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Nationals, With MLB-Best Record, Lose Series Without Strasburg

The Washington Nationals, who had the best record in Major League Baseball during the regular season, lost their National League Division Series without star pitcher Steven Strasburg.

Strasburg, who went 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA and 197 strikeouts in 159 1/3 innings this season, was shut down by manager Davey Johnson and team management after his Sept. 7 appearance on the mound. Despite repeated pleadings from the 24-year-old for a chance to pitch in the playoffs, Johnson stood by his decision to hold Strasburg to limited innings.

“I just felt they weren’t going to win it without him because he’s that equalizer, that guy than can neutralize you and get you a win,” said MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds. “In the postseason, the wins are so precious.”

The Nationals, who ended the regular season 98-64, blew a 6-0 lead last night as the St. Louis Cardinals won 9-7 in Game 5 to advance to the NL Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants.

Strasburg allowed five runs in three innings in a 9-7 loss to the Miami Marlins in his final start of the season.

“I don’t know if I’m ever going to accept it, to be honest,” Strasburg said after being told his season had ended. “It’s something I’m not happy about at all. That’s not why I play the game. I play the game to be a good teammate and win. You don’t grow up dreaming of playing in the big leagues to be shut down when it starts to matter. It’s going to be a tough one to swallow.”

Johnson and team officials set the innings limit for Strasburg after he returned from elbow surgery. By Strasburg’s 28th game, the manager said his righthander had lost his “crispness” and he feared the player risked further injury by continuing to throw.

Record Contract

In his final three starts, Strasburg allowed 12 runs in 14 innings -- although he threw six shutout innings against the Cardinals, striking out nine, allowing two hits and walking none in his next-to-last start.

Strasburg, who signed a record $15 million, four-year contract, set a major league record with 41 strikeouts in his first four starts in the 2010 season and went 5-3 with a 2.91 earned run average and 92 strikeouts in 68 innings. He threw a mixture of fastballs that reached 100 miles (161 kilometers) per hour, changeups and breaking pitches.

His career was interrupted by surgery on Sept. 4, 2010, to replace a ligament in his throwing arm two weeks after he injured it. He spent the 2011 season rehabilitating with minor league teams.

“It’s tough because I understand the physical part of wanting to shut him down, but when you see him throwing the ball like we saw, it just makes you go, ‘Man, I feel for the young man not getting the chance to play in this series,’” MLB’s Reynolds said.

Cheerleader Role

The second-guessing began as the Nationals challenged the Cardinals in the playoffs.

Ken Rosenthal, the baseball writer for Fox Sports, said Washington may not have started the season 18-9 without Strasburg.

“But by manipulating Strasburg’s schedule, the Nats could have ensured that he would be available in October, when the game matters most,” Rosenthal said in a recent column. “Instead, the best pitcher in the series is confined to the dugout, reduced to a cheerleader.”

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