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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

This could be the ugliest Washington Nationals postseason exit yet, and that’s saying something.

It could be uglier than blowing the six-run lead in Game 5 of the 2012 National League Division Series and losing to the St. Louis Cardinals 9-7.


Stephen Strasburg didn’t pitch in that series.


AUDIO: Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo with Thom Loverro


It could be uglier than their meek exit in four games to the San Francisco Giants in 2014, when Giants players, before the series even started, challenged the Nationals’ heart.

Strasburg pitched once in that series, and it was a forgettable Game 1 loss.

And it could most definitely be uglier than last year’s five-game series loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Strasburg didn’t pitch in that series, either, He was hurt.

Is there a common thread here?

The news that, with Game 4 of the NLDS against the Cubs in Chicago Tuesday pushed back to Wednesday because of rain, that Strasburg, even though he is fully rested, will not start Game 4 was met with howls of laughter and tears — especially when manager Dusty Baker told reporters, that Strasburg is “feeling under the weather.”

If Strasburg doesn’t get a chance to redeem himself in a Game 5 start, his reputation as soft will be cemented forever in the game.

Baker, already unfairly under fire for decisions he made in the Game 3 2-1 loss to the Cubs to give Chicago a 2-1 lead in this best-of-five series, will find his reputation as a postseason failure right next to Strasburg‘s.

Right or wrong, people won’t soon forget Baker telling reporters, who, like most of the world with the game pushed back to Wednesday, expected Strasburg, one of the best pitchers in the league and coming off a dominant, though losing, performance in Game 1, to start in his regular rotation spot for Game 4, “Didn’t work out for Stras for his bullpen day, and we’re all creatures of habit, and plus, we’ve got full confidence in Tanner (Roark, the Game 4 starter). And Stras, it would have been better, because he’s feeling under the weather, like a lot of my team is.”

Why is his team under the weather?

“It’s just this time of the year for mold around Chicago — I think it’s mold,” Baker said. “I mean, I have it, too.”

The Nationals may be the first team in baseball to create a mold remediation department.

The reality is that Strasburg took the ball out of Baker’s hands by telling his manager, after jogging and reportedly wheezing pre-game Tuesday, that he was sick.

No bloody sock moment for Strasburg, who, with his various stints on the disabled list and early exits from games, has a reputation for not pitching when things aren’t quite right.

It will be Baker, though, as the voice of the organization who faces reporters daily, who will bear the brunt of the criticism if Washington exits Wednesday in Game 4.

If Strasburg is sitting on the bench watching his team go down in defeat in Game 4 Wednesday, things will not be quite right — not for a long time.

This organization put itself on the line in 2012 by protecting Strasburg, coming off Tommy John surgery, by limiting his innings and shutting him down before the postseason. The Nationals took a lot of abuse for that.

This was Strasburg’s chance to pay them back. For whatever reason, he wasn’t up to the task.

So now it falls on Tanner Roark, the 25th-round draft pick by the Texas Rangers in 2008, an unknown traded to Washington in the 2010 deal that said goodbye to Cristian Guzman, to be the Washington savior Wednesday in Game 4 at Wrigley Field.

“I’m thinking Tanner’s going to do his thing,” Baker said.

If so — if Roark can lead Washington to a Game 4 win — that gives Strasburg one last shot at redemption in Game 5 Thursday in Washington.

If not — well, then Stephen Strasburg did his thing, too.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.


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