Franklin D. Roosevelt coined the phrase “the only thing to fear is fear itself” as he came into office during the Great Depression. That same year, San Francisco began construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, and Major League Baseball held its all-star game in Chicago’s Comiskey Park.
It was 1933, and it would be the last time that playoff baseball was played in Washington D.C. That is, of course, until this year.
The Washington Nationals, formerly the Montreal Expos, have played eight years in the bigs since their relocation, the majority of which they spent occupying the National League East cellar. The Expos franchise, which had been competing since 1969, last made the playoffs in 1981.
Even still, a 31-year playoff drought going into the year put them atop the list of longest active playoff droughts. Something was special about 2012. Somehow, the blue chip prospects, alleged wash-ups and solid major league veterans mixed perfectly. At the all-star break, the Nats had 49 wins and led the division with no team closer than four games.
The leaders of three out of the five remaining divisions held slimmer leads, and the only two front-runners with a more dominant position were the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox.
That is certainly more favorable company than the Kansas City Royals, who have now missed the playoffs for a 27th straight year, taking over top spot in that metric.
Washington ended the season with a record of 98 wins and 64 losses. By doing so, the team not only had its first winning season in D.C., but also set a franchise record with 98 wins and was the best team in baseball.
Even when the Expos were winning, they were never that good. It almost sounds too good to be true, and believe me, it is. As a baseball fan, I write to you with hopes of explaining how truly disappointed I am in the Washington Nationals as an organization.
Efforts on the field were admirable, even at times remarkable, and the pitching staff in particular contributed to the success this year. Ace pitching duo Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg, two of the shining young stars of the sport, combined for 36 of the team’s wins and 404 of the total strikeouts. The pair was truly the anchor of a staff that saw each of the five starters get double-digit win totals.
I regret to inform you that every one of those wins – Strasburg’s 15 at the very least – went completely to waste; There would be no happy ending to this fairy tale.
On Friday, Oct. 12, the St. Louis Cardinals, in a heart-breaking fifth and deciding game, eliminated the team from the National League Division Series. Someone had to lose. But to give every player on that roster, and potentially everyone else in the Washington dugout, some credit, it was not entirely a fair fight.
At the very least it is not the fight the team deserved. After making a start on Sept. 7 against the Miami Marlins, Strasburg was shut down by the team’s upper management. Was he injured? No. Was he playing poorly? No. Was he causing problems in the clubhouse? At least, not to the best knowledge of America’s ever present and savvy baseball writers. According to management, the team was preserving the longevity of their young star’s career.
Strasburg’s arm has, in fact, been touted as possibly the best ever. That is the guy you want the mound in one of the first two games in a series against a Cardinals team that breathes playoff baseball. No?
The young ace made no such appearance. Instead, the Nats took a 1-0 lead in the series, only to be tied up a game later. An article on ESPN quotes an unnamed player on Washington’s roster who seems to believe strongly that Strasburg would have made a difference in the series; the player makes no mistake in saying that Strasburg would have helped make the series 2-0. Numbers don’t lie; there is a good chance that would have been the case, but it is impossible to say. He is only human after all.
This is evident in the injury troubles that have been a reality for Strasburg early in his career. Regardless, he didn’t show it this season. He has no business packing a lip on the bench.
His absence during the NLDS was a tragedy, not only for the Nationals and their (newly) loyal fans, but baseball as a whole.
No player of Strasburg’s caliber or character should ever be prevented from playing for fear of injury or wear, especially on the eve of the playoffs. Good players should be seen and not heard from, I suppose.
For fear of hurting their best player, the Nationals hurt their best chances at winning in the playoffs. 79 years later, Washington’s new baseball team proved Mr. Roosevelt very, very right.