Who’d have thought that the Washington Nationals would be preparing for October baseball after that horrendous 19-31 start? Well, here we are, with many calendars in the district having October 1st circled for the winner-take-all Wild Card Game.
The Nats clinched their spot in the postseason with a doubleheader sweep over the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday, while the Pittsburgh Pirates did their part, beating the Chicago Cubs to complete the clinch for Dave Martinez’s club.
With a Wild Card bout — most likely against the Milwaukee Brewers — looming less than a week away, it’s time to take a look at who is likely to be on the postseason roster for the Nats.
Catchers: Yan Gomes, Kurt Suzuki
Changes for Wild Card Game: None
Though Kurt Suzuki has still yet to start a game since September 5th due to a right elbow injury, the expectation is that he’ll be ready to go in time for the playoffs. That makes this position group the easiest to predict, with two catchers the norm for postseason rosters.
It will at least be interesting to watch how the Nationals divide up the playing time behind the plate given how well Yan Gomes has hit recently and his clearly superior defense. Regardless of the split, catcher is going to continue to be a position of strength for this team.
Infielders: Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Adams, Howie Kendrick, Brian Dozier, Asdrúbal Cabrera, Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon
Changes for Wild Card Game: None
There’s probably not a huge amount of debate in this position group, which looks like a position of strength, though there is a bit of flexibility if the Nats need it.
Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Adams, and Howie Kendrick could form an interesting tandem at first base in the postseason, especially with the Nats unleashing the latter a little more as the season reached crunch-time.
Despite losing the starting second base job to Asdrúbal Cabrera in recent weeks, Brian Dozier should still crack the postseason roster, but could easily be dropped if the Nats would rather carry another outfielder.
Ever-present Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon round out the infielders for the Nationals.
Outfielders: Juan Soto, Victor Robles, Adam Eaton, Gerardo Parra
Changes for Wild Card Game: Andrew Stevenson added
This group might be the cause of the most debate among Nationals management. The starting three in Juan Soto, Victor Robles, and Adam Eaton are locks to not only make the roster, but to start every game for the Nats. The final spot, however, is a tough one to predict...
Gerardo Parra has been one of the team’s saviors since arriving back in mid-May and often came up with huge, clutch hits off the bench. Lately, however, he’s cooled drastically, collecting just two hits in his last 42 ABs, leading to talk he may not be on the postseason roster.
Meanwhile, Andrew Stevenson has looked great off the bench when called upon this season and nobody needs reminding how big Michael A. Taylor has been in postseasons past, with both offering the speed and defense required to be a fourth outfielder in October.
If either of the above is likely to supplant Parra, it will probably be Stevenson who has shown a lot more promise than Taylor in part-time duty this season. In this projection, we’ll go with Parra because of his veteran presence but it’s a close call.
That being said, for the Wild Card game, when they can afford to carry one less pitcher, both Parra and Stevenson make it.
Starting Pitchers: Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Aníbal Sánchez
Changes for Wild Card Game: Aníbal Sánchez removed
No surprises at all here. The four horses are all geared up and ready to go and offer the Nationals the best rotation they’ve ever taken into the postseason.
Max Scherzer, who is still likely to be starting the Wild Card game, will lead the way, while Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin will also be relied on heavily to deliver quality innings and limit the innings the still-shaky bullpen ends up pitching.
Aníbal Sánchez, who seems underrated because of the big three, could be the best number four in the postseason. However, for the Wild Card game, most teams only take three starters in case of emergency, meaning he may sit that one out in lieu of another reliever or bench bat.
Relief Pitchers: Sean Doolittle, Daniel Hudson, Hunter Strickland, Roenis Elías, Wander Suero, Tanner Rainey, Fernando Rodney, Austin Voth
Changes for Wild Card Game: Austin Voth removed, Javy Guerra added
Sorry Nats fans, this is the group that will most likely be the deciding factor in whether the team will end up going deep into the playoffs this October or whether they will fall short again.
Sean Doolittle, seemingly close to his previous form again, and Daniel Hudson, the team's best reliever since the start of August, are the anchors to the group. After those two, they still need multiple guys to step up and shine this postseason.
The main question marks in this selection are Roenis Elías, who still has not returned from the Injured List, and Austin Voth, who has been the fifth starter to finish the year.
If Elías is not healthy, it could open the door for Javy Guerra to earn a spot on the roster.
Also, if the Nationals would rather have a true reliever over a converted-starter, then Guerra could sneak in ahead of Voth. That may well be the case for the Wild Card game anyway, given the excess of starters for that game.
The wild card game is just six days away for the Nationals and no doubt there will be conversations about how management will formulate their roster going into October.