Washington Nationals: What Will the Rotation be for the NLDS

(Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
(Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) /

With some end of season questions about Max Scherzer’s health, who will take the hill for Washington Nationals in game one and beyond?

Look at the league leaders, in almost every pitching category the Washington Nationals have three elite arms, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez.

In theory it shouldn’t matter what order these men take the mound, just look at the numbers. The pitchers holding the top three spots for WAR are Scherzer (7.2), Gonzalez (6.5), and Strasburg (6.4).

They arrange themselves, in various orders, at the top of other categories, such as wins and ERA.

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However, as much as baseball has become a game of statistics, there are intangibles, such as Strasburg’s miniscule sub-one August-September ERA. In that time he threw 53.2 innings and let up five earned runs. This is including 34 straight scoreless. Simply put, that is insane. He has been, in many ways, the pitcher everyone expected when he was heralded as the best arm of a generation. He went nearly eight in his regular season finale, not a single lineup seems able to touch him right now.

However, for a strong as Strasburg has been, Gonzalez has not. He’s only given the team more than five innings once in the month of September. While not convinced it’s straight luck that carried his season, it seems that some of his fortune has changed. He is no longer finding ways out of the jams he creates and he’s getting tagged with hard contact and runs.

Let’s get to the issue on everyone’s mind, Scherzer’s hamstring. Scherzer, until this season, had never seen the disabled list.

One thing that we could always take solace in was that no matter how fragile Strasburg was, or how much our three through five spots wavered, every fifth day “Mad Max” would stalk around the mound taking out opposing hitters one by one until he, and no one else, knew he was done.

He is still, of course, in the conversation for a third, second consecutive, Cy Young, a conversation Strasburg has pitched his way into. He is still one of the most dominant pitchers in the game but, recently he hasn’t seemed to be as rock solid as before and, yes even though October is a new season, old ailments and unresolved issues can carry over. Simply put, we don’t know how he’ll be we know he’ll be out there fighting as hard as he can. 

The Chicago Cubs will put up a fight, one they might even win. Anything can happen in a five-game series.

They’ll toss up Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester in Washington then Jose Quintana and Jake Arrieta at home. These are big names and tough opponents, ones that will test the Nationals lineup, but none of them are as scary as the trio that tops the Nationals rotation when they’re all on.

Again, the Nationals are unsure of what they’ll get from their top three. Strasburg is all but untested in the postseason, Scherzer has his hamstring and spotty postseason history, and no one knows what Gonzalez is up to.

The Nationals have to start who they think gives them the best chance at taking an early series lead and, as it stands now, Strasburg is the best chance. He’s hot and, somewhat shockingly, uninjured.

Gonzalez will likely get Game 2, which gives Scherzer slightly more time to work out his injury, and might even provide him with something to prove in Game 3. Hopefully, that will be enough. The series will be over.

If they need more than the minimum number of games to take out the defending champions they run into some more questions, does the fourth game go to Tanner Roark, who has somewhat regained the reliability that has made him such an asset to this team in past years. Or, do they run with a three man rotation and relegate Roark to a long relief role eliminating the conversation about the AJ Cole, Edwin Jackson roster spot debate.

In the postseason every game has to be played like a Game 7.

Managers have to give their teams the best chance to win that day and worry about tomorrow when it comes. Dusty Baker is a lucky manager. He has three of the five top starters in the National League. If they all perform to their potential this will be a quick, and painless series. One that will end the jeers and taunts of not being able to get past the first round.

Next: 5 reasons Nats advance

There’s never been a better or stronger chance at finally seeing what the second-round of the playoffs is all about.