Stephen Strasburg is 24 years old.  He can vote for our political leaders, he can order a Jack and Coke, and he is less than a year away from being able to rent an automobile all on his own.

On another note, the Washington Nationals are sticking to their plan of shutting down their ace sometime after he reaches the 160-inning mark on the season, which would include this year’s playoffs.

All of this is happening in spite of the fact that the youthful Nats have the best record in baseball and a very legitimate shot at the World Series this year.

The only place you really see inning restrictions like this during times of high competition comes for kids half Strasburg’s age at this month’s Little League World Series.

However, eighth-grade algebra is not in Strasburg’s immediate future.  He is a man.  And that man should without a doubt be pitching for Washington in October.

The idea behind limiting Strasburg is not a bad one by any means.  He’s not too far removed from Tommy John surgery and the keystone—along with Bryce Harper—to Washington’s growing franchise.  The Nationals are a very young, talented team and surely don’t want to jeopardize a promising future by possibly risking injury to one of the best young arms in baseball.

So they put a predetermined cap on what Strasburg’s workload would be this year.  They probably decided, “You know, this guy is going to have a dynamite career, but first we need to be very careful about how we handle him in his first full Major League season not just since surgery, but ever.  Besides, we’re probably a year or two off from being seriously competitive anyway.”

It’s difficult to believe the Nationals thought they would be contending at this level so soon.  After all, the Nats have been hanging out in and around the cellar of the NL East for several years now.  

But things have changed.  Washington has made it abundantly clear they are ready to make a serious run at the pennant and maybe more and, quite frankly, they need their best pitcher to do so.

On top of that, Strasburg’s recovery has come without any hiccups or reasons for concern.

The importance placed on his future is certainly warranted, but if he seems to be totally fine and you have a real shot at winning a World Series, why not take it?

Sitting him out and waiting for next year or the year after that just seems like the kind of logic that goes into playing a franchise mode in a video game.  There, it’s okay to say, “Well, I’ll just simulate out the season, and I’ll win it all in the next.”

That sort of thinking does not fair so well in real life.  Championship opportunities are fleeting, and the windows to achieve such glory often shut abruptly and before franchises believe they will.  For the Nationals to think they will be in this position again and consistently for the foreseeable future is not a far-fetched idea given their young talent, but there is still no guarantee on any of that.

What is certain, however, is that they have the best record in The Show right now.  Shutting down a player strictly out of an outdated plan (one that Strasburg has outgrown because of his success and impressive overall bill of health since surgery) to contend later when you can contend now does not do you many favors.  

After all, you play to win the game, not the game tomorrow.

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