of it. Sports don’t work that way. Winners are the winners and losers are the losers, and when you conspicuously tempt fate and conventional wisdom the way the Nationals did with Strasburg, the voices calling you losers will be even louder.

Nats fans can look at Zimmermann and Jackson’s bad starts and say “hey, they would have started anyway, so it’s not the fault of the shutdown.”  They can look at Ross Detwiler’s great start on Thursday and say Stephen Strasburg’s playoff rotation replacement did just as good a job as Strasburg would have done, if not better.  They can also say that they twice came within one strike of advancing last night, and Stephen Strasburg would not have been throwing those pitches.  But guess what: it’s futile.

Because everyone else will note that the Nationals (a) willingly chose to enter the playoffs with their best pitcher on the bench; (b) lost a series in which they gave up 32 runs and had only one quality start in five games; and (c) used a starting pitcher in relief in Game 5 on short rest, so all hands — except for their best hand — were obviously on deck.

And no matter what holes you can poke in that argument, Nats fans, the fact is that your team did not advance. They lost, and losers do not get to write the history when it comes to such matters. Believe me. I know from experience.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly defends decision to pull Clayton Kershaw

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw reacts after walking New York Mets' Ruben Tejada during the seventh inning in Game 1 of baseball's National League Division Series, Friday, Oct. 9, 2015 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
AP Photo/Gregory Bull
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The Mets took Game 1 of the NLDS last night with a 3-1 victory over the Dodgers. A two-run single from David Wright in the top of the seventh inning ended up being the difference in the ballgame. Wright’s hit came off Pedro Baez, who replaced Clayton Kershaw after the Dodgers’ ace walked the bases loaded during the frame.

After Wright’s hit, some questioned why Dodgers manager Don Mattingly turned to Baez rather than stick with his ace. Per Ken Gurnick of, this was Mattingly’s explanation after the game.

“Going into that inning we kind of looked at what his pitch count was, and kind of thought through Granderson, if we got back to Wright, the fourth time through, David pumps on lefties pretty good,” said Mattingly. “Felt like that was going to be a spot if we got to that point, thought we were going to make a move there.”

It’s hard to argue with the logic. Kershaw was nearly unhittable through the first six innings, with his lone mistake coming on a long solo home run from Daniel Murphy, but it was a different story in the seventh. He was missing his spots and the Mets had some great at-bats. Wright owns a 1.005 OPS against lefties in his career and Kershaw was obviously tiring at 113 pitches. Wright already had a 12-pitch at-bat vs. Kershaw in the first inning. Pulling him was the right call in that spot.

If you wanted to nitpick about anything, it might be the choice of using Baez over someone else. It’s unlikely that we would have seen Kenley Jansen that early, but you can’t get much more high-leverage than that situation. Chris Hatcher was another possibility. Still, Wright didn’t sound thrilled to see Baez, a pitcher he had never seen before.

From Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News:

“I think normally you’d be pleased to get Kershaw out of the game,” Wright said. “Then you look up and the next guy is throwing 100. When you get ahead 2-0 with the bases loaded, with a guy who throws extremely hard, you can get your foot down and get ready for that fastball.”

After last night, the focus will again fall on Kershaw’s postseason track record, but he actually pitched a heck of a ballgame until the end. Unfortunately for him and the Dodgers, Jacob deGrom was just the better pitcher on this night.

Playoff Reset: The National League takes center stage

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Zack Greinke warms up before Game 1 of baseball's National League Division Series against the New York Mets, Friday, Oct. 9, 2015 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
AP Photo/Gregory Bull

After a wild Friday in which all eight teams were in action, the National League will take center stage on Saturday with a pair of Game 2 division series matchups. The ALDS will resume on Sunday.

The Game: Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals
The Time: 5:30 p.m. ET
The Place: Busch Stadium, St. Louis
The Channel: TBS
The Starters: Kyle Hendricks vs. Jaime Garcia
The Upshot: After dropping Game 1, the Cubs will turn to Hendricks to even up the series headed back to Chicago. Hendricks got the nod over Jason Hammel due to his strong finish to the season. His 3.95 ERA isn’t going to blow you away, but he averaged 8.4 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 in 32 starts and had back-to-back scoreless outings to finish the season. Garcia has been great at home in his career and posted a career-low 2.43 ERA in 20 starts this season, but he was a bit more hittable down the stretch. It will be interesting to see what tweaks Joe Maddon makes to his lineup against the lefty. Jake Arrieta looms for Game 3, so this is a huge one.

The Game: New York Mets vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Time: 9 p.m. ET
The Place: Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles
The Channel: TBS
The Starters: Noah Syndergaard vs. Zack Greinke
The Upshot: It’s going to be difficult to top the pitching matchup from Game 1, but if anyone is capable of coming close, it’s these two guys. Syndergaard will try to bring the Mets back to Citi Field up 2-0 in the series. After posting a 3.24 ERA and 166/31 K/BB ratio in 150 innings as a rookie, he’s a serious threat to do exactly that. Fortunately for the Dodgers, they have NL Cy Young contender Zack Greinke on the hill. The 31-year-old led the majors with a 1.66 ERA during the regular season and is capable of rendering Syndergaard’s effort moot, much like Jacob deGrom did to Clayton Kershaw on Friday. This is another really fun matchup. One thing to note for the Mets is that rookie Michael Conforto will likely be in left field for Game 2 after sitting against the left-hander in Game 1.

Jacob deGrom outduels Clayton Kershaw, Mets take 1-0 NLDS lead

Jacob de Grom
AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Jacob deGrom put together one of the best post-season starts in Mets history, outdueling three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw to pitch his team into a 1-0 NLDS lead. The right-hander fanned 13 over seven shutout innings, holding the Dodgers to five hits and a walk as the Mets won 3-1.

deGrom’s game score of 79 is the fifth-best by a Mets starter in the playoffs, behind Jon Matlack, Mike Hampton, Bobby Jones, and Tom Seaver, according to Baseball Reference. As Katie Sharp notes on Twitter, deGrom is one of three pitchers to hold the opposition scoreless on 13 or more strikeouts and one or fewer walks. The other two are Tim Lincecum and Mike Scott.

In the eighth inning, reliever Tyler Clippard allowed a one-out double to Howie Kendrick followed by an RBI single to Adrian Gonzalez as the Dodgers finally got on the board. Closer Jeurys Familia entered and recorded the final out of the eighth inning by inducing a weak line out from Justin Turner. In the ninth, Familia worked a 1-2-3 frame to wrap up the game.

Kershaw remains winless in the post-season since Game 1 of the 2013 NLDS, a span of seven starts. He gave up a solo home run to Daniel Murphy in the fourth inning, then walked the bases loaded in the seventh inning before departing with two outs. Reliever Pedro Baez entered and allowed two of his inherited runners to score when David Wright lined a single to center field. On the evening, Kershaw was on the hook for three runs on four hits and four walks with 11 strikeouts. Though he lost his command a bit towards the end of his start, the lefty pitched quite well and will be on the receiving end of some unnecessary criticism as a result of taking another post-season loss.

deGrom and Kershaw both struck out 11 batters, the first time that has happened in a major league post-season game.

Michael Cuddyer didn’t look too good out in left field for the Mets.

Game 2 of the NLDS will continue on Saturday at 9:00 PM EDT. Noah Syndergaard will start for the Mets opposite Zack Greinke of the Dodgers.