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Nats have arrived but Strasburg decision looms large as season presses forward

TORONTO -- Forget about the Washington Nationals being a nice looking young team on the rise with a good future. They have arrived. And that's especially true when you consider the National League East is housing two major disappointments in Miami and Philadelphia and two other teams (Atlanta and the Mets) that raise plenty of doubts.

The Nats are 38-23 after Wednesday's 6-2 win over the Blue Jays. They have baseball's second-best record behind the Dodgers and just completed a 6-0 road trip for the first time since 1988 when they were in Montreal. They are 15 games over .500 for the first time since 2005.

StrasStephen Strasburg (left) continues to simply be a stud. He's 8-1 with a 2.45 ERA, he leads MLB with 100 strikeouts and a ridiculous average of 12.9 per nine innings. But he's also coming off Tommy John surgery and the team is intent on shutting him down this year after he throws around 160 innings. He's thrown 77 after the six he went Wednesday (two runs on five hits, eight strikeouts, one walk), so that means he's nearly halfway there already!

GM Mike Rizzo reaffirmed the Strasburg plan is standings be damned in what he termed his last interview on the subject Wednesday with the New York Post.

Davey Johnson took Strasburg out after six innings Wednesday because his pitcher cut his middle finger while trimming a nail. The manager admitted Strasburg "was fighting tooth and nail not to come out of the ballgame."

Imagine what it's going to be like when they tell him he's calling it a season. When I asked Strasburg how much the decision is looming over him now that he's basically at his halfway mark just 61 games into the season, it was clear he's struggling at the thought of sitting through crucial games in September and October.

"I try not to think about it but with the direction that we're going and everything, it makes it even harder not to think about it," Strasburg said. "I can't control that. Hopefully things can change and we get to where we want to be and somehow I'm part of it still."

Strasburg and fellow phenom Bryce Harper get tons of pub but let's not forget the team ERA is 2.94 and no team has finished under 3.00 since the 1989 Dodgers. The Nats could use another bat, unless third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (.239) decides he's going to wake up. They have great prospects (first baseman Tyler Moore had the first two home runs and the first five RBIs of his career Wednesday) and a strong bullpen.

They can win in October. But let's see first how they do this weekend when the Yankees come to town. 

"They're in first place, we're in first place," said Johnson. "Even with the off day, I don't think you'll have to get the guys up. It's going to be exciting."

Be sure to see plenty more of my thoughts on Strasburg and the Nats' version of The Decision in Thursday's sports section.

---Mike Harrington

Photo: Strasburg works Wednesday against the Jays/Getty Images

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