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Nationals' rotation talk + Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez vs the Phillies

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The Washington Nationals send Gio Gonzalez to the mound this afternoon in the final game of the 2014 campaign against the Philadelphia Phillies, who've won five straight over the Nats heading into the finale of the three-game set in D.C.

Win McNamee

In an August 25th chat, veteran Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell was asked to speculate about the Washington Nationals' postseason rotation, should they get there, and as he explained it, though there rarely are "correct answers" when it comes to such questions, in this case there was one right answer.

Tanner Roark should got to the bullpen if/when the Nats make it back to the postseason for the second time in the last three seasons, he wrote, and Gio Gonzalez, though he's struggled this season, should be among the top four starters.

"He threw Howard a curveball that he hit into right field. And then the 3-0 homer. But other than that he was pretty good..." -Matt Williams on Tanner Roark vs the Phillies

The WaPost writer broke it down in fairly convincing fashion.

Roark has already thrown more innings this season, 179 IP, than he has in any one campaign since he turned pro in 2008, while Gonzalez is, "... accustomed to long seasons and >200 IP years," and he, "... missed four starts this year so, ideally, he might really be strong in [October]."

Gonzalez would also give the Nationals a left-hander along with right-handers Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann in a solid postseason rotation.

As Boswell wrote, "[l]ots of playoff teams depend on top LH hitters," so, ...[y]ou may want Gio to start against them," plus, "[g]iving Roark six more starts and 36 more innings -- putting him near 200 -- then putting [him] in the playoff rotation is nuts," since by that point he would be way over his previous single-season high of 147 ⅔ IP in 2012.

Earlier this week, FOXSports.com's Jon Morosi too looked at the rotation decision Matt Williams will have to make, if the Nationals get to the postseason, and he came to the same conclusion that it's obviously a choice between Gonzalez and Roark which might come down to a question of matchups.

"Roark against the Braves, Dodgers or Brewers," Morosi reasoned, noting that the potential postseason contenders were 17-11, 23-12 and 21-14 against left-handed starters, respectively, while they all hovered around .500 against righties, and, "Gonzalez against the Giants or Cardinals," who were 24-26 and 17-17, respectively, against lefties and 52-38 and 59-46 against right-handers in 2014.

"The curveball, I thought was a good curveball to [Ryan] Howard. Was just out over the plate a little bit, kind of have to get it a little more inside." -Tanner Roark on bases-loaded single by Ryan Howard on Saturday

The Nationals have to get to the postseason first, of course, and though they had a 98.5% probability of winning the division before play on Saturday according to MLB.com/Baseball Prospectus' Postseason probability standings and a 99.6% probability of playing postseason games, nothing is decided as of this moment.

A lot could change over the next few weeks, obviously.

Gonzalez starts the series finale with Philadelphia this afternoon after Roark lost to the Phillies on Saturday.

In six innings on the mound in the Nationals' 3-1 loss in the nation's capital yesterday, Roark gave up six hits and three runs, all earned. The loss left him (1-4) in his last seven starts with a 3.65 ERA over his last 44 ⅓ IP.

"He was okay," Matt Williams said after Saturday's game, in which Roark gave up two runs on a bases-loaded single by Ryan Howard in the third and a solo home run by Domonic Brown on a 3-0 pitch in the fifth.

"It all started with a base hit to the pitcher and then Howard, he threw Howard a curveball that he hit into right field. And then the 3-0 homer. But other than that he was pretty good. He's to a point now where his innings have really gotten up there and in that situation, we've got lefties lined up in the bullpen against just a left-heavy lineup, so we decided to get him out of there at that point and let the bullpen take it over."

"The curveball, I thought was a good curveball to Howard," Roark said after the outing. "Was just out over the plate a little bit, kind of have to get it a little more inside. [The 3-0 pitch], if he's going to hack 3-0, I mean, go ahead. The outcome was unfortunate, but it happens."

Overall, Roark said, he, "felt good. Felt like I was commanding both sides of the plate and throwing everything at them, everything was sharp."

Both the manager and starter were asked about throwing more innings already this season than he has before.

"We've just got to be mindful of it," Williams said. "He's at 90 [pitches] there, and we can send him back out, but if he gets in trouble we're going to the lefty anyway. And we've got [Ross Detwiller] set and ready to go and he's hot in the bullpen in case [Roark] got into trouble in the previous inning. We didn't get to him in the batting order, but nonetheless, we were set up there with Det to go that inning and [Jerry Blevins] to go two."

Asked what he's done to prepare for going past his previous inning totals and how he's handled it, Roark said he's just stuck to his routine.

"Just keep working hard," he said, "and don't slack off even though it's a long season and keep working hard."

In his last start before today's Gio Gonzalez earned his first win since July 5th.

In nine second-half starts, he's (1-4) with the Nationals 4-5 in his outings, over which he's put up a 4.44 ERA and a .258/.330/.376 line against in 48 ⅔ IP.

In two starts against the Phillies since the All-Star Break, Gonzalez has given up 14 hits and eight earned runs in 9 ⅔ IP (7.45 ERA).

The Nationals have lost five straight to the Phillies, and they're in danger of getting swept in back-to-back series with their NL East rivals in the finale of this weekend's and the season series with Philadelphia.

Can Gonzalez beat the Phils, stop the losing and strengthen his argument for a postseason rotation spot?

• We talked about Tanner Roark's outing, A.J. Burnett's dominance... against the Nationals, and all the losing to the Phillies on the latest edition of Nats Nightly:

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