Giving Max Scherzer every opportunity to answer the bell for Game 1 of the NLDS matchup with the Chicago Cubs made sense for Washington, as did the Nationals’ decision to let their 33-year-old ace rest his injured hamstring for a few more days, which means Stephen Strasburg is starting the series opener with the Cubbies.
The official announcement this morning was not a surprise, coming as it did twenty-four hours after Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo made the rounds with The Sports Junkies and reporters in the nation’s capital talking about how it helps to have two aces available so that the decision to go with Strasburg and let Scherzer recover after tweaking his hamstring in his final regular season start this past Saturday isn’t much of a drop-off.
“The good thing about our club is that we have two No. 1 pitchers with Stras and Max,” Rizzo told the Sports Junkies Wednesday morning, “... and we’re fortunate to have that option, and when you run the hottest pitcher in baseball out there in Game 1 in Stephen Strasburg that’s not the worst thing in the world, we’ll take that any day of the week.”
Strasburg, 29, finished his eighth major league campaign (15-4) in 28 starts with a 2.52 ERA, 2.72 FIP, 47 walks (2.41 BB/9), 204 Ks (10.47 K/9), and a .203/.265/.317 line against in 175 1⁄3 IP. He made one start against the Cubs, striking out thirteen batters in seven innings, giving up four hits and three runs, two earned, in what ended up an 8-4 win in the nation’s capital.
“[Strasburg] is certainly a capable No. 1 starter in the playoffs,” Rizzo told reporters Wednesday afternoon, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“We feel good about running him out there if he were the guy. And who better? We have two aces, and one of them will pitch Game 1.”
Strasburg will be going up against Cubs’ right-hander Kyle Hendricks, 27, who finished the regular season (7-5) in 24 starts, missing time on the DL with inflammation in his right middle finger, but posting a 3.03 ERA, 3.88 FIP, 40 walks (2.58 BB/9), 123 Ks (7.93 K/9), and a .239/.298/.372 line against in 139 2⁄3 IP.
“Obviously Kyle has pitched really well, we wanted to pop him right there,” said Cubs’ skipper Joe Maddon after making the announcement on Hendricks, “... we also know that the guys that pitch in the first two games can pitch in the fifth game.”
“I think he’s pitching better right now than I’ve seen him at any time last year. Why?” Madden asked rhetorically.
“Because the velocity is heavier I think, the velocity is better,” he explained. “And also the other pitches are working better off the velocity, so I think he’s at the top of his game right now.”
Two starters at the top of their game. Postseason baseball in Washington, D.C., 7:31 PM EDT on Friday night.