An Unhappy Strasmas

“If this was Strasmas, we got coal in our stockings.”

My friends just got married a month ago, moved into their new home together a week ago, and so they did what any newlywed couple who met in college in Atlanta would do: they checked to see when Stephen Strasburg would make his next start against the Braves — Tuesday, July 27, the calendar said — and then they drove four hours to Washington to watch. I rushed home from work to meet them and take the stadium-bound Metro, which was packed to the gills with red-shirted and red-capped Nats fans, nearly all of them wearing some variation on Strasburg #37.

We joined the crimson sea of fans pouring into the stadium, and took our seats at 7:04, just in time to see the pitcher warming up. And just in time to notice that the cleanshaven Latino on the mound did not bear much resemblance to the 6’4″, goateed Strasburg. Realization dawned on us all at the same time. There would be no Strasmas this week. He’d felt sore during his warmup pitches just a few minutes before we arrived, and the team quietly yanked him. Nationals Park, which was filled by 40,043 Strasburg-enrapt fans that night, echoed with boos of confusion and outrage.

The fill-in was Miguel Batista, a wry 39-year old, who understood the fans’ dismay: “Imagine if you go there to see Miss Universe and you end up having Miss Iowa, you might get those kind of boos. But it’s OK,” he told the AP. “Miss Iowa” is putting it mildly: he hadn’t started a game in two years, and has a career record of 96-110 and an ERA of 4.53, in 16 seasons for eight different organizations. (The real Miss Iowa took the analogy in stride: “It was kind of a diss at first. But I think that I’ll handle that.”)

Batista, somehow, then he led the last-place Nationals to victory over the first-place Braves. The sea of red quickly came over to his side as he quieted the Braves for five innings, and my Braves fan friends went from nonplussed to depressed. It’s somehow more thrilling to watch a phenom blow your team away with 100-mile an hour fastballs than it is to watch a geezer lull them to sleep with moxie and guile. “If this was Strasmas, we got coal in our stockings,” my friend’s wife told him. Nats fans must have felt the same way today, when they learned he was making his first trip to the DL. Still, on Tuesday night, the fireworks roared at the end of the game, and Nats fans discovered a new kind of Strasmas: the one where they win on a day that Strasburg didn’t even pitch.

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Alex is a writer for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.

21 Responses to “An Unhappy Strasmas”

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  1. Ryan says:

    I bought tickets for this Sunday’s game at 4pm on Tuesday, and planned an entire road trip weekend around it. Mother fucker.

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  2. bonestock94 says:

    At least one of my favorite sites has acknowledged my major dissapointments this week.

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  3. oh dear says:

    i don’t know, driving 4 hours to see a nats game is borderline psychotic…

    and if you don’t go there to support them, other than to see their best player pitch, i can’t feel too bad.

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    • My friends decided to come to town to see Jason Heyward, one of the stars of their favorite team, play Stephen Strasburg, one of the most exciting players in baseball, and to visit friends. To me, that’s going on a road trip to have some fun.

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    • Temo says:

      I also live 4 hours away and was pretty close to making the same trip myself. I am also a Braves fan– if Heyward vs. Strasburg isn’t worth a roadtrip, then no regular season baseball game is.

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    • Souldrummer says:

      Not really psychotic. They’re Braves fans. They want to see him pitch against the Braves. They also would like to make a trip up to DC and coordinate when to come see him.It’s just that their plans went awry. I’m one of the few Nats fans who appreciates Miguel Batista. I was at the game and bummed for the first couple of innings that I didn’t get to see Stras. But I’m a Nats fan, I’ve been to all of the home Strasburg starts and maybe 25-30 games overall. As long as he’s healthy next year, things are okay because he’s given us enough hope. If he doesn’t pitch again, they will probably limit him to 120IP next year, though. As long as this doesn’t push his innings total down too much, he’ll still be able to give us 180IP next year as a more mature pitcher, instead of the 80-100IP as a rookie still making some adjustments.

      It was deeply, deeply satisfying to see Miguel Batista shut down the Braves tourists. A lot of Virginia south of the DC suburbs is Braves country and I imagine many of them thought they’d catch a Strasburg start and a series win. Instead, they got a loss at the hands of Batista while the Nats ran wild on Brian McCann. And then they lose the series today. Not but so many bright spots this season besides Strasburg for the Nats, but starting out this homestand well provides hope that we can at least be division nuisances down the stretch.

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  4. CircleChange11 says:

    I know that WSN said that they were going to limit Strasburg’s IP this year.

    From what I gather from the report is that there is not an “injury” as we traditionally think of it, but rather “tightness” or “unable to get loose” in the BP.

    Did this situation present an “opportunity” for the organization to “limit his IP” without backlash from the fans?

    If they sit him on the bench for 3 or 4 starts, the fans go crazy because of all they’ve done to get to the game (similar things as presented in this thread), and would field “Those bastards, I sacrificed so much to go to the game” comments.

    Now, they get to rest him for 2 weeks, which helps limit his IP, and then pitch him through the remainder of the year, without being the “bad guy”.

    Is this possible?

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    • Souldrummer says:

      No. They were determined to pitch him to his pitch limit for IP as quickly as possible. They believe that they will have multiple people coming off of the disabled list to help take his spot in the rotation when his innings limit arrives. Right now, by stopping him now, Jordan Zimmermann, their top prospect before his debut last year, will not be able to take his rotation spot because Jordan Zimmermann will not be ready until mid-August. They are either going to have start Jason Marquis before he’s shown he can get people out in his rehabs or bring up stop gap like Matt Chico.

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  5. swheatle says:

    Is this the dreaded ‘inverted w’ raising its head?

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      He lost the inverted-W in college. He uses more of a horizontal-W now, like Jake Peavey (relax), only without the over-rotatation (there’s the big difference). His mechanics are actually pretty good.

      IMO, it probably has to do with hitting the 110 IP mark over 20 starts in 5 months. He hasn’t had the “typical” progression. He pitched in the minors to put off service time, and then was placed right in the rotation in ML.

      Mechanics guys often predict doom on any prospect, and are often right because all pitchers do get hurt at some point. But, no one ever accepts the additional workload in the pros as a key factor.

      Jamie Garcia was a major injury concern as well, while Mark Prior was perfect and efficient.

      I am open to being wrong about this, but I’d like to see that it’s an actual injury, and not just some tightness or standard inconvenience of pitching, before I accept the gloom and doom.

      I’m sure the pitching mechanics blogs are blowing up today, and a few guys are likely throwing themselves a parade. But, my view is “let’s wait and see”. It could be nothing that we all forget about, or it could be the start of his demise, but it’s probably something in between.

      I could believe that WSN is being hyper-sensitive about it as well.

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  6. Boots says:

    Goodness people, worse things have happened in life. These kind of stories are ridiculous. How dare Strasburg injure his arm. How selfish. THE TRAVESTY!

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  7. oompaloopma says:

    Its called a baseball game, and its not called a pitcher throwing a ball. If you can only enjoy a game when you favorite player is in the game you are not a real fan of baseball.

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  8. PJ says:

    This is why there is Strasburg hype backlash. Seriously?

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  9. Ali says:

    You people are pathetic.

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  10. Ricky True says:

    Listen guys, all I know is if I had gone to see Strasburg pitch, and then he didn’t, I would have farted right where I stood and not even said sorry.

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  11. payday0023 says:

    Miguel, you’re vastly overrating yourself by even considering the Miss Iowa comparison. This would be like going to see Miss Universe and getting a husk of corn instead.

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