Buried inside of Verducci's "Bryce is hurt" article (read it if you haven't - we'll get to that another day soon) is a nugget of info that could drastically effect the Nats postseason plans. Turns out Max Scherzer does not think pitching on short rest is a good idea. Here's the quote
“That’s asking a lot,” he said. “You’re trained to give everything you have every fifth day. You might be able to get through it, but where it would really show up is your next start.”Now I'll never go against a pitcher that says something like this. While I totally think pitchers CAN go on short rest, I also understand they've been trained their entire professional lives to go every 5th day. The body develops a rhythm and anything that throws that off is sub-optimal. Hell, getting an extra day probably isn't good for most pitchers. And remember I noted a week ago or so that Max has never started a game on short rest.
However, we can't deny that this presents the Nats with a problem. Conventional thinking likely had the rotation (at least for the NLDS) going like this
Max - Roark - [OFF] - Gio* - Max - [OFF] - Roark
This way you maximize the use of your healthy and best starting arms. There are days off between games 2 & 3 and games 4 & 5. That means Max's second game would be on short rest, but Roark's would not. If Max really would prefer not to pitch on short rest though it begs the question what do the Nats do? A lot depends on what we see going down the stretch I imagine. Let's run through some potential plans.
Plan A - Keep rotation as expected, but defer to only use Max on short rest in emergency
Max - Roark - Gio - Max (if down), Ross/Cole/Latos (if up) - Max (if not used), Roark (otws)
While Max says he's not really for it, I'd bet he'd do it if asked. Plus you may not even need him. The Nats may sweep (or get swept). You may balk at using a lesser option in game 4 but really you don't need Max to go since you can technically afford to lose. Plus you can really go with an all hands on deck (AHOD) rotation. So if someone isn't working you can immediately go to someone else. Would we rather see Max, no matter what? Probably. But this I think, is the most reasonable plan.
Plan B - 4 man rotation
Max - Roark - Gio - Ross/Cole/Latos - Max, or
Max - Gio - Roark - Ross/Cole/Latos - Max
This makes some sense if Ross seems fully healthy by the time the season ends. He's been a good pitcher during the year while healthy so giving him a shot (with the AHOD caveat) is reasonable. It would feel a little funny going with Ross if the Nats were down 1-2 at this point but if he looks fine I don't see how you don't consider this option. Now some will note Ross has had issues with lefties and LA hits righties well so it's a bad match-up. That's true, which is why this is my Plan B. I can see doing it but I'd rather do A. In this case it doesn't matter where Gio or Roark go as neither would be called on to pitch later in the series. If Ross doesn't seem ready to go though, this plan loses a lot of appeal and might not even be a recognizable letter grade. Latos or Cole potentially in a must win game? No thank you.
Plan C - Short rest Roark
Roark - Max - Gio - Roark - Max
While Max would rather not go on short rest, former reliever Roark might not care as much. Plus Roark, if you haven't noticed, has been real good this year. There's no reason why he couldn't succeed in the playoffs as he has all season long. This also has the added benefit of giving Max normal rest without any tricks. Max is pitching great now, why mess with that at all? The problem would be the idea that you are starting the series with your second best pitcher. Not starting with your best foot forward seems... wrong. Can you get over that?
Plan D - Split Attack
Max - Gio - Roark - Max - Gio
Like I said, the Dodgers don't hit lefties. I told you to look at the splits. Did you? No. Fine. Here. That's a big difference! They are literally worst in the league against lefties. That's a little over-stated - Kendrick is better vs lefties than this season shows and Puig is back and will start, but still worst is worst. If they are a little better than they've shown maybe they are what? 3rd worst? Attacking your opponents weakness is never a bad idea. If you start Gio in games 1 or 2, then you have the option of using him twice. In this scenario, with Gio getting game 2, you get your righty lefty righty mix going. You have to short rest Max, though, as I don't think anyone would be comfortable with the idea of going 5 games and using Max and Roark once each. The downside is you are using Roark once, since if he pitches game 3 he won't be available game 5, even in relief**.
Plan E - Maximize Gio
Gio (AHOD) - Max - Roark - Gio (AHOD) - Max
If getting Gio twice is good, then getting him twice as soon as possible is better, right? With this plan they get Gio twice in the first four games with the caveat, that since he'd be looking at short rest, if he seems to not have it (1 in 3 chance, right?) that you shift over to someone else quickly. The downside is now you aren't even starting with your 2nd best option. You are on your 3rd and a severe step down from 1st and 2nd. Plus you are going with your 3rd best option on short rest. That's a real gutsy call that would probably have to be amended if Game 1 didn't go exactly as planned, and your options on changes are limited.
I fully expect the Nats to go with Plan A or B. It's defensible. It's traditional. However they aren't the only possible plans available. Plans C or D are interesting and feasible plans that create some favorable situations for the Nats. They may not be the way the Nats go - but they are certainly worth a look. With Strasburg out, it may pay to be creative.
*look at the splits, and how he's pitched in general since break. It's the right move barring complete late September meltdown
**well unless he's bombed. That's how ZNN came back to pitch an inning in relief against the Cards in 2012.