It’s official: Stephen Strasburg is starting Game 4.
A win away from advancing to their third straight NLCS, the Cubs put their lineup out shortly after 10 a.m., just about five hours before the scheduled start time of 3:08 p.m. at Wrigley Field.
But then came the reports that the Washington Nationals could be pulling a fast one, swapping out scheduled starter Tanner Roark — who was supposed to pitch Tuesday — in favor of Strasburg, the elite arm who mostly dominated the Cubs in Game 1 of this series and is now on regular rest thanks to Tuesday’s rainout.
The Nationals made the move official right before noon, forcing the Cubs to alter their lineup.
Here’s what it looks like now:
1. Jon Jay, CF
2. Kris Bryant, 3B
3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
4. Willson Contreras, C
5. Ben Zobrist, LF
6. Addison Russell, SS
7. Jason Heyward, RF
8. Javy Baez, 2B
9. Jake Arrieta, P
Only three Cubs got hits off Strasburg in Game 1. Strasburg took a no-hitter into the sixth inning of that game and wound up striking out 10 batters. Bryant and Rizzo had back-to-back hits to score the game’s first run, and Russell singled in Strasburg’s final inning of work.
Kyle Schwarber was initially announced as a member of Game 4’s starting nine, but he’s out of the lineup against Strasburg. Despite that defensive disaster in left field in Game 3, he turned in a .457 slugging percentage against right-handed pitching during the regular season. But Maddon is opting for Heyward instead with some less-than-ideal field conditions at the Friendly Confines. Heyward has also put up strong numbers in his career against Strasburg, with a slash line of .405/.463/.595 in 37 at-bats. Zobrist, who led off and went hitless against Strasburg in Game 1, is batting fifth, the same place he was when he broke up Max Scherzer’s no-hit bid in game 3 on Monday.
How good Arrieta will be is still a bit of a mystery given his hamstring issues at season's end. How good Scherzer was could help ease concerns, as the Nationals' ace had his own, much more recent hamstring "tweak" and still managed to be nearly unhittable in Game 3. Arrieta hasn't pitched since a brief three-inning outing against the St. Louis Cardinals on Sept. 26 and logged just 10.1 innings of work during the month of September while bothered by the injury.
Of particular interest will be how Arrieta handles the Nationals on the base paths. You'll remember that June start in Washington, a 6-1 loss for the Cubs, when the Nationals stole seven bases — including four alone by shortstop Trea Turner — prompting critical postgame comments from Miguel Montero, who was off the team the following day. Turner hasn't done much of anything in this series, 0-for-12 heading into Game 4, but should he get on base, he could create some headaches for Arrieta.
And, to throw one more wrinkle into this whole thing, it’s possible that Scherzer, who started Game 3 two days ago and is dealing with injury issues, could be available to pitch out of the bullpen with his team’s season on the line.
Here’s what the Nationals’ lineup looks like:
1. Trea Turner, SS
2. Jayson Werth, LF
3. Bryce Harper, RF
4. Ryan Zimmerman, 1B
5. Daniel Murphy, 2B
6. Anthony Rendon, 3B
7. Matt Wieters, C
8. Michael Taylor, CF
9. Stephen Strasburg, P
Much like he did Tuesday, Dusty Baker mixed up his batting order a bit while keeping the same starting eight position players. Werth gets moved up to the No. 2 spot, while Harper, Zimmerman, Murphy and Rendon get bumped down, Rendon is moved down from third to sixth. That’s the batting order the Nationals had for their most productive portion of the season prior to Harper’s injury.
The Nationals have had a ton of trouble hitting Cubs pitching in this series, getting just one earned run and six hits off the three starters. They're just 11-for-91 in the first three games of this series, and three players — Zimmerman, Harper and Taylor — account for seven of those hits. Zimmerman and Taylor are the only players with NLDS batting averages above .200.
Harper, Murphy and Rendon have had success against Arrieta during their careers, with a combined 14 hits in 53 plate appearances. Murphy, Werth and Adam Lind are the three Nationals with home runs against Arrieta.
The whole dynamic of this series has changed with the Strasburg-related drama Wednesday morning.
Buckle up for Game 4.