Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Decision Derided as Huge Mistake When Nationals Pulled Strasburg off the Mound a Year Ago, Few Realized Then That the Far-Reaching Effect Would Be to Rob Team of Two Chances at the World Series

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Decision Derided as Huge Mistake When Nationals Pulled Strasburg off the Mound a Year Ago, Few Realized Then That the Far-Reaching Effect Would Be to Rob Team of Two Chances at the World Series

Article excerpt

The last five games of the Washington Nationals' 2013 baseball season did not matter.

That became official Monday night when the Nationals lost -- in an appropriately cruel twist -- to the St. Louis Cardinals, while both the Pirates and Cincinnati Reds were winning their games.

That reduced the Nationals' not-so-magic number to avoid missing the playoffs to zero.

Another season gone.

Another long winter ahead.

And now it can be said, with almost no doubt, that the decision to shut Stephen Strasburg down in September 2012 didn't cost Washington one chance to win a World Series, it cost the team and the city two chances. Because if one thing is clear about the debacle that was this summer it is that it was set up by the disaster of last fall.

Mike Rizzo has done a remarkable job as general manager since Stan Kasten handed him control of the team in 2009. He has proven himself to be a wonderful talent evaluator and, for the most part, a cool customer when it comes to important decision-making.

But he blew it on Strasburg. This isn't a second guess, it was a first guess more than a year ago when Rizzo announced his intentions. Almost everyone in baseball outside of Washington thought Rizzo was making a mistake then -- especially when the Nats emerged as a clear championship contender -- and they believe it even more firmly now.

Anyone who thinks the Nationals' meltdown against the Cardinals in Game 5 of the Division series in October 2012 didn't directly affect the team this season simply hasn't been paying attention. Rizzo lost confidence in closer Drew Storen that fateful night and spent $28 million to sign Rafael Soriano during the offseason.

Soriano was, at best, reasonably competent as a closer. In mid- August, at the climax of the Nationals' remarkable post All-Star break downward spiral, he had blown six saves in 37 chances and his ERA was 3.68. Like the rest of the team, he improved once the season was, for all intents and purposes, over.

Beyond that, the Soriano signing caused issues in what had been one of baseball's most close-knit clubhouses.

Storen pitched so poorly for one lengthy stretch that he was sent to the minors, which upset the entire team -- notably his close friend Tyler Clippard, who very publicly ripped management for mishandling his pal.

That was during the period when the Nationals were stunningly bad and dysfunctional. Having limped to the All-Star break with a mediocre 48-47 record, they were 6-13 the next three weeks, effectively ending their season.

The 30-13 run since then was largely meaningless: The Nats had gone from a team with great expectations to one with no expectations.

The signing of Soriano wasn't the reason the Nationals failed, it was merely a symptom of why they failed.

Everyone in the organization was trying too hard to justify the Strasburg decision. …

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