It looked like it had been set in stone for weeks. The Nationals' postseason rotation? That was simple: Max Scherzer in Game 1, with Stephen Strasburg in Game 2 and then Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark taking the mound after that.
But then Strasburg dominated in September. And then Gonzalez and Roark had ragged regular season finales. And then - and this was the biggest development of all - Scherzer tweaked his right hamstring throwing a pitch in the top of the fourth Saturday night against the Pirates.
The end result of all that? Washington's rotation for the National League Division Series is no longer set in stone.
Asked following Sunday's regular season finale if Scherzer's hamstring could alter his team's rotation order, manager Dusty Baker replied: "Probably. But he's going to be fine. It's just a matter of we got to determine when that is."
Translation (for those who aren't fluent in Dusty-speak): Scherzer will be pitching in the NLDS; the Nats just aren't sure yet when he'll pitch.
Scherzer likewise wouldn't commit to any particular game when asked Sunday morning, though the ace right-hander insisted his hamstring injury is "nothing major" and then went about trying to prove that by going through his normal day-after-start throwing routine on the field.
The logical conclusion to draw after all this: Strasburg appears to be lined up to start Game 1 on Friday, with Scherzer likely to start Game 2 on Saturday unless he suffers a setback between now and then.
Why not push Scherzer all the way back to Game 3 on Monday in Chicago? Because that would restrict him to only one start in the best-of-five series. Given the pair of off-days allotted for travel, teams that reach a do-or-die Game 5 have the option of using either their Game 1 or Game 2 starter again on full rest.
Scherzer made a point to say that himself Sunday morning, suggesting he's already considering the possibility, and his manager seemed to concur.
"It just depends on what our evaluation of him is, and himself," Baker said. "Max knows himself pretty well. As you can tell, Max can add and subtract. He's got it all figured out."
The Nationals aren't alone in heading into the week with pitching uncertainty. The Cubs haven't decided on their rotation for the series, either, and aren't expected to finalize it until after manager Joe Maddon, pitching coach Chris Bosio and team president Theo Epstein meet Wednesday morning.
Chicago has two dilemmas: 1) Jake Arrieta has been dealing with his own hamstring issue for several weeks and doesn't appear ready to start until Game 3 at the earliest, and 2) Jon Lester struggled during the season's second half and hasn't resembled his usual elite self.
Lester, the owner of a 2.63 ERA in 22 career postseason appearances and the owner of three World Series rings, did pitch better in his final two starts of the regular season. But the lefty hasn't gone more than six innings since July 27.
If Lester doesn't get the Game 1 start, the assignment may fall to Kyle Hendricks. The less-heralded right-hander struggled in the first half but finished strong, with a 2.19 ERA in his last 13 starts.
Lefty Jose Quintana, who had a 3.74 ERA in 14 starts after his midseason acquisition from the White Sox, will be the fourth member of the Cubs' NLDS rotation.
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