Nats face tough decision with playoff rotation
By Andrew Simon
WASHINGTON — One thing is clear for the Nationals when it comes to filling out their starting rotation for the postseason: There are no bad options.
Right-hander Tanner Roark tossed a solid 6 1/3 innings Tuesday against the Mets, earning his 15th win and lowering his ERA to 2.85, which puts him in the top 20 in the Majors. Yet there is a strong possibility that Roark won’t be among Washington’s four starters for the NL Division Series.
Manager Matt Williams has yet to announce anything regarding the playoff rotation, as each of his pitchers enjoys a strong finish.
“When they go out there, they compete,” he said. “It makes for tough decisions, but those are good tough decisions.”
Stephen Strasburg, treated as the staff ace all year, has a 1.34 ERA and 33-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio over his last five outings. Jordan Zimmermann, consistently effective for four straight seasons, has a 2.11 ERA during a streak of 11 straight quality starts. Doug Fister, who has a stellar postseason resume, owns a 2.55 ERA after three straight solid outings. Gio Gonzalez, the rotation’s only lefty, has come on strong with a 2.79 ERA while posting six straight quality starts.
Roark, meanwhile, has done absolutely nothing to lose his spot. Consistently dependable throughout the season, the 27-year-old owns a 2.54 ERA in 14 starts since July 13.
Yet with four more established, experienced options in play, Roark could be the odd man out. He’s also thrown 198 2/3 innings this season, easily his most as a professional, and could be an asset out of the bullpen. As a reliever for the Nats in 2013, he gave up three earned runs on 14 hits and struck out 19 in 22 2/3 innings.
“You’ve got to keep doing your job,” he said of the situation. “You go out there each day, work hard each day in between starts and go out there whenever your name is called. You can’t really think about it.”
The Nats have the luxury of enjoying rare rotation depth, with each of their five starters throwing at least 150 innings with an ERA+ of 100 or better (ERA+ adjusts ERA for league and ballpark, with 100 the average). The last team to do that in a season, according to Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index, was the 2011 Rangers. Only four clubs have accomplished the feat since 1991.
“All the guys we’ve got deserve that spot,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “I’m just glad it’s not my decision.”
Soon, the Nats will have the make the call. No matter what, someone will be rightfully disappointed, but Williams isn’t worried that will cause a problem.
“Of course they’ll understand,” he said. “At this point in the year, not everybody will like it, but everybody will understand. We’re all on the same end of the rope, and everybody must do their part to get where we want to get to.”
Follow Andrew Simon on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.