TINSMAN: Nats' Strasburg became October’s greatest ace

TINSMAN: Stephen Strasburg became October’s greatest ace
Photo credit (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Walking off the mound on Friday night, Washington Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg added a new chapter to his story: the lowest postseason ERA among starters in MLB history (0.64, via MLB Stats).

It was appropriate that he did so against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, where the legendary Sandy Koufax pitched to a 0.95 postseason ERA, a mark that led baseball for decades.

While others may have more hardware to show for postseason success, Strasburg has the numbers to support his dominance.

Friday was Strasburg’s first 2019 postseason start, but his second appearance after being paired with Max Scherzer in the Wild Card game vs. Milwaukee. 

Strasburg, despite never pitching in relief in his professional career, pitched flawlessly out of the bullpen on Tuesday, giving his team a chance to come back.

On Friday, Strasburg started for the first time in his career on just three days rest. The stakes couldn't have been higher for the Nats, already trailing 0-1 in a best-of-five series.

He responded by throwing 20 swing-and-miss strikes, striking out 10 Dodgers, and allowing just one run over six innings.

After Doolittle pitched the seventh inning, Scherzer was summoned to slam the door in the eighth, showing how manager Dave Martinez might get the most out of his two best arms.

The reality is that the Nats have the worst regular bullpen to ever make the playoffs, which puts Strasburg and Scherzer in a unique position to contribute. On days when one starts, the other would normally throw a quiet bullpen session with a catcher.

Instead, they’re pitching against some of the best hitters in baseball, on the biggest stage imaginable and getting huge outs.

This is what Nationals ownership hoped for when they drafted Strasburg No. 1 overall in 2009. This is a best-case scenario for any homegrown talent.

Strasburg’s value, like beauty, has frequently been in the eye of the beholder. In the decade since making his debut, he has been called the future of the game and an injury-prone bust, an overhyped diva and an underappreciated superstar.

In a season when Scherzer was shelved by injuries, Strasburg was the staff workhorse, starting 33 games for just the second time in his career. His 18 wins and 209 innings both led MLB, and he will likely earn some Cy Young attention.

Now that the postseason is here, Strasburg has found a new gear that could propel the Nats to uncharted territory: the NLCS and beyond. 

Until then, look for No. 37 to pitch in any situation that needs zeroes on the scoreboard.

Brian Tinsman has covered D.C. sports since 2011, both from the team marketing and skeptical fan perspectives. Tweet your criticisms @Brian_Tinsman.