The Curse of Stephen Strasburg: how Stranger Things has nothing to do with it
On October 12th, 2017, at 11:45pm CT Wade Davis struck out Bryce Harper on the nastiest of nasty wiffleball pitches thus sending the Cubs to the championship series and the Nationals to whatever place they like to go when they are sad. The Cubs celebrated like it was 2016 and the Nationals walked off the field deflated like Tom Brady’s footballs just like it was 2012, 2014 and 2016.
If you watched the series, in many ways, the Nationals were the better team. Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer both looked like the theoretical baby of Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson, except not nearly as ugly (sorry Big Unit, but I have to call a spade a spade). And the Cubs pitching staff allowed the Nats to do more walking then the Jews did wandering the desert for 40 years. Even with all those guys on base, the Nats just couldn’t cash in often enough. And a few (ok, more than a few) crazy things happen in game 5 and just like that, the Nats lose again. It’s hard for me to blame the players though, because I think this was something greater.
Just like the Cubs had been for 108 years, the Washington Nationals are cursed. In 2012, Washington GM Mike Rizzo put a strict innings limit on star pitcher Stephen Strasburg at 160 innings for the season. The math is fairly clear so no TI-89 is necessary, if the Nationals were to make the playoffs, Strasburg would be unable to pitch. The Nats ended up losing in the division series to the St. Louis Cardinals with their best pitcher counting the blades of grass on the infield---he later admitted that he did eventually lose count. I said it at the time and I’ll say it again now, there is no way a guy can count that many blades of grass and leaving your best pitcher out of the playoffs for no good reason is as dumb as putting a pre-popped tinfoil bag of popcorn in the microwave.
Mike Rizzo implemented the innings limit to save Strasburg’s arm for the future, thinking they’d be back for many years to come. They didn’t make the playoffs the next year and while they have been back three times since, they haven’t even won a series. The lesson is clear, if you take a playoff opportunity for granted, you will be cursed. This is what I thought when it happened and I believe the baseball g-ds agree with me. If Strasburg pitches in the 2012 playoffs, maybe they win the World Series, maybe they don’t and maybe I wouldn’t have put that tin-foil bag of popcorn in the microwave (sorry again, Mom) it’s impossible to know. But it’s clear they would have been better if they added their best pitcher.
The biggest reason why the Nationals are cursed is because their reasoning for sitting Strasburg was based on zero percent science and one-hundred percent made up voodoo, black-magic, Harry Potter and the Chamber of bullsh**. What is so special about 160 innings? The same thing that is special about regular Cheerios, absolutely nothing. It’s just a random number under the ~200 innings a healthy starter typically throws in a year. Injuries happen to baseball players. The only guaranteed way to not have injuries is to quit baseball and become a car salesman, and while the latter requires less travel, I think most big league pitchers will stick with baseball. If the Nationals had lost 100 games in 2012, no one would remember watching Strasburg sitting in the dugout. But they made the freaking playoffs! And this isn’t the NBA. Then, they sat their best pitcher because they thought, based on nothing, it would be better for their team in the long run.
The best analogy I can come up with is the stress I go through when deciding if I want a fourth scoop of ice cream. I know ice cream is kind of bad for you and I think, based on nothing, that it’s the fourth scoop that might kill me today so I am going to stop at three scoops even if I make the ice cream playoffs.
But tomorrow and all the days after that I am just going to eat as many scoops as I want because ice cream is delicious and who cares. I hope that made sense. The Stephen Strasburg Curse, as it shall be known is now five years old but I have grand plans for it lasting 109 years. After all, the Cubs were cursed for turning away a live goat from entering their stadium, what a reasonable and rational decision. So happy meandering Nat fans, try to enjoy the few bright spots these next 104 years as I watch Davis strikeout Harper on repeat until I fall asleep.