When Stephen Strasburg entered the 2019 season, he had a reputation of fragility and, as a result, unavailability when it came to the playoffs.
The former No. 1 overall pick had missed two of the four playoff series the Nationals had appeared in since drafting him as one of the most hyped pitching prospects in a generation. While he had certainly shown more than a few flashes of the potential Washington saw in him, there were few instances when he was able to put it all together and stay on the field in time for the postseason.
That all changed last October, when Strasburg led the National League in innings (209) and placed fifth in NL Cy Young voting before cruising through the playoffs to the tune of a 5-0 record with a 1.98 ERA and 47 strikeouts across 36 1/3 innings. He also took World Series MVP honors, highlighted by a Game 6 near-complete game, as the Nationals claimed D.C.’s first baseball championship since 1924.
Now, Strasburg didn’t touch his career high in innings (215 in 2014) nor did he claim his best finish for the Cy Young award (placed third in 2017). He even once struck out 12 Chicago Cubs over seven scoreless innings to stave off elimination in the 2017 NLDS while battling the flu.
The signs were all there, but Strasburg’s historic playoff run changed the narrative around his career and cemented him as one of the premiere playoff pitchers in all of baseball.
USA TODAY baseball columnist Bob Nightengale joined NBC Sports Washington’s Todd Dybas, Nick Ashooh and Chase Hughes on Wednesday's episode of the Nationals Talk podcast and weighed in on how Strasburg improved his reputation on a national scale.
“I think [he has] just the warrior mentality now—taking the ball, winning big games, a clutch performer,” Nightengale said. “I think that with the Nationals’ World Series run, I think it benefit his reputation more than anybody else. [He’s now] seen as a tough guy. He’s probably always been that way but I don’t think he had that perception from peers, fans, media, that sort of thing.”
LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW ON THE NATIONALS TALK PODCAST
Before the year began, critics were skeptical that Strasburg would exercise the first of the two player options in his contract to remain in D.C. rather than test free agency. Fresh off parading down Constitution Avenue, he opted out of that deal and scored a new one: seven years and $245 million, giving him the largest contract in Nationals history.
Of course, there are still plenty of questions surrounding Strasburg’s ability to remain healthy and productive all the way through his age-37 season (the final year of his contract). Prior to 2019, he was on a streak of four straight seasons with fewer than 30 starts and 200 innings—and only once in that span did he eclipse 25 starts and 150 innings.
But with a World Series MVP award on his resume, there’s now no question the Strasburg can perform in the playoffs even after handling a significant workload during the regular season.
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