Currently, the Washington Nationals sit six games ahead of the Atlanta Braves in the National League East, and a trip to the postseason is certainly not guaranteed. However, for all intents and purposes, we will assume they get there. When the postseason begins, Washington faces some difficult questions- how will Matt Williams respond in his first year of managerial duty?
The first and most important pre-game decision a manager makes in the playoffs is how to align his starting pitchers. For the Nationals, this decision may be more difficult than normal.
In my opinion, if the playoffs started today, Williams would have no choice but to give the ball to Doug Fister in game one. Fister has a 2.20 ERA in 2014 to go along with a 12-3 record all while being the Nationals’ most consistent pitcher. In addition to his gaudy numbers, Fister has thrown at least seven innings in each of his last five starts.
Game two is where the decisions get tougher. Williams would be deciding between Stephen Strasburg, the National League leader in strikeouts, Jordan Zimmermann, and Tanner Roark. I believe Williams would choose Zimmermann, as he has a 2.92 ERA to go along with postseason experience. He has been more consistent than Strasburg, and is more experienced than Roark giving him an advantage over each.
Thirdly, Strasburg would probably get the nod. His consistency has not been as great as the Nationals would like, but his ability to dominate an opposing lineup would make him a reasonable choice. Strasburg is certainly more threatening than almost any other option a team can counter with during the postseason, giving Washington reason to feel good about their chances.
For game four, Roark deserves the ball. With an ERA of 2.93, there is no way that Roark does not deserve a spot in the postseason rotation. With Roark in the rotation, Gio Gonzalez would need to move to the bullpen for the postseason. Gonzalez has an ERA above 4 for the season, and his lack of efficiency has resulted in him being removed early in starts.
If the postseason began today, the Nationals pitching rotation would most likely go in the order of Fister, Zimmermann, Strasburg, and Roark. At the plate, the Nationals hope to have Ryan Zimmerman return to their lineup by October. Now, they just have to make sure they get there.