The Nationals are terrible with rain delays. They’ll play through rain and their superstar gets injured trying to leg out a single. Other times they place a game in rain delay only for it to sprinkle a bit before letting up. This time, though, a rain delay was in their favour. This time, a rain delay meant Stephen Strasburg could pitch a win-or-go-home game at Wrigley Field. Strasburg could get the series back to DC, back to Gio, back to the one mountain the Nats have never been able to climb! And then ...
Dusty says Roark will start Game 4. Strasburg didn't get his usual prep. And he's "under the weather." Still would start Game 5.— Mark Zuckerman (@MarkZuckerman) October 10, 2017
In a cruel twist of fate, Strasburg threw a bullpen on Monday and got the sniffles. Due to ... mold? Tanner Roark will still start game four. The universe has a strange, evil sense of humour. This is not the optimal scenario, but Tanner Roark is not helpless on the mound. In fact, he’s fairly good. He simply is not Stephen Strasburg. There are negatives to starting Tanner, but there are benefits as well.
Let’s start where it hurts: Tanner Roark was not fabulous at Wrigley Field this year and there are some Cubbie hitters who see the ball out of his hand pretty well.
Cubs vs. Tanner
Kris Bryant may be Tanner Roark’s toughest out. He is 5-for-11 against Tanner and will bat second after Jon Jay, a put-the-ball-in-play bloop-single machine. In fact, everyone puts the ball in play against Roark. There are not a lot of strikeouts listed here, and there are even fewer walks. The defense will be busy.
In his one start at Wrigley Field this year, Tanner went 6.1 innings and allowed two runs on five hits and an uncharacteristic three walks. Joe Maddon went with the lefty-heavy lineup again because, this season, righties bat .222 against Roark while that average jumps to .268 on the other side of the plate. That lineup may be the biggest problem for Tanner Roark. Plus the Cubs have Schwarber and Heyward on the bench, a surplus of pinch-hitting southpaws.
Don’t hit the panic button! Tanner Roark is a good pitcher. He has actually been slightly better on the road. At home, his ERA is 5.04 while his away ERA is 4.26. Batting average against and slugging percentage are comparable. Over the past three seasons at Wrigley, Tanner pitched 17.1 innings. He held opponents to a .191 batting average and only allowed four extra-base hits.
The first two times through the order, Tanner’s splits are roughly even. Sure, the second time around he is a little worse for wear, but not by much. What matters against Roark is just how hard the opponents hit the ball. Solid contact makes Tanner’s day more difficult. The slugging percentage the first (.380) and second (.382) times through the lineup are essentially the same. The third time through, though, it jumps up to .446! He may only be effective the first two times he sees the batters. Since Bryant hits at the top of the lineup, I think that’s a relatively hard limit.
However, this being an elimination game, it is all hands on deck! If Tanner Roark can pitch five effective innings (The definition of “effective” varies based upon how much of the Nationals’ offense shows up.), there is a whole host of relievers behind him ready to pick up where he left off.
The only pitcher not available for Game 4 is Stephen Strasburg. Gio, Scherzer, relievers all in play. Strasburg pitches Game 5.— Chelsea Janes (@chelsea_janes) October 10, 2017
Tanner can do it. He does not need to flash a no-hitter. In fact, both almost-hitless performances in this series resulted in a loss. If the Nationals bats show up in the way we saw all season, I think they have a good shot at forcing a Game 5. Don’t forget, the Cubs haven’t broken out this series either. Of all ten teams that competed in the postseason, the Nationals are tenth in average (.121) but the Cubs are eighth (.179). They have been beatable, the Nationals’ offense just needs to get a jump-start. (Probably from Trea Turner.) So here’s hoping Tanner Roark can be good, and that the Nationals’ lineup is even better.
Audrey Stark is a Contributor at Federal Baseball. You can follow her on Twitter @HighStarkSunday.