MLB: Washington Nationals at Chicago Cubs

There was a time when Stephen Strasburg was the best show in town. He lit radar guns and missed bats with aplomb. He was the lone shining beacon for a moribund franchise. He was so good then hurt, under the surgeon’s blade and lost for a calender year.

The Prodigal Son returned and with him came a renewed vigor among the Nats faithful. The team was reborn and ready to challenge in the tough NL East. In 2012, the Nats hit on every note. Perfect health and great performances from their starting rotation and career years from enough every day players to vault them into playoff position.

Then, the shut down. After which the Nationals would never be the same.

Well, sort of. Were it not for the Cardinals bludgeoning poor Drew Storen to within in an inch of his life with one of their “line drives by the forkful” rallies in Game 5 of the NLDS, the Nats narrative would be quite different. Instead, they’re the team that sat down their ace during their only trip to the playoffs in (relocated) franchise history.

Putting 2012 in the past, the Nats and the face of their franchise returned in 2013 with a purpose. The Strasburg Shutdown behind them, the Nats took dead aim on a return to the playoffs behind an ace who swore to be a better, more efficient pitcher. The shackles were off and Stephen Strasburg stood poised to dominate the National League.

Until the season began and Strasburg was pretty much the same guy and the Nats treated him exactly as before. Maybe he threw more two seam fastballs and struck out fewer batters, but little was fundamentally different for Stephen Strasburg. He is still very, very good despite spending some time on the disabled list. He even turned over a new leaf, throwing the first complete game shutout of his career less than two weeks ago.

It was all coming together! The Nats did it, they unleashed the full extent of Strasburg’s enormous potential!

Flash forward to his very next start, when Stephen Strasburg started throwing at Braves and got tossed from the game in the second inning. This got the baseball world talking, according to Baseball Prospectus’ weekly “What the Scouts are Saying” feature:

“He] may have the best stuff in baseball, but you really start to question the makeup after what happened in Atlanta. Staked to four runs in the first two innings, he let the Braves back in the game and managed to get himself kicked out before the end of the second inning, causing his club to tax their bullpen. The expression he had as he came off the mound is probably similar to that of the Washington front office as they watched it unfold.”

Meow! This kitty has claws!

Makeup questions about Stephen Strasburg? The scene in Atlanta was very strange but so is the rush to question his desire or commitment to winning after one isolated incident, one would think?

Yesterday afternoon, Stephen Strasburg resumed his date with destiny as he took on the Chicago Cubs. After a long rain delay, Strasburg dominated the Cubs lineup over seven innings. Brian Bogusevic lead off the eighth with a homer but Strasburg worked around another single and escaped the inning. Strasburg was at 97 pitches and the Nats were up by three. The shutout was gone. This was the time the old Nats would pull their ace and give way to their very, very expensive bullpen.

Alas, Davey Johnson did not pull Stephen Strasburg. He left him in. He even took his turn at the plate in the top of the ninth! And it came within one out of working.

With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, the Cubs rallied and tied the game via a two-run home from Donnie Murphy, who struck out in his three previous at bats.

The Nationals, friends. Damned if they do and damned if they don’t. It is difficult (but fun) to second guess the decision to leave his pitcher on the mound. Strasburg admitted after the game that he was tired and throwing just 26 pitches effected his stamina yesterday.

He was one Anthony Rendon error (making his first big league start at shortstop) away from walking away with the complete game. His Nats did win in extra innings so it’s water under the bridge, right?

Time will tell. Maybe an outward display of faith is just what the formerly kid gloved Strasburg needed. Maybe Davey Johnson (and his likely replacement, Randy Knorr) learned his lesson and will go with what he knows – you get Strasburg out of the game as soon as you can. You especially get him out of the game when he’s “visibly upset” after an error cost him a deserved out. Maybe those pot-shot-taking scouts were on to something. Again, only time will tell.

One thing is for sure: watching the Nats implode has been a secret delight of the 2013 season. Enjoy it while you can, as too much talent resides on their roster to count out a return to prominence in 2014.

And the rest

Speaking of secret delights, I’m sure many enjoy the full collapse of the Giants dynasty. (Potential) Injury to Matt Cain, the icing on the cake!

Great stuff from Baseball Prospectus – scouting closers in the batters box. [BP]

Shane Victorino gives up switch hitting? Say it ain’t so! (note: it ain’t actually so) [Projo]

The Mariners extend the contract of their general manager Jack Zduriencik because…uh well. Here’s the thing I um[Seattle Times]

Ryan Braun said some things. [The Score]

If Dusty can change, and you can change, everybody can change!

How much would you pay for one year of Mike Trout? All. I would pay all. [Fangraphs]