What a roller coaster! Trailing for the majority of Tuesday night’s Wild Card game, the Nationals mounted an improbable rally against All-Star closer Josh Hader — although I’ll go on the record saying I wasn’t as surprised as most people. It led to a 4–3 victory over the Brewers and a date with the league-leading Dodgers in the NLDS.
As promised in my Wild Card game roster projection, I’ll take a crack at Washington’s NLDS roster.
The top four starters — Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, and Anibal Sanchez — will all remain on the roster. How they will be used is up in the air, but whether they will be is not.
The core five relievers (Daniel Hudson, Sean Doolittle, Fernando Rodney, Hunter Strickland, and Tanner Rainey) are also safe. As tempting as Wander Suero was to add, I think he falls short again. His poor left-on-base rate arguably kept him off the Wild Card game roster — many reports indicated that bullpen arms would end any troublesome inning from Scherzer before giving way to Strasburg, who was unaccustomed to mid-inning appearances. In this series, it’s someone else’s availability that will edge him out.
That someone will likely be Joe Ross. The team’s fifth starter pitched in the regular season finale, so he was unavailable on Tuesday. But his 3.02 ERA post-All Star break (he was in the minor leagues prior to the break) has inspired a lot of confidence, and he has postseason experience — not that it was positive. Most importantly, he’s a long relief option, which I think will be needed — more on that later. Also, I’m tossing out his first half statistics from this year. I am adamant that he turned a corner in his recovery from Tommy John surgery down the stretch of this season. He’s been back on the mound for 14 months, and roughly one year of on-field action is often the recovery period for pitchers.
The only position I expect to change is catcher. I didn’t think the Nationals needed three of them on Tuesday, and I don’t think they do in the upcoming round either. So I’ll cut Raudy Read, leaving only Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes.
The infield — Howie Kendrick, Asdrubal Cabrera, Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, Brian Dozier, and Matt Adams — will remain intact. So will the outfield — Juan Soto, Victor Robles, Adam Eaton, Michael A. Taylor, Gerardo Parra, and Andrew Stevenson.
The lineup shouldn’t change, nor should the roles of bench players, but the starting rotation will be interesting to follow. In my estimation, the status of the series (i.e. who leads whom, and by what margin) will dictate who starts each game for Washington.
Game One (Thursday): By virtue of not pitching on Tuesday, Patrick Corbin became a virtual lock to open the series on the mound. That has since been made official, and he will oppose Walker Buehler.
Game Two (Friday): No announcement has been made by the Dodgers, but my hunch is they’ll turn to Clayton Kershaw. As for the Nationals, it may depend upon Game One’s result. If they have a 1–0 lead, I think it’ll be Anibal Sanchez. But if a win is needed, I suspect Stephen Strasburg (who only threw 34 pitches on Tuesday) gets the call. I’m not sure how long he would be allowed to pitch on such short rest, though. Sanchez (or Joe Ross) may still be needed in relief.
Game Three (Sunday): I’ll project Hyun-Jin Ryu for L.A. — if it isn’t him, it will be Kershaw. The Nationals will either turn to Strasburg or Max Scherzer. The former would be slightly more rested than the latter, but both would be on standard rest. The decision will largely be based on whether Strasburg starts Game Two, although Scherzer is viewed as the ace of the staff and could theoretically start ahead of him.
Game Four (Monday): The Dodgers have announced Rich Hill for this game — if the series isn’t already decided. The Nationals have left it wide open. In my estimation, any of the four could start. Scherzer or Strasburg would take this game if one of them didn’t start on Sunday. If they had both been used, Corbin could start on one-day short rest. Or, they could stay more conventional and match fourth starters by turning to Sanchez.
Game Five (Wednesday): If we get this far, the home team would likely use both of its top two starters. Washington, however, would be left at the mercy of who remains available. This is why I advise Strasburg in Game Two. The betting favorite for the finale is probably Corbin, but Strasburg would be an option — and possibly the option, if Corbin starts Game Four.
Buckle up, because this series will be wild! The Dodgers will keep you guessing with extreme platooning within their lineup, and the Nationals’ plans on the mound and the rest of the field — that means you, Michael A. Taylor — will fluctuate regularly with every changing in-game situation. Expect a healthy share of double switches and lots of thrilling moments.