ATLANTA – We’re barely into June and the Atlanta Braves already hold an eight-game lead over the Washington Nationals, the team that had been given the most likely chance to win the National League East and the pennant. This doesn’t guarantee that the Braves are going to win the East. But it does reaffirm how dumb the Nationals were to all but drop kick a potential World Series season last year.
Remember? Expressing concern for pitcher Stephen Strasburg’s long term health, the Nationals’ management decided to shelve Strasburg after 28 starts (159.1 innings) last season. If that didn’t completely derail the team’s title hopes, it at least created a significant obstacle that didn’t need to be created. Washington won the East over the Braves by four games, but lost to St. Louis in the divisional series.
The Strasburg effect? Nothing is certain, but given that the Cardinals scored 12, eight and nine runs in their three wins in the series, it seems safe to assume Strasburg and the ripple effect of having him in the rotation would’ve made a difference.
For those who believe Washington blew it, this is Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo getting run over by the karma train. His team has come back down to earth. Strasburg just went on the disabled list with a back strain. He joins another starter, Ross Detwiler, on the DL. The Nationals lost to the Minnesota Twins, 4-3, on Saturday to remain below .500 (29-31).
They also rank 14th out of 15 in the N.L. in runs scored with 204, ahead of only Miami.
Rules of thumb: Seasons are fragile. Success can’t be assumed. There are injuries and slumps and unexpected occurrences, like, for example, a redefined infield-fly rule. Washington had the chance for a special season last year and let arrogance cloud their judgment, believing they would replicate that success again. There are no guarantees.