We've talked about these all before but since it's pretty much all we have to talk about (other than home filed advantage) let's go through where we are on the three questions facing the Nats for the postseason.
1- What's the rotation?
It should be a simple answer. You take your 1 through 4 pitcheres (or maybe even 1 through 3) and there's your playoff rotation. The problem for the Nats is that their rotation is not easily defined. Let's not kid ourselves here. As much as some may want to include Strasburg in the conversation and there is a legit "fancy stats" argument for including Fister in it too, the decision comes down to Gio vs Roark. Roark has pitched better, clearly so, but Gio hasn't pitched badly and is the Nats only LH starter.
Will the splits matter? I talked about it before but here they are in black and white. OPS totals
STL vs LHP .712
STL vs RHP .685
PIT vs LHP .690
PIT vs RHP .750
MIL vs LHP .702
MIL vs RHP .717
LAD vs LHP .695
LAD vs RHP .743
SFG vs LHP .712
SFG vs RHP .703
There is no real case to be made for starting Gio because of splits for three opponents. The Pirates seem like an obvious choice but with Alvarez out for the year at this point the lefty-advantage mostly comes down to Neil Walker, who loses all his power when facing lefties (looking at it now Ike Davis / Gaby Sanchez washes out). The Dodgers are a possibility too as Adrian Gonzalez, and strangely enough Puig, both are much better hitters versus righties. Gonzalez is basically completely nuetralized by a lefty. (Ethier is as well but you figure he wouldn't start that game)
But do we even care about splits? The idea is not just to make them face a lefty to hurt them in that game, but to make them face a lefty to throw off the batters for the series. Seeing righty after righty may allow the bats to get comfortable in a way that wouldn't happen if they have to adjust for a lefty. Poppycock? Perhaps but it's a line of thinking.
The other big reason to start Gio would be relief experience. Gio hasn't appeared in relief since 2009 while Roark did so as recently as August of last year. But that doesn't mean that Roark has a ton of relief experience. Tanner isn't a converted reliever and hasn't been used primarily out of the pen since 2009. (Gio never has) So whatever advantage Roark might have as a reliever - one has to believe it's minimal. In fact Gio's make up - relies on fewer pitches has the faster FB, would tend to be favored for relief in comparison. Of course if you delve into armchair psychology you can come up with other reasons (how will Gio react to demotion? Roark's been there just last year should be ok with it.)
If it's that tough why not use all 5? Well, that could be done but the days off built into the playoffs make it hard enough to keep four pitchers on a good rest schedule. Add in a 5th and you could easily have pitchers waiting a week between starts.
In the end I think Roark is the better call because he's the better pitcher right now, but Gio isn't a bad call. I expect the Nats to use Gio not Roark for the simple reason that Gio has been their starter for years and his use can be justified. A Gonzo-Roark combo is possible, but more likely is Roark being saved for any SP failure.
2 - Does Soriano make the postseason roster?
Soriano pitched a perfect 9th yesterday but as we all know has been crashing since mid August putting up a 7.36 ERA and managing only 4 perfect outings in his last 16 trips to the mound. In fully half of them he's given up a run. It's not just a run of bad luck either. As we've discussed he's just not pitching well.
While Soriano has had past success in set-up roles, he's generally been unhappy in that position and at a time where you need guys to focus immediately because every game matters can you afford a guy like Soriano coming out of the pen?
Barrett (0.00 ERA in 7 appearences, with 1 walk and 5 Ks) and Cedeno (1 HR to Ryan Howard, otherwise no hites or runs) have made cases. In the end I do think Barrett makes the roster... but not over Soriano.
Soriano was brought in not primarily to be a closer for the Nats, but to be a difference maker play-off closer. Storen, while looking much better in 2014, has had already a couple of shaky relief appearances. How would it look if you left Soriano off the roster & Storen blows saves in the first two games? What do you do then? Well you move Clippard to the closer roles but that's not the point. The point is you signed a guy specifically for this moment, you need him, and hey, he's sitting at home!
That doesn't mean you have to make Soriano your closer, but it does mean you are taking a risk by leaving him at home. If you lose because you had to rely on him as Plan Band he doesn't come through - that's on him. If you lose because he wasn't even around, even if it can be justified, that's on you.
So how does Barrett make the roster? Because Detwiler or Blevins doesn't, most likely Detwiler. With Roark or whoever moving into that long relief role Detwiler, who is seemingly not a favorite of this organization anymore, loses his specific role. Blevins, for all his failings, is better versus lefties, so can be the "other" lefty in the pen now that Thorton has taken his spot. Stammen can handle an emergency long outings. Kilgore has Blevins out and I can see that. Neither Blevins or Detwiler has been pitching well though so it could be either, but Soriano is definitely in.
Stras, Gio, ZNN, Fister
Storen, Clippard, Stammen, Soriano, Barrett, Thorton, Roark, Blevins
Ramos, LaRoche, Cabrera, Desmond, Rendon, Werth, Span, Bryce
Frandsen, Hairston, Zimm, Lobaton, Espinosa
That's what I expect the 25 man active playoff roster to be. But what about a LHB on the bench? What about it? Schierholtz is BAD. Are you really messing with your roster to make sure you have a lefty bat that has hit .188 / .236 / .310 versus righties this year is kept? Frandsen vs RHP - .238 / .296 / .308. I don't like Frandsen but unless there is a submariner reliever out there you are scary afraid of having righties face it makes no sense to keep Schierholtz who does nothing for the team. The Nats might end up with the best record in the NL and they haven't had a good LHB on the bench all year. (really if you are that concerned with having a LHB the way to go is 3rd catcher - use Lobaton as the LHB but thats not great either. Just keep Frandsen)
3- So Zimmerman makes it. Does he start?
Zimm with the Nats this season : .282 / .345 / .456
Cabrera with the Nats this season : .230 / .314 / .399
If Zimm can hit it isn't even a question. You want that bat in the line-up. But how to get him in? The easy answer is he takes over for LaRoche or Bryce versus tough lefties. OK. What about the other 80% of the time?
This question has no good answer. If Zimm plays third you'd worry about every ball hit there and if Rendon happened to slump you know everyone would blame the move back to second. If Zimm doesn't play third than you run the real risk of Cabrera bringing down the line-up (there's a reason CLE traded him). Not a lot, but if a couple other guys slump and with the pitching better in the playoffs it could matter alot.
I don't have an answer here. How I expect the Nats to use him is as a LF versus tough lefties. (Which as we've noted before is silly because LaRoche is really the one that needs to sit but hey, it is what it is) If Cabrera goes 0 for his first 3 games or something, then I expect to see Zimmerman back starting at 3B. If Cabrera is ok or better Zimm stays on the bench.