Karma . . . is it real?

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY DAN STEIN­BERG dan.stein­berg@wash­post.com Ex­cerpted from wash­ing­ton­post.com/dc­sports­bog

Amid Stephen Stras­burg’s 2015 strug­gles and Wash­ing­ton’s re­cent los­ing skid, here’s a ques­tion for Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als fans to con­sider: Is any of this the re­sult of karma from the 2012 shut­down? And here’s an an­swer: No. Jour­nal­ism is about pre­sent­ing both sides of an ar­gu­ment, though, and so for the other side, let’s turn to Post con­trib­u­tor John Fe­in­stein. He’s the most ar­dent pro­po­nent of the ar­gu­ment that Mike Rizzo’s chick­ens have fi­nally come home to roost, in the sense that Wash­ing­ton has base­ball’s sec­ond-best record since the start of the 2012 sea­son and has twice made the play­offs in that span and is a half-game out of first place. Th­ese chick­ens are a lit­tle con­fused, is all. For­give them. They will deploy the full force of their karma at some point.

Any­how, Fe­in­stein re­cently graded the ca­reers of Bryce Harper and Stras­burg for CSN Wash­ing­ton, and he was nat­u­rally a bit down on Stras­burg’s re­cent months, which have not been good, no mat­ter your fa­vored ex­pla­na­tion.

“I know Na­tion­als fans don’t like to hear this, but there’s al­ways karma in sports,” Fe­in­stein con­cluded. “And Mike Rizzo was so cocky; he thought he could shut the guy down and still win the World Se­ries in 2012, and it’s come back to haunt them. Karma. Not that Stras­burg de­serves it, by the way. He did noth­ing wrong.”

This seemed mildly provoca­tive, and so Fe­in­stein was asked to elab­o­rate dur­ing his weekly Fri­day morn­ing ap­pear­ance with the Junkies on 106.7 The Fan. He ac­knowl­edged that he wasn’t to­tally sure he ac­tu­ally be­lieves in karma.

“There are cer­tain times when things hap­pen and you go, wow,” he said. “I mean, did this per­son de­serve it, or did this per­son not de­serve it, be­cause karma can go both ways. You know, Mike Krzyzewski talks about the bas­ket­ball gods all the time, and he firmly be­lieves in them. He re­ally does. He re­ally thinks that there’s some­thing up there that some­how makes things right or makes things even or what­ever it might be. And I re­ally be­lieve that the ar­ro­gance of Mike Rizzo and Scott Bo­ras — although I don’t know if it was ar­ro­gance as much as self­ish­ness with Bo­ras — has been paid back in what’s hap­pened to Stras­burg and what hap­pened to them in 2013. . . .

“I re­ally think that they felt so much pres­sure to make up for what was at the very least pos­si­bly a blown chance to win the World Se­ries, that they played hor­ri­bly [in 2013], way be­neath their tal­ent for two-thirds of the sea­son,” Fe­in­stein later said. “I be­lieve that was the case, and I be­lieve they pressed in the play­offs last year.

“What was the bat­ting av­er­age of the lineup? It was just hor­rific. What’s the old say­ing, es­pe­cially in base­ball, try eas­ier? I think you play a lot bet­ter when there’s less pres­sure on you, and if they had a World Se­ries flag hang­ing up there in Nats Park, there’d be less pres­sure on them. There’s no ques­tion about it . . . .

“I’m not gonna sit here and tell you I have ab­so­lute proof that karma ex­ists,” he said. “I made the state­ment be­cause, jeez, Stras­burg hasn’t caught a damn break since then, you know? And he, by the way, was blame­less in the whole thing. He wanted to pitch.

“Make damn sure that he’s tak­ing the ball in Oc­to­ber,” Fe­in­stein said, dis­cussing the shut­down. “He didn’t need to take the ball in Au­gust. They were 12 games ahead. That’s where the ar­ro­gance came in: that Mike Rizzo said I’m do­ing this, and I’m do­ing it my way, in­stead of say­ing, ‘Hmm, we didn’t re­ally ex­pect to con­tend this year, but we’re re­ally good. We’re a year ahead of sched­ule. Llet’s make an ad­just­ment so we have our best chance to win.’ And he just sat there and said, ‘No, I’m right, I’m right, I’m right,’ and that to me is ar­ro­gance.”

TONI L. SANDYS/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

The Na­tion­als can­not seem to es­cape the con­tro­versy cre­ated when they shut down Stephen Stras­burg in the 2012 sea­son.

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