The Washington Nationals were at a point of questionable return that sports’ teams never go to when they put a player’s health above winning based on circumstantial evidence. That was what the Nats did back in 2012. They won 98 games in the regular season and 100 games in all. They probably could have won more. They did something no team has done before when they put a person and his health ahead of wins — and shutdown Stephen Strasburg instead of shoving the pedal to the metal. It could have cost them wins and maybe a deep run in the playoffs. That decision also made them a target from players, fans, and the national media for criticism. Strasburg’s health was more important than winning per owner Ted Lerner.
One of the craziest responses came out of Baltimore in what seemed like propaganda aimed at any Orioles fan who thought the Nats were noble for shutting down Strasburg. Orioles broadcaster, Gary Thorne, on a MASN game broadcast attacked the Nationals for this decision. The Orioles were playing the Mariners but Thorne segued to the Strasburg outburst and went off on a tangent. Thorne went there into an angry rant like this was preplanned. Why? Who told him to do this? This just doesn’t happen out of nowhere. No other team did this on a broadcast as it would have been very disrespectful.
A transcription of what Thorne said is here: https://www.natsenquirer.com/2012/09/masns-gary-thorne-trashed-nats-decision-to-shut-down-strasburg-during-last-nights-os-broadcast.html Social media went nuts over this, and Orioles fans were lobbing insults at Nats fans. They were not happy for the Nats’ sudden success — just the Nats’ failures. Maybe that is why the talk of a failed Strasburg retirement negotiation hit some real hard. It brought back old wounds. The Lerners who once protected Strasburg’s health certainly would not do anything to jeopardize it now or disrespect Strasburg in any way. To let Thorne know how it all ended, Strasburg and his Nationals would make four more postseasons and Strasburg would be the World Series MVP in 2019.
When people wonder why Orioles fans don’t like the Nationals, there is no justification for that. None. Their issues seem to come from jealousy. The Nats never did anything negative to the Orioles. But the reverse? Nats fans have plenty of reasons to be salty. The Nats get a subpar broadcast of their baseball games from the Orioles-controlled network. The Nats’ single largest revenue stream, regional broadcast rights, are controlled by the Orioles majority and so woefully paid below the Nats competitors that it has put the Nats in a competitive disadvantage. Even after the Nats accepted what they said was a below market annual rights fee, they had to fight in the courts to get paid their money.
Last night, it was discussed that Washington’s FOX affiliate, WTTG Channel 5, was doing Orioles segments in a Baltimore bar before last nights Game 3 of the ALDS between the Orioles and Texas Rangers. That led some to say that no Baltimore news stations were celebrating the Nats’ 2019 run. Very strange how the Washington media seems to extend an olive branch to Orioles fans — but why?
The whole dynamic between the Orioles and Nationals is odd. They have never traded players between the two teams. It is more like scrounging for scraps when a player hits the waiver wires like Austin Voth or free agency to where Matt Wieters signed with the Nats. Those deals just never seem to work out for the acquiring team — but both teams have hoped they can hit pay dirt.
The Orioles are on an upswing right now while the Nats are still mired in a rebuild. It caused some, that like winning more than team allegiance, to chameleon their way into being O’s fans the same way Charm City people put on the red, white, and blue in 2019. With the Orioles out of the postseason, their years without a World Series parade is now over 40 years. There is no guarantee they will win one any time soon. The competition to hoist the metal always has serious teams in contention. You can win 101 games, or 116 like the 2001 Mariners and find yourself playing golf in mid-October. The San Francisco Giants won 103 games in 1993, and didn’t even make the playoffs.
The Orioles player development has been impressive. They built a pitching lab north of Baltimore that players can use instead of going to Cressey or Driveline. What they did was create better versions of what they had last year. But those pitchers entered the postseason, and the Rangers were ready as if they knew every pitch that was coming. The Orioles started three pitchers who had a combined playoff start’s record of ZERO games. They did basically nothing at the trade deadline to improve. Was it hubris or that they wouldn’t spend more money? They were swept by the Rangers and three starting pitchers all hit the showers early for a combined 8.0 innings over the three games giving up a combined 12 earnies and a 14.63 ERA. Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez and Dean Kremer would have been No. 4-6 pitchers on the Nats’ 2015 team at best — but today, what Nats fan wouldn’t take all three ahead of what the Nats have now in the rotation?
The O’s pitching lab turned them into better pitchers, but are they good enough? Orioles General Manager, Mike Elias, said that his team was going to “significantly escalate” payroll for the 2023 season. That never really happened. Was he lying or told bad information? All they did was minimal bottom feeder acquisitions and essentially swapped out Kyle Gibson for Jordan Lyles. They went into the season with the second lowest payroll in baseball. Two months ago, owner John Angelos, told the media that they would have to raise ticket prices dramatically to retain any of their young stars. Funny.
But the Nats can learn a few things from the Orioles in player development, and how to build a pitching lab. Get to that next level by seeing what other teams do. The Nats know how to win by spending money and making some great draft picks. But player development, or the lack thereof, has been a Nats problem for a long time.
Baseball is all about evolving in what is a hamster wheel of perpetual motion. Baseball is cyclical and every team has a window to compete unless they truly have a player development system that can churn out stars like the Ferrari assembly line. The Dodgers think they have it figured out — but tell me how many World Series the Dodgers have won in non-COVID seasons since 1989? Uh, the answer is ZERO. Yes, it is that hard to do it. There are 23 teams playing golf now. The Orioles won the same amount of playoff games this year as the Nationals.
The key for Rizzo and the Lerner ownership is to improve the Nats starting pitching. They can look at how the Rangers and Diamondbacks got back to winning. The two teams did it differently. The Rangers spent to get there and while it took time, they might be this year’s buzz saw. Even if they aren’t, they lost a total of 196 games combined from 2021-to-2022. Guess what, the Nats lost 198 games combined from 2022-2023. Why can’t the Nats be the 2024 version of the 2023 Rangers? They spent big on Jacob deGrom who never pitched this season for them. It was the Nathan Eovaldi signing along with a July 31 trade deadline deal for Jordan Montgomery that paid the big dividends. Max Scherzer was acquired in another deadline trade but he’s been injured too.
So simple, the Nats need to find their Eovaldi and Montgomery. The Rangers only had to pay Eovaldi a total of $17 million a year, and Montgomery is making $10 million. But if you look at the Diamondbacks they have two very good pitchers at the front of their rotation in Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly, and their lineup is built around athleticism and taking advantage with speed and timely hitting, and their total payroll is only $15 million higher than the Nationals!
Getting back to the Orioles, give them credit for taking Bradish from a 4.90 ERA last year to a 2.83 this year, and Kremer from a 7.55 to a 4.12. Rodriguez could be the best of them all. He is a rookie this year and finished with a second-half ERA of 2.58. Fine they all failed in the postseason which seemed like a possibility — but they have been developed to pitch like a good trio that can get the Orioles back in contention next year if they stay healthy.
The Nats could use a 2.83 ERA pitcher and especially a 2.58 rookie. Even a 4.12 would be an improvement over every Nats’ starter except one. This offseason needs to be Rizzo’s time to get this done, and fix this starting rotation. It all starts there.