Saturday's announcement that Max Scherzer would start on Sunday wasn't all that much of a surprise. Scherzer last pitched on Tuesday, which will put the Washington Nationals ace on regular rest for Sunday's finale against the Baltimore Orioles. The start will make Scherzer, one of just two Nats representatives, unavailable to pitch in Tuesday's All-Star Game in Cincinnati.
Ruling Scherzer out of the All-Star Game is liable to upset some fans. Some people love the All-Star Game. It represents the best opportunity all year for (some of) the best players in the game to come together on the field at the same time and showcase this great game. To others, it's a meaningless exhibition game which the managers treat as such that MLB has had the audacity to use to determine home field advantage in the World Series since 2003.
Regardless of which camp you fall in, I think that we can all agree that the All-Star Game is played to showcase some of the game's brightest stars for the casual fan. This isn't to say that diehard fans can't appreciate the All-Star Game, but the game is played more to draw in new fans and grow interest from casual fans than it is to reward the diehards who live and die with every pitch throughout the grueling six month marathon that is the baseball season.
At any rate, as fans, we want the best players in baseball playing in the All-Star Game... Max Scherzer is among the very best pitchers in baseball, so as baseball fans we want him pitching in Cincinnati on Tuesday night. As Washington Nationals fans, we should want the best players that the Nats have on the field during Nationals games. That's where some fans may have a bit of a disconnect.
Doug Fister could certainly have made the start on Sunday for the Nats. Fister last pitched on Monday, so he would actually be ready to go on an extra day of rest in the first half finale in Baltimore. Doug Fister is a quality starting pitcher who was terrific for the Nats last season, but has struggled a bit this season and missed more than a month with forearm tightness in the first half. Let's compare numbers....
There's not much question who I would rather have on the mound if I weren't concerned about burning his availability in the next few days. Scherzer is the Nats best pitcher. He's on regular rest. This won't even have any impact on his ability to start the next game of the Washington Nationals season. With a four day All-Star Break this year, Scherzer could theoretically pitch on Sunday and be on regular rest for the first game of the second half against the Dodgers* on Friday.
*I doubt the Nats configure their rotation that way after the break, but it would be regular rest
With the first half coming to a close, it's time to start thinking that the standings mean a bit more. The Nats have had a lot of injury troubles throughout the first half. The second place Mets have had a lot of injury problems themselves, but they're just two games back of the Nats. While it seems unlikely that the Nats will have quite as much poor luck with regard to injuries in the second half, the same could be said about the Mets.
There are three good teams in the NL Central (two of them are really good). The Dodgers and Giants both look to be legitimate playoff contenders in the NL West. It's far from a lock that the NL East gets a second team into the playoffs. The Nats only path to October may involve winning the NL East. Even if there was less competition for the wild card, the Nats would prefer to avoid a one game playoff where anything can happen anyway.
The Nats should be focused on winning ballgames and trying to remain atop their division. In order to do so, when you have a choice between pitching your ace on regular rest or your fifth starter on an extra day of rest, you choose your ace.... even if it means he won't be able to pitch in the meaningless exhibition game on Tuesday.