As most Washington-area football sports fans were watching that monstrosity of a franchise continue to disappoint their loyal fans on Sunday, fewer than 10 miles away, the Washington Nationals defeated the Philadelphia Phillies, 3-2. Then, the team and fans, alike, stayed at Nationals Park for 90 minutes as the Atlanta Braves walked off the second-place Miami Marlins with a 11th inning walk-off homer to clinch a second consecutive National League East division crown for the Washington team.
The celebration commenced, with fans and players rejoicing together for several minutes before the festivities were taken inside to the clubhouse.
The Washington Nationals celebrate in the locker room after they clinched the National League East title after a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
The single reason the Nationals were able to celebrate was the mastery of starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg (13-4) threw two hit balls for eight innings and struck out 10. He hasn’t allowed a run since Aug. 19 at San Diego, which was his first start since he came off the disabled list with an elbow nerve impingement. Since returning from the DL, he is 3-1 with an 0.51 ERA, 41 strikeouts and just four walks. He extended his franchise-record scoreless inning streak to an astounding 34 innings as he has firmly entrenched himself in the NL Cy Young race by sheer force.
Apologies to Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale and even Max Scherzer but, right now, Strasburg is the most dominant pitcher in the sport. With all of the injuries and shutdowns of years past and present, to actually utter that sentence could be considered blasphemy but, alas, we are here. He has become the all-world talent we have all wondered he could be at just the right time for the Nationals.
With the Los Angeles Dodgers slumping and not looking as formidable as they did just three weeks ago, having a healthy and locked-in Strasburg could alter a short series in October. He’s striking out his opponents as he’s always done, but what makes this streak so different from what we have normally seen is the lack of walks and the duration of each start. He is routinely pitching seven-plus innings each start, with two of his last three starts going at least eight innings.
Now, it would take a minor miracle for the Nats to somehow catch the Dodgers for the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, but crazier things have happened. The challenge of 4.5 games with 20 to go isn’t insurmountable but it’s probably not feasible—even considering the nosedive currently by the Dodgers. It would be paramount to get the other two aces, Max Scherzer and Gio Gonzalez, to click on all cylinders at the same time three weeks from now along with Strasburg.
If this happens, the team that was basically an afterthought for the last two seasons can really step into October with legit dreams of a November parade on Pennsylvania Avenue.