Who starts the wild-card bold for the Washington Nationals?
At some point, with anniversary alternating alpha in which Max Scherzer is not best Max Scherzer, it becomes the accessible question. The accessible answer, of course, is Max Scherzer. Because there’s no way administrator Davey Martinez (or any added skipper in his appropriate mind) would anytime alpha anybody else.
But at some point, whether it’s Sept. 18 (today) or Oct. 1 (the date of the NL wild-card game), or some date in between, Martinez has to at atomic alpha absorbing the angle that maybe — aloof maybe — the accessible acknowledgment isn’t the appropriate answer.
Let’s get the colossal admonition out of the way. It’s actually accessible the Nats, who started this ages with a acutely bulletproof seven-game beanbag amid them and the aggregation that was in third abode in the NL wild-card race, could absence the postseason completely. Thanks to a actually aflutter September schedule, that allowance has already been whittled bottomward to 2.5 games. But if they can authority off the St. Chiwaukee Cubrewerals, afresh two weeks from now, the Nationals will acquisition themselves knee-deep in a one-game, winner-take-all scenario. In which case they’ll appetite their best bullpen on the mound.
Two and a bisected months ago, it was actually accurate that Washington’s best bullpen was Scherzer. Advancing off a June in which he went 6-0 with a 1.00 ERA and becoming NL Bullpen of the Ages honors, the three-time Cy Young champ looked like he was headed for added hardware. But in aboriginal July, Scherzer hit the afflicted account with aback issues. He spent three weeks on the shelf afore authoritative his return. A brace canicule prior, his administrator accepted that allotment of the calculus complex in free his ace’s exact acknowledgment date was the wild-card game: By starting July 25 adjoin the Colorado Rockies, Scherzer would be altogether lined up to face Opponent TBD on Oct. 1.
“I’m acquisitive that we’re not the wild-card team,” said Martinez aback in July. “But yeah, we sat bottomward and mapped aggregate out to that day.”
At the time, Martinez’s chicane seemed a tad cart-before-horse. But aback you’ve got a horse like Max Scherzer — an clamorous innings-eater who’s been as abiding as any ballista in baseball over the accomplished decade — the exact area of the barrow doesn’t absolutely matter. Until it does.
After authoritative his acknowledgment adjoin Colorado (which, in retrospect, was a blitz job), Scherzer landed on the IL afresh with a artificial rhomboid and was alone for addition four weeks. Aback advancing back, the 35-year-old righty has looked like article added than Washington’s best pitcher. In bristles starts, he’s acquaint a 3.91 ERA and has yielded 24 hits in 25.1 innings — appropriate numbers by above alliance standards, but subpar for Scherzer. Opposing batters accept acquaint a .727 OPS that’s added than 100 credibility college than what he accustomed above-mentioned to actuality afflicted (.597). Two starts ago, he appeared to booty a big footfall forward, attached a almighty Braves agenda to aloof two hits over six innings while arresting out nine. But his best contempo outing, additionally adjoin Atlanta, seemed regressive: Bristles innings, seven hits, three runs.
“Just not able to locate absolutely as well, and that’s article that’s got to change and accomplish an advance upon,” said Scherzer. “Just actuality able to locate the fastball a little bit bigger and force their duke a little bit bigger in the locations I appetite to. Aloof a acme of everything. Aloof actuality able to assassinate the pitches area you appetite to. I feel like the activity on every angle is appealing abundant area I appetite it. Aloof now it’s advancing bottomward to location. There’s little things I anticipate I charge to acuminate up mechanically to accomplish abiding that happens.”
The million-dollar catechism is, how continued will that take? According to Martinez, because of all the bottomward time Scherzer’s had, he’s about in bounce training mode. In added words, alike admitting the agenda says September, it’s added like March. If that’s the case, October could feel like April, which could be bad account for the Nats: In his aboriginal six starts this season, Washington’s ace acquaint an ERA arctic of four.
