Now that Stephen Strasburg has been shut down for the season byWashington, the Nationals are pretty much toast when it comes to winning in the playoffs, right?


Not necessarily.

Strasburg, who went 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA in his first full season since Tommy John elbow surgery in 2010, was shut down after throwing 159.1 innings to avoid straining his pitching arm and suffering another injury.

Although Strasburg would play a key role inWashington’s postseason rotation, the Nationals appear to be set up for a long run in the playoffs with their current starters.

Washingtonhas four starting pitchers who rank in the top 10 in ERA in the National League, including Strasburg. That’s three more than any other NL playoff team or contender. And one leads the majors in wins.

Gio Gonzalez (20-8, 2.84 ERA through Monday) had the most wins in the major leagues. Jordan Zimmerman (12-8, 2.90) and Ross Detwiler (10-6, 3.10) combine with Gonzalez to make up a strong trio of arms that could take the Nationals to the World Series.

Edwin Jackson (9-10, 3.77) and John Lannan (3-0, 4.43) also have contributed, with Lannan winning three straight starts before having a poor outing against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Nationals clinched at least a wild-card berth last Thursday with a win over the Dodgers, bringing postseason baseball toWashingtonfor the first time since 1933, and were closing in on an NL East Division title.

Once the playoffs start,Washington’s starting pitchers will be able to at least match any of the other postseason teams’ rotations.

Carpenter returns:St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Chris Carpenter made his first start of the season last Friday against the Chicago Cubs.

Carpenter was returning from surgery in July to relieve nerve compression that resulted in numbness on much of the right side of his body. He hadn’t pitched since Game 7 of last year’s World Series against the Texas Rangers.

Against the Cubs, Carpenter pitched five innings, allowing two runs on five hits with two strikeouts and a walk. The 37-year-old veteran threw 77 pitches in a game the Cardinals relievers eventually lost.

“My stuff wasn’t as sharp as I’d like and it wasn’t as sharp as it’s been in the simulated games,” Carpenter said. “It was fun to get back out there. Hopefully my stuff will get better and sharper as I get out there more often. This is something to build off.”

Carpenter went 11-9 with a 3.45 ERA last season, and 4-0 in the postseason when the Cardinals won the World Series. Before his most recent health issue, Carpenter went 44-22 with a 2.99 ERA in three full seasons after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery in 2007.

“Our training staff did a great job. Our doctors did a great job. And I worked my butt off to try to get back there,” Carpenter said.

He’s now ready to try to get the Cardinals back into the postseason.St. Louisheld the second NL wild-card slot on Tuesday, leading the Dodgers and Milwaukee Brewers by 3 1/2 games.

“I’ve pitched in plenty of games that mattered,” Carpenter said. “I’m going out there with the same focus.”

Escobar’s slur:Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar returned to action on Saturday after serving a three-game suspension without pay for displaying a gay slur on his eye black during a game. Escobar wore the eye black with the slur written in Spanish in a game againstBoston on Sept. 15.

“I’m sorry for the actions of the other day,” Escobar said through a translator last week.

“It was not something I intended to be offensive. It was something I just put on the sticker on my face as a joke. I don’t have anything against homosexuals. I have friends who are gay.”

StatsWatch: Baseball’s biggest run producers (through Monday):

  • Miguel Cabrera, Tigers, 133 RBI
  • Josh Hamilton, Rangers, 124 RBI
  • Josh Willingham, Twins, 110 RBI
  • Ryan Braun, Brewers, 108 RBI
  • Chase Headley, Padres, 108 RBI
  • Alfonso Soriano, Cubs, 105 RBI
  • Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays, 105 RBI
  • Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox/Dodgers, 104 RBI
  • Prince Fielder, Tigers, 103 RBI
  • Billy Butler, Royals, 102 RBI

Diamond Notes: Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton missed five games recently because of a condition called ocular keratitis, which results from consuming too much caffeine. Hamilton homered in his return on Monday night against Oakland…Rangers pitcher Colby Lewis, who has been out since having elbow surgery in July, agreed to a $2 million, one-year contract extension for next season…Yankees outfielder Ichiro Suzuki was named AL Player of the Week while Cardinals pitcher Jason Motte was honored by the NL. Motte is the first reliever to get the award sinceHuston Street in 2009.

Copyright © 2012  Bob Hurst. All Rights Reserved. Distributed byHurstSports Media.

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