Once the Nationals defeated the Philadelphia Phillies Wednesday afternoon and clinched the best record in major league baseball, much of the chatter in NatsTown has centered around who will make the first postseason roster since baseball returned to Washington 8 years ago and whom might be their opponents. After waiting what seemed like an eternity, in actuality it was only about 48 hours, Friday evening we finally learned that the Nats will be playing the St. Louis Cardinals in a Best of 5-game series in the National League Division Series. Davey Johnson will have some decisions to make in advance of Sunday’s Game 1, as the condensed nature of a 5-game playoff series will have managers alter their roster, often electing to go with a 4-man starting rotation and foregoing a 5th starter, instead preferring to carry an extra relief pitcher or another hitter. As one might expect, most of the spots on the Nationals 25-man roster are virtually accounted for, with just a handful of players fighting to round out the squad.
On offense, the Nationals will presumably start Kurt Suzuki, Adam LaRoche, Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, Mike Morse, Bryce Harper, and Jayson Werth on Sunday and throughout the series. Chad Tracy, Steve Lombardozzi, Jesus Flores, Roger Bernadina, and Tyler Moore have been the foundation of the “Goon Squad” this season, and seem fairly secure in their places on the postseason roster. Accounting for these players, we quickly reach 13 batters, leaving Mark DeRosa, Eury Perez, and Corey Brown possibly fighting for only one spot on the team. Each of these three players offers something unique to Davey Johnson, as DeRosa provides experience and defensive versatility along with a right-handed bat, Perez could be a significant asset pinch-running with his dynamic speed and as a late-inning defensive replacement in center field, and Brown owns impressive left-handed power and can play all three outfield positions.
Shifting to the pitcher’s mound, Davey Johnson has indicated he wants Gio Gonzalez to start Game 1, followed by Jordan Zimmermann in Game 2. Game 3 will offer an interesting dilemma to the Nationals – do they start RHP Edwin Jackson who has postseason experience but has been inconsistent down the stretch, or will they choose LHP Ross Detwiler who has had a breakout season in his first full year in the major leagues but obviously is lacking experience. St. Louis has a predominantly right-handed hitting team, leading most to assume the veteran Jackson will get the nod in Game 3 on Wednesday when the team returns to Washington. In the bullpen, Drew Storen appears locked in as the team’s closer, with Tyler Clippard and Sean Burnett serving as the stoppers in the 7th and 8th inning, and Ryan Mattheus, Mike Gonzalez, Tom Gorzelanny, and Craig Stammen rounding out their middle relief corps.
Assuming these 11 pitchers are securely on the roster, this could leave LHP John Lannan and RHP Christian Garcia possibly angling for a roster spot. Although he has not thrown many innings in the major leagues this season, Lannan is a veteran who has made 2 Opening Day starts and could prove invaluable if one of the starters struggles to reach the middle innings. On the other hand, Garcia has been particularly effective since arriving in Washington last month (2.13 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 12.2 innings) and could be nice insurance in light of the recent struggles of Clippard and Mattheus.
Unless Davey Johnson surprises with his selections, it appears like 24 of the possible 25 roster spots are accounted for, leaving the 5 players I highlighted fighting for the last place on the roster. Although they both have their positives, I think we can safely assume that Corey Brown and Mark DeRosa will be left off the roster, as Brown received very little playing time this month and DeRosa’s value as a leader in the clubhouse can still exist without his inclusion on the active roster. This leaves Eury Perez, John Lannan, and Christian Garcia competing for the last spot – I thought Lannan stood a reasonable chance of inclusion if the Nationals faced Atlanta and their overwhelmingly left-handed hitting lineup, but I think his chances sunk with the Infield Fly Rule call in the bottom of the 8th inning Friday evening.
If I am accurate with these many assumptions, Davey Johnson, Mike Rizzo, and the Nationals will eventually choose between the electric pinch-runner Eury Perez or additional depth in the bullpen in Christian Garcia. For me the decision is fairly straightforward: I am confident Bernadina and Lombardozzi, while not owning quite as much pure speed as Perez, would be more than suitable pinch-runners if the situation arises and Garcia’s impressive ability to generate strikeouts could be invaluable against the numerous right-handed St. Louis hitters. Therefore, I would elect to go with 13 hitters and 12 pitchers in the NLDS by adding Christian Garcia to the roster in place of a 5th starter, and I fully expect the Nationals front office to reach the same conclusion.
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