The playoff picture in the National League is close to being set with four teams already assured of spots in the postseason. The Nationals, Reds, Giants and Braves have clinched berths, while the Cardinals are the second-closest wild card team with eight regular season games remaining.
Manager Davey Johnson has said he is not going to speculate as to who his starters will be for the postseason, but you can bet at his desk he has penciled in his thoughts on how he wants to set up his top guns for a long postseason run.
Last week, Johnson said he would like to have left-handers face the Phillies and his right-handers battle St. Louis as the regular season winds down. The Nationals will face the Phillies again for three games at Nationals Park to conclude the regular season. So if the division is still not clinched by Oct. 1, it is likely Johnson could go left-handed heavy again in that final series.
Johnson said he would like to rest his regulars if and when the Nationals clinch. But after a 6-3 loss to the Phillies on Tuesday, their seventh loss in their last 11 games, clinching the division and really just winning one game right now, is of the highest importance.
With all that in mind, here is one way to look at how the postseason would look for his starting rotation, based on the final eight games of the regular season:
9/25 - at Philadelphia: LHP Ross Detwiler*
9/26 - at Philadelphia: LHP John Lannan*
9/27 - at Philadelphia: LHP Gio Gonzalez*
9/28 - at St. Louis: RHP Edwin Jackson (seven days' rest)
9/29 - at St. Louis: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (five days' rest)
9/30 - at St. Louis: RHP Chien-Ming Wang (seven days' rest), Detwiler (five days' rest) or staff start (if clinched)
10/1 - Philadelphia: Detwiler (six days' rest) or Lannan (if clinched)
10/2 - Philadelphia: Gonzalez (five days' rest) or Duke (if clinched)
10/3 - Philadelphia: Jackson (five days' rest) or Duke (if clinched)
Regular season ends
10/4 OFF DAY
10/5 - Wild card game: Zimmermann (six days' rest) or Jackson (seven days' rest)
NLDS (2 seed vs. 3 seed)
10/6 - NLDS Game 1: Gonzalez (four days' rest or nine days' rest)
10/7 - NLDS Game 2: Zimmermann (eight days' rest) or Detwiler (six days' rest)
10/8 - Off-day
10/9 - NLDS Game 3: (first home playoff game) Jackson
NLDS (1 seed vs. 4 seed)
10/7 - NLDS Game 1: Gonzalez (five days' rest) or Zimmerman (eight days' rest)
10/8 - NLDS Game 2: Zimmermann (nine days' rest)
10/9 - Off-day
10/10 - NLDS Game 3: (first home playoff game) Jackson
If the first-round opponent is the Atlanta Braves, they do have a few good left-handed hitters (Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, switch-hitting Chipper Jones, Brian McCann), so Gonzalez and Detwiler would be possible calls. It also makes for an interesting decision if Lannan pitches well tonight, for his inclusion on the playoff roster because of his history of pitching well against the Braves (9-5, 3.20 ERA in 16 starts and 5-3, 3.35 ERA in nine starts at Turner Field) and that he is a southpaw.
You might want to hold back Gonzalez if you felt that the division was slipping away and have him available for the wild card game. But if you had to win that last series against the Phillies at home, Gonzalez would have five days' rest to get a start there.
But one would think if the Nationals clinch the division soon, Johnson would want to schedule to have Gonzalez and Zimmermann lined up for the two road starts in the divisional round and have Jackson to start the first game at home in the playoffs.
Of course, first things first: The Nationals need to win the division, then back scheduling becomes much easier with Wang, Duke and Lannan all available to close out the season and give Johnson the latitude to slot the starters prepare for the playoffs.
There is another scenario where Zimmermann would be moved up in the regular season so he does not have to wait eight or nine days between starts. For instance, if the Nationals are in the NLDS (2 seed vs. 3 seed) series, Zimmermann could be the Game 1 starter so he would have only seven days rest and then Gonzalez would have five days rest if Gonzalez pitches October 2.
What are your thoughts on the Nationals' starting rotation the rest of the way?