Why Stephen Strasburg is the Nationals most important player in a 60-game season

If the Nationals want to successfully defend their 2019 World Series title they’ll need Stephen Strasburg to pitch at a high level during the upcoming 60-game regular season.

In many ways, the 2020 MLB season is going to feel like an extended playoff run for the Nationals. As such, it’s clear they will need their starting rotation to come up big. In particular, Washington needs Stephen Strasburg to pitch like an ace every time he takes the hill.

The 30-year-old right-hander will again combine with Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin to anchor the top-end of the team’s rotation. Strasburg is still the guy who gives his team the most juice. His value to his team during their magical run in 2019 greatly exceeded his 18-6 regular-season record as a starter.

Strasburg’s ability to absolutely dominate hitters on the mound helps set the tone for the way the Nationals want to play. The swagger the team showcases when they’re playing their best baseball makes them seem almost invincible. Plenty of Strasburg’s teammates take their cue from their ace’s ability to blow hitters away with his fiery fastball and devastating offspeed stuff.

Conversely, the entire locker room can be deflated when Strasburg is forced to miss time due to injury. His ability to make 33 starts in 2019 was a big reason why the Nationals were able to stay in the thick of the NL East race for the entire campaign. Remember, Washington started their World Series journey a season ago by winning the Wild Card game. If Strasburg is forced to miss any significant time in a 60-game season it’s going to put his team in a very precarious situation.

The key for the Nationals, of course, is to make sure that Strasburg is ready to perform like a dominant starter when the postseason arrives. The team has the talent to comfortably make it into the playoffs. A large part of their focus during the truncated regular season needs to be making sure their veterans don’t overexert themselves before the games really start to count.

The Nationals should think strongly about limiting Strasburg’s innings for that reason. Expecting him to make one out of every five starts during the upcoming regular season is a poor plan. Instead, the team should try to limit their ace to single-digit starts. They’re much better off having him dominate nine starts than labor through 12 outings. That might seem like a small difference, but it could have a major effect on Strasburg’s ability to dominate in the postseason.

If the Nationals want to win big in 2020 they need Stephen Strasburg to pitch like an ace every time he takes the mound. There’s plenty of additional star talent on the roster, but it’s difficult to envision Washington making another deep postseason run without Strasburg leading the way.

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