History guides Nats, Braves in different ways
Approaches to protecting Strasburg, Medlen rooted in the past
Back in the spring, the Nationals made no secret of their plan to limit the crown jewel of their organization, Stephen Strasburg, to fewer than 170 innings. They wanted to be careful with the workload in his first full season since having Tommy John surgery.
Atlanta was more low-key with right-hander Kris Medlen, who also was coming off Tommy John surgery, and also was going to face a limit of 170 or fewer innings.
After Medlen's 12-strikeout, complete game against Colorado on Monday, Braves manager Freddi Gonzalez went public in explaining why the Braves gave nine other pitchers a chance to start this season before giving Medlen the ball.The Braves, after all, have now won 18 consecutive games Medlen has started, dating back to 2010. It is the longest such streak in Atlanta history, and the longest in the big leagues since the Yankees won 21 consecutive game started by Roger Clemens.
And it's not like he's needed good fortune for the good results. In his six starts since being inserted into the Braves rotation on July 31, he is 6-0 with a 0.54 ERA, having allowed a single run in four of the starts, and one of those was unearned, ending his streak of consecutive scoreless innings on Monday at 34 2/3.
"It was all limits to innings," Gonzalez said. "It was basically the number that Strasburg is facing right now, 160 to 170, because they are both coming off Tommy Jon surgery. Where do I want that 160 to 170 to end? Do we want it to end in October or do we want it to end in August?"
The cynic would say Gonzalez was calling out Washington's decision to push Strasburg early, and then face a postseason without their ace.
But it might also be a case of each franchise facing a different agenda.
The history of the two teams is as contrasting as the background of Strasburg and Medlen.
Strasburg was the first player taken in that 2009 draft, a product of San Diego State University. Medlen? He was the 14th player taken by the Braves in the 2006 draft, the 310th selection overall out of Santa Ana Junior College.
Strasburg is prototype power pitcher, 6-foot-5, 220 pounds and able to simply overpower hitters. He leads the Major Leagues with 195 strikeouts.
Medlen is 5-10, 190 pounds, and a mix-master on the mound. In striking out a career-best 12 Rockies on Monday, Medlen used his changeup for strike three seven times, a curveball twice, and a fastball that rarely touches 90 miles per hour three times.
The Braves are baseball bluebloods, and they don't care how they make it to the postseason.
The Nationals are working class, and postseason unknowns
The Braves come into a season looking for a way to claim the world championship that has been so elusive to the franchise, while the Nationals open the year wanting to earn some respect, knowing, inside, that whatever might happen in October would be a bonus.
The Atlanta franchise has a reputation for coming up short during a short series. They have won one world championship in each city they have called home -- Boston (1914), Milwaukee (1957) and Atlanta (1995). That's despite a resume that includes a professional sports record 14 consecutive division titles (1991-2005), and 17 postseason appearances since the creation of the Nationals as the Montreal Expos in 1969.
They, however, were eliminated in the first round of the postseason in five of their last six appearance. They have advanced to the World Series only four times in their 17 championship seasons in Atlanta.
Gonzalez is only the second manager the Braves have employed in the last 22 years.
They clinched a winning season with a 2-1 victory against the Chicago Cubs on Monday, their first winning season in their eight years since making the move from Montreal to Washington. Since the franchise's inception in 1969, they have advanced to the postseason only once -- 1981.
Davey Johnson was one of three managers the team employed last year, and one of five to have filled out a lineup card in the eight years the franchise has been in the nation's capital.
Like the 28 other Major League teams, the Braves and Nationals both go to Spring Training with visions of a world championship celebration in the fall.
But the pedigrees underscore why the two teams would approach a similar situation in such a different way.
Atlanta has reached a point where anything less than winning the final game played in a season is considered a failure.
Washington hasn't been spoiled by the failure of past successes.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.