Washington Nationals: The 10 best games in Stephen Strasburg’s career

The news on Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg may be career-ending. His rehab from previous thoracic outlet surgery has been shut down due to what is being described as “severe nerve damage” to his arm.

The 34-year-old pitcher has not seen action since a single appearance in June of 2022. He has pitched only 32 innings since leading the Nationals to the 2019 World Series victory over Houston.

His manager Dave Martinez, did not inspire hope for Strasburg’s quick return this past weekend when he told reporters that, “I can’t say exactly what the outcome’s going to be…I wish Stephen the best no matter what happens moving forward.”

Strasburg signed a seven-year, $245 million contract with the Nationals following the 2019 World Series, in which he was named Most Valuable Player.  He made two starts in that series and won both of them. He is a three-time All-Star with a record of 113-62 and a 3.24 ERA.

If Strasburg is finished, this is a good time to reflect on what he did via an examination of the 10 best performances of his career.

This is not a subjective ranking; rather, it is based on Strasburg’s contributions to victory in each game he played based on Win Probability Added.

Win Probability Added is used because it isolates the individual’s role in influencing the game’s outcome. For that reason, it emphasizes game-turning accomplishments. It judges the player’s contribution within the broader context of winning the game.

Strasburg has a career WPA of +14.8, meaning that the Nationals are a net of 14.8 games better off for having had Strasburg since 2010 than they would have been with an average pitcher.

Here is a look at the 10 best games in the career of a pitcher who was drafted first overall in 2009, and who debuted just one year later.

10. April 7, 2021. Braves 2, Nationals 0. This game marked Strasburg’s 2021 debut, and was the last in which he appeared unaffected by the arm problems that would soon sideline him. Facing a Braves team that would go on to win that season’s World Series, he pitched six innings, allowing just one hit and striking out eight. The only hit was a first inning single to Ozzie Albies.

Strasburg retired the last 10 batters he faced before being lifted by Martinez at the start of the seventh of what at that time was a scoreless tie. As the second game of a double-header played during the COVID-19 era, the contest was only scheduled to last seven innings. Pablo Sandoval’s home run off Tanner Rainey turned the game in Atlanta’s favor. Win Probability Added: 0.445

9. Sept. 15, 2015, Nationals 4, Phillies 0. With his team in Wild Card contention, Strasburg silenced the Phillies on just one hit over eight innings. That lone hit was a Cody Asche ground single leading off the fifth inning.

Strasburg struck out 14 Phillies that night, walking just one, before giving way to Blake Treinen, who pitched the ninth inning. Win Probability Added: 0.447.

8. June 2, 2012. Nationals 2, Braves 0.  Strasburg started and went seven innings, shutting out the Braves on four hits. He struck out nine, including the first four batters he faced, and did not walk anyone. In both the fifth and seventh innings, Strasburg quelled brief Braves threats with a double play ground ball. Win Probability Added: 0.448.

7. Sept. 21, 2019, Nationals 10, Marlins 4. The Nats held a lead in the Wild Card standings at the time this game was played. But with little more than a week remaining, nothing could be taken for granted. Strasburg did his part, holding the Marlins to just three hits through seven innings, and leaving with what appeared to be a comfortable 4-0 lead.

But when Strasburg left, all heck broke loose. The Marlins scored four tying runs off Strasburg’s relief, sending the game into the 10th, when the Nats opened up with a six-run burst. Win Probability Added: 0.453.

6. July 3, 2017, Nationals 3, Mets 2. Strasburg was brilliant for seven innings, holding the Mets scoreless on just two hits. But Washington’s offense did nothing against New York starter Steven Matz, so Strasburg left a scoreless tie. Washington scored twice in the eighth only to give those runs back in the ninth. The Nats won on a Ryan Raburn walk-off single. Win Probability Added: 0.457.

5. April 21, 2019, Nationals 5, Marlins 0. This was the second of two sensational Strasburg showings against the 2019 Marlins; the first was mentioned in entry No. 7. In this game, he pitched eight innings, shutting out Miami on just two hits and striking out 11.

The only hits against him were a first-inning single by Brian Anderson and a fourth- inning single by Neil Walker. Win Probability Added: 0.478.

4. Aug. 20, 2019. Pirates 4, Nationals 1. Nationals management always protected Strasburg’s seemingly fragile arm; he completed only two of his 247 career starts and averaged less than six innings per start. Sometimes that caution hurt his team.

In the heat of the 2019 pennant race, Strasburg took the mound at PNC Park and dominated. He held Pittsburgh to no runs and just four hits before being lifted after seven innings. The Nats led 1-0 at the time, but the pen gave the game away, spoiling one of Strasburg’s best efforts. Win Probability Added: 0.489.

3. Aug. 30, 2017, Nationals 4, Marlins 0. This was the second and last complete game of Strasburg’s career. In the shutout, he scattered six base hits and struck out eight, walking one. Here’s the kicker: Strasburg himself drove in the winning run, leading off the fifth inning with a blast into the right-center field seats against his mound opponent, Adam Conley. Win Probability Added: 0.494.

2. Oct. 11, 2017, Nationals 5, Cubs 0. Strasburg’s reputation as a clutch postseason performer grew out of his 2019 World Series MVP. But his best postseason showing actually came in the fourth game of the Nats’ 2017 division series showdown with the Cubs. On the brink of elimination, Strasburg shut out the defending World Series champions for seven innings on just three hits. He struck out 12.

Unfortunately for Washington, that effort went for naught when the Cubs beat the Nats one night later to advance to the NLCS, where they lost to the Dodgers. Win Probability Added: 0.506.

1. Sept. 10, 2017, Nationals 3, Phillies 2. The best performance of Strasburg’s career came on a sunny Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park. For eight innings he silenced the Phillies on just two hits, striking out 10.

As was common practice throughout his career, Strasburg was pulled (this time with a 3-0 lead) entering the ninth inning and, as often happened, chaos ensued. Nick Williams’ two-out single off closer Ryan Madson scored J.P. Crawford and Odubel Herrera, who had both singled ahead of him, before Madson was able to retire Rhys Hoskins for the third out. Win Probability Added: 0.519.