I don’t normally feel bad for professional athletes. They make a ton of money, live the high-life, and don’t usually have to work year-round. But today I’m feeling very badly for both Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez – both starting pitchers had their best stuff of the season this past weekend for the Washington Nationals, but neither player ended up with a win.
Stephen Strasburg had it worse, suffering his fifth loss of the season as the Nationals lost to the Chicago Cubs 8-2 last Saturday. Strasburg was on fire, striking out seven batters on 53 pitches until a throwing error by third baseman Ryan Zimmerman with 2 outs in the top of the fifth inning changed the momentum of the game. Zimmerman’s error must have definitely rattled Strasburg, who needed 42 pitches to get out of the fifth inning.
Some might argue that Strasburg should have shaken off Zimmerman’s error (his sixth of the season) and stayed focused on his fastball, which was in the high 90s Saturday afternoon. Yes, it’s easy for us to say that when we’re not the ones standing on the pitcher’s mound. Strasburg is supposed to be such a phenom – he’s supposed to be able to pitch in stellar fashion regardless of what mistakes his defense makes. Yet it’s very easy for us to forget that Strasburg is only 24 years old and has never pitched a complete season in the Majors. And while he is a pretty focused guy, it seems like little things can get to him – the height of the pitcher’s mound in Cleveland, the way a “throwback” jersey doesn’t fit him quite right, a rain delay after a game has already started – so perhaps he’s not as “locked in” as people tend to think.
Then there’s poor Gio Gonzalez, who had a perfect game going into the sixth inning of Sunday’s game. He had a good rhythm going, striking out six batters in 86 pitches before being (prematurely) pulled after seven innings. Nationals’ manager, Davey Johnson, decided to replace Gio with pinch-hitter Chad Tracey in the bottom of the seventh so that Drew Storen could pitch the eighth, but not only did Tracey strike out, but Storen (who has not been very consistent this season) allowed the Cubs to tie the game. Then in the ninth, with Rafael Soriano pitching, Nationals’ catcher Kurt Suzuki made an unusual throwing error, which most people in the universe think was actually player interference because Suzuki’s throw to prevent a double steal hit batter Welington Castillo’s bat. Not only did rookie umpire John Trumpane not call the interference, but then in the bottom of the ninth, he ejected Suzuki for arguing a strike three call. Not a good day for the Nationals, and an unfortunate no-decision for Gio Gonzalez.
But hey, on a positive note, the Nationals did take both games in a short inter-league series against the star-studded Detroit Tigers earlier in the week, and they still remain only 1 game out of first place in the NL East, because the Atlanta Braves keep losing. So there’s that.
Now the Nationals head west for a tough road trip against the Dodgers, Padres, and Giants. These west-coast road trips are tough (just ask the Braves!), but like the Baltimore Orioles proved earlier this month, it is possible to win and win big while on the west coast. Jordan Zimmermann needs to continue his dominance, Ian Desmond needs to stay hot, and Bryce Harper needs to stop cutting his toenails too short so he won’t need to have any more ingrown toenails removed. I would like to see the Nationals take seven of their next 10 games, most of which will be going on too late at night for me to watch all the way through. But I will still be here next week, hopefully with good news to report and great positive comments.