The Washington Nationals are one of the best teams in the National League—it’s really the first time they’ve been relevant since moving to the American capital in 2004, and the first time the franchise has been truly relevant since the year that shall not be mentioned by name (except right now for clarity’s sake—1994). Despite this, the Washington’s brass has said all year long that 23-year-old ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg will be shut down at some point before the end of the year to preserve his golden throwing arm.

The number bandied about all season was 160 innings, which seems logical considering other pitchers of that age and professional experience. Of course, most teams with a promising young pitcher near the top of their rotation aren’t contenders and so shutting said pitcher down is entirely without consequence—and the pitchers being shut down are never as good as Strasburg. Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo recently relayed a number of 180 innings to the public and the team appears very serious about continuing with operation shut down.

Or are they?

I know it’s difficult to believe but Rick Sutcliffe of all people (and others, but he gets the credit today because of how well he lays it out—I know, right? Genuinely surprised) has outlined a potential plan for Strasburg that would allow him to continue pitching until the very end of the year if need be. Keeping him to a fairly strict six-inning limit and using the scheduled off days and some extra starts for John Lannan, it is possible for Strasburg to come in under 180 innings for the regular season.

Of course, the question then becomes, do they use him for the post-season? In that case, if I were Washington, I would keep him on the post-season roster and use him in must-win games only. The Nats are blessed with nearly unrivalled depth in the rotation with Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson—all of whom are capable of carrying the team in the post-season where opposing offenses are more consistently solid. If they get in a bind, Strasburg can be their ace-in-the-hole. If they breeze through every series on the way to the World Series, they can leave him on the bench. It eats a roster spot, but if they’re serious about not overusing him, it’s worth it.

Of course, if it were me—given the evidence—I would do my best to limit Strasburg for the rest of the regular season, especially if the Nats are a safe distance ahead of Atlanta, and then use him regularly in the post-season.

Obviously, Washington is looking out for their long-term future here; a future that’s perhaps the brightest in baseball with the likes of Strasburg, Bryce Harper and Zimmermann. Protecting that future is certainly a smart idea, wherever possible. Still, it will be awfully difficult for the front office to explain to the fan base in ten years if the Nats essentially mailed in their best chance at a World Series title because they wanted to protect the future. Despite the likelihood that Washington will be contenders for years to come, there are no guarantees. Things rarely unfold as planned and if Washington intentionally makes themselves worse and it costs them a shot at a title in 2012, I don’t imagine the fan base will be too forgiving.

And the rest:

Another Manny Machado story because, well, he’s awesome [Buster Olney, ESPN Insider req’d].

What is WAR really good for? [Glenn DuPaul, The Hardball Times].

Where are they now? A look at past Cape League Award winners [Carson Cistulli, FanGraphs].

The Yankees placed C.C. Sabathia on the DL with elbow soreness (rut-roh), but not to worry, they’ve signed Derek Lowe [Marc Carig, Twitter].

Speaking of washed-up players who should probably just retire: The Padres have extended veteran “outfielder” Mark Kotsay for some reason [Corey Brock, MLB.com].

Juan Uribe, highly-paid spectator [Mike Petriello, Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness].

What would we be talking about if the first half never happened? [Grant Brisbee, SB Nation].

Video Time!

Mike Trout—seriously, you guys.

Billy Hamilton now has 136 stolen bases in 112 games between High-A and Double-A this season. And oh yeah, he has a .408 wOBA too. This guy’s going to be a star. Remember this?

Random vintage video of the day: Remember Jay Buhner? Between 1993 and 1997, Buhner had a .385 wOBA—better than Fred McGriff, Chipper Jones and Ken Caminiti during that same span.

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