- The Washington Times - Friday, October 3, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

A reporter asked Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams to judge the performance of his starting pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, following a 3-2 loss to the San Francisco Giants in Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park.

Williams was blunt — and accurate.

“I think Stras was good,” Williams said. “He gave us a chance. I think Jake [Peavy] was better. Jake was really good today. I think Stras pitched fine.”

But no one had asked Williams about what he thought of the Giants starter and winning pitcher in the opening round of this five-game series. He just volunteered it. He was that impressed.

Jake Peavy — who no-hit the Nationals through the first four innings and left after 5 2/3 innings pitched having allowed no runs on two hits and three walks — is not supposed to be better than Stephen Strasburg at this stage in their respective careers.


PHOTOS: NLDS Game 1: Giants 3, Nationals 2


Peavy is a “fine” pitcher. He’s won 139 games over his 13-year career — a Cy Young award winner seven years ago.

But in a pitching duel before a sold-out home crowd of 44,035, the Nationals should have had the edge. Peavy was Giants manager Bruce Bochy’s second choice to pitch in the opener. His first would have been Madison Bumgarner, but he wasn’t able to pitch, since he had shut out the Pittsburgh Pirates in the wild card game Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Williams had no such restrictions. He was free to pick and chose from any one of the five excellent Washington starters — and he chose Strasburg.

He didn’t pick Strasburg pitch this game because, as he said in the postgame press conference, “he gave us a chance.” Heck, the guy who is down in the bullpen, Tanner Roark, can do that.

What you need from Strasburg is domination, intimidation, the kind of pitching performance that makes, as Giants pitcher Tim Hudson might say, whatever it is that is between their legs shrivel up from fear.

Maybe, after Strasburg finally got to show his stuff in a big postseason game following the controversial shutdown going into the 2012 postseason as part of the Nationals’ Tommy John elbow ligament surgery recovery plan, this is who he is. Maybe this was a defining moment for Strasburg — that he is a pitcher who is “fine” and “gives us a chance” to win.

There’s nothing wrong with that. But the expectation of success for this Nationals team in this postseason is that no matter what else goes wrong — like an offense that has struggled to create runs, as it did Friday afternoon — the starting pitching will be better than the guys the other team is sending out there.

In other words, the Nationals should be winning a 3-2 game, not losing.
Strasburg only gave up one earned run through five innings — which was fine. But the Giants had eight hits — all singles. Add in two third-inning Nationals fielding miscues — a passed ball by catcher Wilson Ramos and first baseman Adam LaRoche trying to get the lead runner at second on a sacrifice bunt by Peavy — and it turned out to be too much to give the Giants.

“It’s not like they were hitting me hard all around the yard,” Strasburg said. “It’s just one of those days when I feel like I made a pitch, they fought it off and hit it where we weren’t.

“Usually when you give up eight hits, they’re not all singles. I really had to go out there and battle my way through some innings today. That’s what I wanted to do going into the start, so I’m happy with that and I’m just going to keep doing that.

This Nationals loss rests on the shoulders of an offense that, save for two seventh-inning solo home runs by Bryce Harper and Asdrubal Cabrera, did little else. But that’s why you have a Strasburg — to make the other team do even less.

Jordan Zimmermann will be expected to do just that in Game 2 Saturday at Nationals Park against Hudson. You don’t want Matt Williams saying following that game, “I think Jordan was good. He gave us a chance. I think Tim was better. Tim was really good today. I think Jordan pitched fine.”

Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com.

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