Baker wants fans positive, says Strasburg won't pitch in NLCS

Not that you'd expect anything less from him, but Nationals manager Dusty Baker is particularly relaxed and confident heading into Game 5 of the National League Division Series. And he's been that way all day.

"To tell you the truth, I got up, said my prayers like I always do," Baker said when asked what his emotions were like today. "Got a cup of coffee. And then packed for Chicago."

The Nationals, of course, will have no need to pack for Chicago if they lose tonight's do-or-die game against the Dodgers, but their manager doesn't like to think in those terms. Ever upbeat, he's encouraging the fan base to have the same mindset, ignoring the recent history of both the Nats and D.C. sports as a whole.

dusty-baker-nlds-presser-side.jpg"The one thing that I urge the town is to be in a positive mood," he said. "Because I know I had spoken to some hockey fans, and they were expecting ... I was watching the game with them, and they were expecting bad things to happen, or expecting them to lose. And I haven't been here long enough to know what the history is here, but all I know is positive thoughts go a long ways. ...

"You know, they say the mind can move mountains, and they can certainly more a ball. I want everybody to just, you know, think good and happy thoughts."

Not that everything is hunky dory in NatsTown at this precise moment. Should the Nationals win tonight and advance to the National League Championship Series, they'll need to figure out who is available and when out of their starting rotation. And the one big name who hoped to be ready in time for that series - Stephen Strasburg - won't be able to make it.

"We know he's not going to be ready for the next series," Baker said. "He's progressing as well as we'd like. It's never as fast as you'd like. But he won't be available for the next series. It would be a miracle if he was."

Strasburg, out since early September with a strained flexor mass near his right elbow, did throw off the bullpen mound this afternoon, the third time he has done that since suffering the injury a month ago. But he still has not faced live hitters or built up his arm to the point where he could reasonably be counted upon to pitch in a postseason game.

With Max Scherzer starting Game 5 tonight and Tanner Roark available out of the bullpen if needed, the Nationals could face a conundrum should they reach the NLCS. Roark would be the likely Game 1 starter against the Cubs if he doesn't pitch tonight. If he is needed, then the Nats probably would have to turn to Gio Gonzalez, who in either scenario seems a lock to start one of the first two games at Wrigley Field.

Scherzer would be available on normal rest for Game 3 at Nationals Park. Then the club would need to identify a fourth starter. Joe Ross got the assignment in Los Angeles this round, but Baker admitted that rookie Reynaldo Lopez, who pitched Tuesday in relief of Ross, would be considered as well.

"I think it makes it easier the next series for him to start than it would have been the first series," Baker said. "That's why we had programmed him for the bullpen later in the year, for what happened in L.A. We think he has the endurance. It was a tough decision to go with Joe over Lopez. But we felt we did the right thing, that Joe had been groomed only as a starter, and Lopez had been a starter and then gone back to the bullpen in the last month of the season.

"Yeah, there's a distinct possibility (that Lopez starts a game in the NLCS). But you've got to get there first. We can't look too far ahead. You've got to do it tonight."

Baker's luggage, of course, remains packed just in case.

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