Washington Nationals’ Anthony Rendon (6) hits a two-run single during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the New York Mets, Wednesday, May 18, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
The 2015 season for the Washington Nationals was summed up by its performances against the New York Mets. Buoyed by a 6-4 record for the first 10 games of the season series, the Mets, when it was time for the playoff push, won six consecutive games to basically put the divisional race on ice and ruin the season for the Nationals. So going into the first of 19 meetings of the 2016 season, Washington’s three-game set with the Mets at Citi Field was a highly anticipated affair.
No matter how well the Nationals have done so far this season, it would be deemed meaningless if they put forth the effort and results of 2015 against the Mets. In Game 1 of the series, it looked as if history would repeat itself as Washington fell in a 2-0 loss on May 17. But in this season full of surprises and change, the Nats showed resolve and a little bit of swagger as they flat out dominated New York in the final two games of the series by the margins of 9-1 and 7-1, respectively. The Mets took Max Scherzer’s first pitch of the series out the park but after that the Nats went on to outscore New York 16-3.
In a coincidence worth noting, two former Tommy John surgery recipients (Washington’s Stephen Strasburg and the Mets’ pitcher Matt Harvey) faced one another in Game 2 of the series on May 18. But, as the score would indicate, Strasburg thrived while Harvey struggled. The grumblings about Harvey’s disappointing season has now become an indictment of how to manage a pitcher after the surgery. Last season, Harvey had just returned from surgery and pitched well into the postseason, passing the innings limit that was set for him for precautionary measures. The Nats’ brass made the exact opposite decision with Strasburg following his surgery four years ago and were routinely ridiculed and second-guessed for the decision.
But what can’t be denied now is that the decision made in 2012 may have been the best thing for Strasburg and the franchise going forward. The Nats have won 20 of the past 22 games Strasburg has started, and he has a perfect 7-0 record this year. His fastball topped out at 99.1 miles per hour against the Mets on May 19. These are the numbers of a Cy Young contender. Strasburg even alluded to the decision in his press conference last week when he signed a seven-year, $150 million extension.
“As a competitor it was a very tough pill to swallow,” Strasburg acknowledged, when asked to look back on the decision. “But at the end of the day you have to really look at what their intentions are. I think their intentions are that it’s an investment. They want me to be here pitching at a high level for a long time.
“It was something that happened slowly and over time,” he explained, “but there were a lot of situations in the past that looking back on it, they took great care of me and not just as a pitcher, but as a person and I think what they believe in and what I believe in kind of coincide, so it seemed like just a great fit for me and my family.”