NEW YORK - We’ve reached the point in the season when it’s time for playoff-bound clubs to begin lining up their rotations for October. The Nationals already know which four starters will take the mound for the National League Division Series. The order in which they’ll do so, however, has not yet been made public.
It is perhaps notable, though, how the Nats currently have their starters lined up during the final week of the regular season. Stephen Strasburg pitched Saturday night against the Mets, with Max Scherzer pitching today’s series finale at Citi Field.
So, what does that mean for the NLDS rotation? Well, if the Nationals kept everybody in that same order, they would be sending Strasburg to the mound for Game 1, with Scherzer starting Game 2. After the off-day for travel (which is why Cole, who won’t be part of the playoff rotation, currently holds that slot), it’s lined up for Gonzalez to start Game 3 and Roark to start Game 4.
Would the Nationals actually pitch Strasburg ahead of Scherzer? There’s still time for them to flip-flop those two without throwing off their routines much, but there could be an argument to keep it that way.
Strasburg has been pitching exceptionally well over the last two months and is poised to appear in the postseason for only the second time in his career. Scherzer has been building up his arm in recent starts in an attempt to make sure he can power his way through October outings of 110-plus pitches, which might be more valuable in a Game 2 start (especially if the team trails the series 1-0) than a Game 1 start.
Also, the NLDS format - 2-2-1, with two off-days for travel - allows for teams to have their pick of Game 5 starters. Both the Game 1 and Game 2 starters would be able to return for the decisive game on normal rest. So even if Scherzer starts Game 2, he could still pitch Game 5 if the club so chooses.
Again, nothing is set in stone yet, and there’s time for things to change. But the current alignment is worth noting.
Update: We were promised a pitchers’ duel today between Scherzer and Jacob deGrom, and we’re getting one so far. With a few twists.
The Mets took a quick 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first when Brandon Nimmo launched a ball into the second deck off Scherzer. That came moments after Jose Reyes drove a ball deep to right-center, only to be robbed by Victor Robles, who crashed into the wall to make the catch.
The Nationals looked helpless in the first two innings against deGrom, who struck out five batters, but they got a leadoff single from Jose Lobaton in the third and then a laser to left field by Trea Turner to give themselves a 2-1 lead.
That lead has now been extended to 3-1 in the fifth, thanks to Michael A. Taylor (who beat out an infield single, stole second and took third on a throwing error) and the second hit of the day from Lobaton (who was the only starter to take batting practice pregame; looks like that paid off).
So even though deGrom has 10 strikeouts in five innings, the Nationals lead 3-1.
Update II: It’s now 3-2 Nats after eight innings. Scherzer was excellent for six before getting pulled with his pitch count at 87. Joe Blanton tossed a scoreless seventh, but then things got dicey in the eighth. Ryan Madson gave up a run and loaded the bases, prompting Dusty Baker to turn to Sammy Solís for a huge at-bat. Soliís fell behind Kevin Plawecki 3-1 but then blew him away with two fastballs, recording his biggest out of the season. The Nats will take a 3-2 lead into the ninth, and Solís just made a big case for his inclusion on the NLDS roster.
Update III: That’ll do it. Nats win 3-2, and the man who recorded the save was Brandon Kintzler. With Sean Doolittle not used for back-to-back days, Kintzler got the ball in the ninth and successfully notched his 29th save of the season, the first 28 of which came with the Twins. The Nationals improve to 94-61, and with Bryce Harper possibly returning from the disabled list on Monday, they now enter the final week of the regular season.