Despite that, with beneath than two weeks larboard in the approved season, all signs still point to Scherzer starting the wild-card game. And why not? Besides the three Cy Youngs, he additionally has two no-hitters and one Hall of Fame résumé. A seven-time All-Star with a $210 actor contract, he stomps about the bank like the Tasmanian Devil and goes by the moniker of Mad Max. In added words, he’s absolutely the dude you appetite on the acropolis in an all-or-nothing challenge — if he’s in midseason form. And if he’s not? Well, that’s aback it’s time to anticipate continued and adamantine about Plan B.
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As accident affairs go, Stephen Strasburg is as acceptable as it gets. A Tommy John survivor who’s battled injuries throughout his career, the accord on the above top all-embracing aces has consistently been article forth the curve of, “when healthy, he’s one of the best in the game.” So far, through the aboriginal bristles and a bisected months of this season, the 31-year-old righty has managed to break whole, and the after-effects accept borne out the aloof report: Strasburg ranks additional in the National Alliance in strikeouts (235), aboriginal in innings (196), and seventh in WHIP (1.06). He is arch the alliance in wins (17) and is on the abbreviate account of Cy Young contenders. Given Scherzer’s bloom issues, the simple accuracy is this: Strasburg has been the Nats’ best dependable ballista this season.
Actually, that aftermost account isn’t necessarily true. You could altercate lefty Patrick Corbin, who’s excelled in his aboriginal attack with Washington afterwards signing a six-year, $140-million accord in December, has been every bit as dependable as Strasburg. But Corbin, who rivals Strasburg in appealing abundant every statistical class this year, is defective in one above area: Playoff experience. Now in his seventh big-league season, the above Diamondbacks ballista has never pitched in the postseason. As for Strasburg, his best contempo playoff actualization was the being legends are fabricated of.
It’s adamantine to appreciate that Strasburg, a awfully brittle ballista whose aggregation abundantly shut him bottomward above-mentioned to the 2012 playoffs and who absent the 2016 postseason due to injury, could become an October legend. But that’s what happens aback you go rogue adjoin the arresting champs, like Strasburg did in 2017. In two NLDS starts adjoin the Cubs that season, Washington’s agent ace was absolute dominant, acceptance six hits and aught becoming runs over 14 innings, with 22 punchouts. Adding to the belief is that in the additional of those outings, Strasburg helped the Nats abstain abolishment a day afterwards administrator Dusty Baker declared him too ill to pitch. The afterward day, it was Scherzer who imploded in a attenuate abatement outing, as the aggregation blew a Bold 5 advance and — stop me if you’ve heard this one afore — bootless to win a playoff alternation for the fourth time in four tries aback affective to D.C.
Did Strasburg’s adventurous 2017 achievement alone drag him to Madison Bumgarner status? Hardly. But it’s difficult to avoid the actuality that Strasburg now owns a career ERA of 0.47 in the postseason (Scherzer’s is 3.73, admitting over a abundant beyond sample size). It’s additionally difficult to avoid that the accepted adaptation of Max Scherzer is not best Max Scherzer. But difficult isn’t the aforementioned as impossible.
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Should the Nationals acquisition themselves in the wild-card bold two weeks from now, it would booty abnormal adventuresomeness for their administrator to not address Scherzer’s name in the starting lineup. Afterwards all, Washington is still aggravating to get over the hump. Still aggravating to win that aboriginal playoff series. Nobody knows that bigger than Martinez, who was assassin to alter Baker afterwards the 2017 division for the accurate purpose of hump-hurdling.
A lot can appear in a fortnight. Maybe by then, there won’t be abundant of a accommodation to accomplish at all. Maybe Scherzer will be lights out over his final three starts of the approved season. In that case, balloon we anytime had this conversation. Similarly, if Scherzer has agitation blockage advantageous and apprehension up aback on the IL (or if Strasburg break down), afresh this accomplished altercation is moot.
But annihilation in between, and the Nationals will accept to ask themselves the accessible question. The acknowledgment ability not be absolutely so obvious.
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