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Point/Counterpoint: Does Harvey in WS change view on Strasburg?


Point/Counterpoint: Does Harvey in WS change view on Strasburg?

THIS WEEK'S DEBATE: Does the Mets' successful use of Matt Harvey this postseason make you view the Nationals' shutdown of Stephen Strasburg in 2012 any differently?

MARK ZUCKERMAN: No. I know it's trendy to bring up the Strasburg shutdown again now because the Mets have taken the complete opposite approach with Harvey and now are heading to the World Series, but it's way too simplistic to make an apples-to-apples comparison here. Yes, both pitchers had Tommy John surgery early in their major-league careers. And yes, both pitchers are represented by Scott Boras. But that's really where the comparison ends. People don't point this out, but Harvey had considerable more professional experience than Strasburg at the time of his injury. Harvey was in his third pro season, was 24 years old and had thrown 483 1/3 total innings. Strasburg? He was still in his first pro season, had just turned 22 weeks before blowing out his elbow and had thrown a total of only 123 1/3 innings. The shutdown wasn't just because Strasburg was returning from surgery. It was because he had never thrown that many innings before. Harvey had. Look, every pitcher is different. No two are the same, and so what's best for one may not be best for another. On top of all that, we don't know what the long-term effect of this will be on Harvey. He may very well pitch the Mets to a championship, but we simply don't know yet how his arm will respond next year to this much workload. Maybe he'll be fine, maybe he won't. Regardless, it doesn't change my opinion of Strasburg's usage in 2012.

CHASE HUGHES: I wouldn't go as far as to say the Harvey situation specifically has changed my thoughts on the Strasburg shutdown, as the Mets didn't exactly handle his innings limit smoothly this year and, as Mark notes, much of it depends on how Harvey performs over the next several years. But, the way things have transpired for the Nationals over the last three seasons has definitely altered my view. First of all, I agreed with the decision to shut down Strasburg at the time and I commended the Nats for how they stuck with their plan. And I am not saying they made a mistake by doing what they did. But with the benefit of hindsight, I think it's clear they should have handled the situation differently. I'm not saying they should have simply let him continue pitching to 200 innings or whatever it would have been. If you believe that, please show yourself out of the room because that involves ignoring doctors and decades of established medical research. That is by far the worst argument of all. I do now think, however, that they should have done something creative to make him available for the postseason. I don't know if that's skipping starts, giving him an extended All-Star break, going to a six-man rotation, or simply beginning his season later. A lot of it would depend on advice from doctors. But not having Strasburg for what could end up being the Nats' best chance to win a World Series in this era looks worse and worse as each year passes. Harvey pitching in the World Series is just perhaps another reminder of what could have been.

MZ: The problem, though, is you're assuming Strasburg's presence alone would have made a significant difference for the Nationals in the 2012 postseason, when all the evidence suggests it wouldn't have done that. The guy simply wasn't pitching well prior to the shutdown. He was, arguably, the team's fourth-best starter at that moment, behind Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson. What reason was there to believe he would have pitched well against the Cardinals in the NLDS? And if you'll recall, only one member of the Nats' postseason rotation recorded a quality start in that series: Ross Detwiler, who only got the chance to start Game 4 because of Strasburg's shutdown. But now we're delving into an argument that should've run its course a long time ago. The point is this: There's no way to know with any certainty how best to use young pitchers coming off major elbow surgery. Maybe letting them pitch a whole lot is best for them. Maybe restricting their innings is better. We simply don't know the answer, and probably won't for years to come. This we do know: Matt Harvey is likely to end 2015 having thrown roughly 215 big-league innings, the last 24-to-28 of them in high-stress situations. That's a really big workload, given the fact it comes in his first season back from a torn elbow ligament. Is it worth the risk for a shot at a World Series title? Maybe. But we just don't know yet.

CH: I get the argument how Strasburg perhaps would not have made a difference in the NLDS against the Cardinals, as Detwiler was their best pitcher in the series and he would have been bumped from the rotation if Strasburg was in there. And I do not think the way the Mets have handled Harvey should be followed step-by-step by other teams in the future. They didn't necessarily get it right, either. But I think the way the Nats dealt with Strasburg also fits that description. Teams are still trying to figure out the best way to do this and both situations have perhaps become cautionary tales to varying degrees. I think it's telling how the Mets decided after watching what the Nationals did in 2012 to choose a different course. I would imagine many around the industry feel the same way. The unfortunate thing for the Nats is that the what ifs and questions of what could have been may never be answered if Strasburg leaves in free agency after the 2016 season. I think we all realized at the time that the argument would never truly be settled until the Nationals did something in the playoffs with Strasburg in store. With his contract up after next season, that debate could live forever. I think one thing we can all agree on is that's not good.

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Blue jerseys continue to be lucky for Washington Nationals

Blue jerseys continue to be lucky for Washington Nationals

A historic win in the World Series opener means only one thing for the Washington Nationals: They'll stick with the blue jerseys.

The team is now - as MLB Network pointed out - 8-0 when wearing their blue jerseys in the postseason.

And while not changing the jersey color might seem a little extreme - after all didn't this win have a little more to do with Juan Soto for example - as our Caroline Brandt discovered before the World Series, the Nationals are far from the only ones holding tight to any sort of luck they can find in their first World Series trip.

