Stephen Strasburg: An Ace in the Hole


I know what you’re feeling right now, but do me a favor: put those feelings aside for just a moment. Disregard the anger you have for Jerry Blevins‘ poor performance in the 13th, as well as the disappointment you feel over the fact that Rendon‘s late game heroics went wasted and the Nationals still failed to get over the hump against the Braves.

Instead, let’s look at something different, something more liable to be completely overlooked in this marathon of a game. Let’s look at the performance of Stephen Strasburg.

A quick glance would tell you that this game was nothing to be concerned about. Strasburg pitched six full innings, giving up four earned runs on nine hits, striking out eight and walking none. No, it wasn’t a quality start, but it wasn’t a disaster, either. A decent number of K’s, but a few too many runs allowed. In a word, Strasburg was average.

And therein lies the problem.

There’s no denying that Strasburg’s been good this year. Even after a tough outing against the Braves, Strasburg still boasts an ERA of 3.24 with 121 strikeouts. He’s a game over .500, a mark he has hovered around every year he’s been in the big leagues except for 2012, when he went 15-6 on his way to his lone All Star appearance. If not for some tough luck and the lack of run support, Strasburg’s record this season could easily look more impressive.

But the issue isn’t in Strasburg’s overall performance; it’s in his performance in big situations. In a game which the Nationals desperately needed a win – to fight off their Atlanta demons as well as maintain their slim hold on first place in the division – Strasburg came up empty. He needed to pitch deep (seven or eight innings) into the game and surrender one or two runs. Instead, he came out after six, trailing 4-1 and leaving an already overworked bullpen to pick up the slack. Last week, when the Nationals had lost two in a row and needed to get off the slide against the Cardinals, it was the same story. Strasburg gave up three runs, and the Nationals fell short again.

There’s no doubt that Strasburg wants to be viewed as the Nationals’ ace, the unquestioned leader of a rotation full of great pitchers. But being the ace of a staff isn’t a title that’s just handed out — it’s earned. When the Rangers had lost two in a row to Washington, giving up 9 and 10 runs in back-to-back games, they handed the ball to Darvish, who shut the Nationals’ bats down. That’s what being an ace is: the ability to come out and turn a series around with a single outing. It means keeping your team in the game even when the offense is nonexistent. It means a commanding performance when first place is on the line.

I understand that Strasburg and the season are both still young: he’s only 25, and we have yet to reach the All Star break. But it’s times like these when the Nationals need Strasburg to live up to his immense potential and be the ace that everyone knows he can be. Otherwise, he and the Nationals will both be digging out of a pretty big hole.