Hype can be a silly thing especially when it surrounds a young baseball player who has never stepped foot on a major league playing field. Stephen Strasburg was supposed to set the world on fire, and anything short of that would have been a disappointment. For a brief time, he lived up to the promise. He struck out 14 batters in his debut and pitched to a 2.08 FIP in 68 innings in 2010 before tearing his UCL. He wouldn’t pitch again until September of the next year, and even in 2012, he was kept in a glass case. The Nationals infamously shut him down before the 2012 postseason, and he watched from afar as Washington suffered the first of many first round exits.
After that, Strasburg was merely great-not-incredible as he made at least one trip to the injured list in every season except 2014. He made two All-Star teams and finished as high as third in Cy Young voting, but his efforts went mostly overlooked. Since 2015, he’s been overshadowed by Max Scherzer. Strasburg became an overqualified number two, but not the ace, let alone the pitcher of a generation.
Strasburg never would have lived up to expectations because they were set impossibly high, but in the postseason this year, Strasburg has pitched how the prophecy foretold. He led the majors in DRA this year at 2.13 The Nationals have won their first pennant, and they couldn’t have done it without Strasburg. Pitching in relief, he threw three shutout innings against the Brewers in the Wild Card game. He made two starts against the Dodgers, racking up 17 strikeouts in 12 innings. In Game Two, he ensured the Nats wouldn’t fall into a 2-0 hole, and in Game Five, he kept the Dodgers within striking distance. His contribution to Washington’s dismantling of St. Louis was a 12-strikeout gem.
Altogether, Strasburg has struck out 33 in 22 innings while walking just one. He’s allowed just five runs. He’s also shown an ability to adapt to his opponent. In Game Three’s thrashing of the Cards, Strasburg split his repertoire fairly evenly, but his changeup did most of the heavy lifting. On the 36 changes he threw, Strasburg got 12 swings and misses. Against the Dodgers, Strasburg leaned on the curve throwing it 34 times in Game Two and 45 times in Game Five. It’s a great swing and miss pitch, but Strasburg is also able to steal strikes with it. In the NLDS, Strasburg’s 79 curves got 36 called strikes and whiffs out.
Strasburg’s curve is his primary pitch against righties, so regardless of who he faces in the World Series, it figures to be a prominent weapon as both the Astros and Yankees have righty-heavy lineups.
Strasburg hasn’t done this single-handedly, of course. Coming into play on Tuesday, Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto ranked first and second in championship win probability added. Max Scherzer has been his usual dominant self. Howie Kendrick redeemed an embarrassing TOOTBLAN and several defensive miscues to stick a dagger in the Dodgers’ heart. Daniel Hudson endured two Tommy John surgeries to ultimately provide much needed reinforcement for the bullpen. Even Anibál Sánchez has been indispensable. If Strasburg were anything less, Washington’s season might have ended against Milwaukee. One way or another, it will end in the Fall Classic where Strasburg has a chance to remind everyone of why the hype existed in the first place.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.