Here are some more interesting numbers from the win: 


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Nationals use everything they have to pull out Game 1, take World Series lead

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Nationals use everything they have to pull out Game 1, take World Series lead

HOUSTON -- Every bullet, every angle, every idea.

The Nationals used all their options Tuesday night in Texas to wheezingly hang on for a 5-4 win against Houston and claim a 1-0 lead in the World Series. Max Scherzer made it through five innings -- barely. The bullpen did enough -- barely. The lineup found a way --- barely.

Together, it was enough for an upset in Game 1 for a team expected to be pushed swiftly out of the postseason, yet keeps finding new ways to fill the holes they create.

Scherzer walked off the mound following the first in a scenario the Nationals would have pushed toward worst-case. His pitch count was up and they immediately trailed against Cole, who allowed one earned run in 22 ⅔ innings this postseason. 

Yuli Gurriel hit a high 1-2 fastball off the wall in left-center field to deliver the Astros an early lead. George Springer and Jose Altuve scored to leverage the game heavily toward the Astros just five batters into it. What was to come beyond the first inning also became a concern. 

Houston entered the game with the fewest strikeouts in the league. It also led the league in walk rate. The push-and-pull between the Astros’ hitters and Washington’s starters stood as a central theme for the series. The Nationals need their starters to pitch as long as possible to keep their main flaw, the middle of their bullpen, at bay. Against Cole the concept is all the more crucial.

Scherzer’s 96th pitch produced a dribbler from Jose Altuve with two runners on base in the fourth. He sprinted to first to catch a toss from Ryan Zimmerman and close the inning. Nothing was easy, or clean, or enjoyable for him during the evening, when he was seemingly 10 rounds in shortly after the fight started.

The good news: Ryan Zimmerman hit the second pitch he saw in his first World Series for a sizzling home run to center field in the second. Juan Soto delivered an opposite-field solo home run to tie the game in the fourth. The Nationals had done what multiple teams had not in the postseason. They were getting to Cole.

Kurt Suzuki walked to open the fifth inning. Victor Robles singled. Trea Turner’s flyout pushed a tagging Suzuki to third. An Adam Eaton single brought him in. The Nationals led, 3-2, against a pitcher who was burning through the postseason the way few others had in history. Anthony Rendon’s fielder’s choice led to a second out. Soto arrived again, two on, two out, the spotlight acting more as fuel than inhibitor. 

Soto ventured into a 3-0 count. He took a slider then missed a changeup. Opponents hit .141 against Cole in full counts this season. A 3-2 slider sort of down, sort of away came next. Soto drove it to left field off the out-of-town scoreboard which had no out-of-town scores to show on Oct. 22. Eaton scored. Rendon scored. Minute Maid Park went quiet while Soto yelled at second base. His evolution took another step three days before his 21st birthday.

Wrinkles remained for Davey Martinez. How much longer should Scherzer pitch? Who would be next? Did he trust his relievers enough to use four of them, leaving Patrick Corbin rested for Game 3? Or, did “go 1-0” mean firing maximum bullets in the opener? 

Scherzer returned for the fifth to produce his first 1-2-3 inning of the night. Done after 112 pitches, he clenched a fist knowing his effort to absorb minor blows from Houston lasted long enough for his team to find a way against Cole.

Corbin came running in from the bullpen to start the sixth. He’s found a postseason niche since the National League Division Series, growing progressively more comfortable as a reliever following his rough run against Los Angeles. Corbin allowed a hit during a 21-pitch sixth. He, like Scherzer, clenched a fist when the final out of his appearance was recorded. 

Now, the rub. Corbin finished against the bottom of Houston’s order. Springer, Altuve and Michael Brantley were coming up in the bottom of the seventh. Tanner Rainey came in.

Springer homered on a 99-mph, 2-1 fastball. Fireworks were shot off. The crowd rebounded while Springer circled the bases. The trip moved him into history: Springer is now the only player in MLB postseason history to homer in five consecutive World Series games. He was tied with epic October ghosts Reggie Jackson and Lou Gehrig at four in a row. 

Altuve struck out via a rare flailing swing. Brantley walked on four pitches. Alex Bregman walked. Rainey was done.

Eights out remained. Only two pitching options, Daniel Hudson and Sean Doolittle, were at Martinez’s disposable. He chose Hudson to face Gurriel. His shallow pop out led to a second out. Carlos Correa’s infield single loaded the bases. Yordan Álvarez, an abnormal No. 7 hitter because of his 1.067 OPS this season, struck out on three pitches. Hudson threw eight total. He and Doolittle needed a way to six more outs.

Hudson returned in the eighth. A leadoff single ended up as another run when Springer doubled off the wall in right field. Eaton jumped, the ball hit the side of his glove and bounced off the wall. Washington’s lead dwindled to one. Heart palpitations increased. Houston’s crowd rose. Doolittle’s chance came after Altuve lined out to right field. He needed four outs, starting with Brantley. A liner to left delivered the first. Three outs to go through a thorn-filled group: Bregman, Gurriel and Correa.

Bregman struck out. Gurriel flew out. Correa flew out. The Nationals lined up to celebrate on the Astros’ home field.