Before we dive into the meat of the discussion on how I think the Nats should approach their NLDS rotation, let me get one thing out of the way.
I’m not Dusty Baker. I’m not Mike Rizzo. They don’t take my calls (not that I’ve actually tried calling… but you get the idea). They are perfectly capable of running the Nationals without any help from me. But, just in case… here’s my offering on how the pitching should line up in the NLDS.
The best chance for the Nationals to advance past the Dodgers is by getting as many innings pitched in the series by their best pitchers. The best pitchers for the Nats at this point are — Max Scherzer, Tanner Roark and Mark Melancon.
Clearly Melancon is only going to get those innings with the game on the line late, so that means Scherzer and Roark should be used in as many other innings as possible. And that means pitching games 1, 2, 4 and 5.
Scherzer and Roark should clearly be lined up and rested for Games 1 and 2, either here in D.C. or in LA on Friday and Saturday. Game 3 comes on Monday, Oct. 10, and because the Dodgers are the WORST team in baseball against left-handed pitching — a slash line of .214/.293/.336 — I’m handing the ball to Gio Gonzalez with a very short leash. Joe Ross is in my bullpen ready to clean up any mess early on.
Related: The Argument For Gio In Game 1
Ross is a better long option than Yusmeiro Petit at this point. Petit has been scored on in eight of his last 12 appearances, and his ERA has ballooned to a staggering 9.35 since the All-Star break. With Ross still building up his arm since coming off the DL, he is the perfect guy to come in if Gonzalez falters early.
Game 4 is where the Nats need to ask Scherzer to be the stud ace they signed him to be. On three days of rest, Scherzer needs to take the ball against the Dodgers and either save the Nationals’ season or put an end to LA’s. It also allows Scherzer to be ready to pitch in the NLCS either in Game 1 — again on three days of rest — or in Game 2 on full rest. Saving Scherzer for a Game 5 in the NLDS means he wouldn’t pitch until at least Game 3 of the NLCS if the Nats advance. That could be too late.
Scherzer in Game 4 means Roark is your Game 5 starter with everyone else ready to go if necessary. Roark has been so consistent for much of this season Nats fans shouldn’t stress about him pitching a Game 5, even if it were to come against Clayton Kershaw.
If no game of the series goes to extra innings, and the series goes to five games, the Nats and Dodgers would play 45 innings. Throwing Scherzer and Roark in four of the five games maximizes the chances for Washington to win the series. If each guy can get through 7 innings a start, that’s 28 innings down.
Melancon should be good for another four to six innings (yes, I’d use him for more than one inning in a tight ball game). That leaves anywhere from 11 to 14 innings for the rest of the staff to handle. It breaks down to all of Game 3 and an inning here and there in the other games. If the bullpen can’t handle two to five innings in a five-game series, the Nationals weren’t going to get very far anyway.
Scherzer needs to be the starter for a possible Game 4. There’s no other way around it for the Nationals.
Now, someone get me Mike Rizzo on the phone…
Follow @BillRohland on Twitter