The Washington Nationals are sitting at 52-45, good for first in the National League east, and having just taken an important series from their nearest NL East rival New York Mets. The Nats are in the top 15 in runs, batting average, on base percentage and slugging, and their pitching staff is in the top 10 in ERA and quality starts.
The Nationals had one of the deepest pitching rotations in the majors before they signed Max Scherzer in the offseason and now have a stacked lineup with a 15 game winner in Tanner Roark coming out of the bullpen as a setup man. Their closer, Drew Storen, had 27 saves before the all-star break and currently sits at 29.
There’s one person missing from the stack of pitching in the nation’s capital however: Stephen Strasburg. Of course, Strasburg isn’t the only big name out of the Nationals lineup. In fact, their disabled list sounds like the making of an all-star team on its own: Strasburg, Denard Span, Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman are all on the 15-day DL. But Strasburg—along with Bryce Harper—was supposed to be the face of the franchise. They were the first real post-Expos products of the team. Yet, as his 27th birthday rolled around on July 20, Strasburg was already on his second DL assignment of 2015. His inability to stay on the field has been such a problem, that he even missed his own bobblehead night.
Fans have been frustrated with Strasburg’s inability to stay healthy, even when he does have productive years. In 2014 he finally cracked 200 innings pitched (214), dwarfing his season high of 183 in 2013, but it’s still only the third time in his five-year career that he’s hit triple-digit innings. He currently sits at 61 innings pitched in 2015, and while manager Mat Williams will probably want to trot him out there once he returns, the expectations are low that he’ll put in a ton of innings before the playoffs.
Of course, signing Max Scherzer to an insane seven-year, $210 million deal in the offseason has helped soothe a Nationals following who has nothing less than a World Series championship in its sights. Like any fanbase, most are frustrated, though winning—as it has a tendency to—takes the sting out of just about everything. View the comment section or messageboards and it splits just about the same for any team: some want to trade him thinking his value for the team is low but the market on him is high, some want him to stick around forever and some just take it on the chin along with the usual lumps of a long season.
Dropping the hammer on a franchise player when your team and city have only just hit their 10th season is a hard task to carry out. By all accounts, in five season of Strasburg, he’s won 48 games in 122 appearances with an ERA of 3.21. Those are okay numbers for a guy who bought a second home on the disabled list, but fans shouldn’t be too nostalgic for Stras’ return. The team they have now is stacked, even with hiccups of a long season, and if Strasburg walks through that door, it’s okay to look away.