By Jason Keidel
Despite all the pomp and hype that blew through baseball’s door when pitcher Stephen Strasburg was the top pick in the 2009 MLB draft, he hasn’t had a singular season that justified it.
That has finally changed.
Stephen Strasburg is having a marvelous season for the Washington Nationals, a historic one even. And, if history is any precursor, a Cy Young season.
Strasburg is only the fifth pitcher in the Cy Young era (since 1956) to start 13-0. Three of the other four — Max Scherzer, Roger Clemens and Ron Guidry — capped their splendid seasons with pitching’s highest honor.
The Nationals are 16-1 overall in games Strasburg has started. And when you consider Scherzer is now Strasburg’s teammate, it shouldn’t shock anyone if the Nats finally make that World Series run that’s been predicted for about the last five years.
It’s not like Strasburg’s been a stiff all this time. His record entering this year was 57-37, and he led the NL in starts and strikeouts in 2014. The pitcher just hasn’t quite lived up to his bionic billing, until now.
Is Strasburg finally and forever healthy? Not really, as he did spend some time on the DL this year. And he’s been equally unbeatable since, surrendering two earned runs in three starts (21.2 IP).
Has he finally figured out his stuff, become a pitcher in full? It seems that way. And it bears a striking comparison to another presumed ace in the NL East.
Matt Harvey, quickly painted in superhero hues and given a comic book moniker, the Dark Knight of Gotham, was supposed to lead the New York Mets’ bejeweled starting staff into the baseball heavens. Indeed, it was Harvey on the mound in the final game of the 2015 World Series, a game he lost after pitching eight stellar innings. Meanwhile, Nats fans surely wondered when their star would pitch in October.
Those who find innings limits and ample rest the best medicine for high-end pitchers can point to Strasburg, who sat out the 2012 playoffs to rest his recently repaired pitching arm. Now the Nats are seeing the fruits of his prudence. Or so some will say.
Harvey, who blasted through his innings cap to help the Mets reach the Fall Classic, has been shelved for the season. The Mets are seeing the fruits of their imprudence. Or so some will say.
Strasburg had Tommy John in September 2010 and eschewed the playoff experience two years later after 159 innings pitched. Matt Harvey had Tommy John in October 2013 and plunged into the playoffs two years later, tossing 203 innings (including 14 in the postseason). Are those 44 innings the difference?
But how can anyone know when a tendon will snap, a ligament will tear or a joint will jump out of its socket?
Maybe it’s just Strasburg’s turn, the long-awaited confluence of timing and talent. While Washingtonians waited for Strasburg to finally flower into an ace, he was passed on the pitching superhighway by Clayton Kershaw and then Jake Arrieta, who seemed to burst into stardom overnight.
They have company now. And if this is a three-man race, Stephen Strasburg has assumed the pole position.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.