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Debate: Who should start wild-card game - Strasburg or Scherzer?

Debate: Who should start wild-card game - Strasburg or Scherzer?

An interesting question has popped up recently: Should Max Scherzer or Stephen Strasburg pitch the wild-card game should the Nationals make it?

Scherzer has landed on the injured list twice this season, but his numbers when he does pitch remain elite. Strasburg leads the Nationals in starts and innings. He’s pitched well throughout the year, dominating at times.

So, who should it be Oct. 1? Todd Dybas and Chase Hughes talk it out:

Dybas: Is this an authentic question? There’s someone other than Max Scherzer who should pitch a do-or-die playoff game? 

The guy with the team’s lowest ERA? Its best WHIP? The highest strikeout rate? The ornery, Hall-of-Fame bound, still-in-his-prime guy? That guy? Someone should replace him? No, thanks.

Scherzer, even coming off pesky back injuries, is the choice. Did you see him against Atlanta on Sunday? That’s the guy who should be pitching in the highest stakes. He was back (no pun intended). Fastball up in the mid-90s, cutter cutting, curveball curving. He’s paid $210 million -- and has been worth it -- to handle the biggest games, the most challenging times. Scherzer is the frontline of any staff and could well end up winning the Cy Young Award again this season.

He can handle the Cubs, especially without Javy Baez in the lineup. He struck out 10 Brewers in just six innings earlier this year when he allowed just an earned run (in Miller Park). His ERA against Philadelphia this season? 0.75. And, unlike Strasburg, he handled Arizona: seven innings, 10 strikeouts, two earned runs.

I think we’re here mainly for Chase just to type stuff, but no one would blame him for leaving his space blank.

Hughes: What fun would the world be if everyone agreed on everything? I'm glad you asked (begged) me to do this debate, Todd, so I can dust off my Trapper Keeper and take you to school.

Now, things can change over the next few weeks, of course. But as of now, if I'm going into a do-or-die game tomorrow, I'm taking Strasburg. The reasoning has little to do with Scherzer's health.

If you look at their postseason histories, Strasburg has been much, much better. Scherzer isn't in Clayton Kershaw territory, but he has been a different pitcher in October.

Consider this: Scherzer has pitched in four postseason games for the Nats and they lost all four of them. That includes two very bad outings, one against the Dodgers in 2016 and then the fateful Game 5 relief performance in 2017 against the Cubs.

Strasburg, meanwhile, has been the reverse. He is better in the playoffs than in the regular season. In all three of his postseason starts, he's gone at least five innings with one earned run or fewer. He has a 0.47 ERA across 19 innings in the playoffs with 24 strikeouts and four walks. If he had at least 30 innings or six decisions, that would qualify as the best postseason ERA of all-time.

Scherzer, on the other hand, has had trouble in October dating back to his Tigers days. His ERA goes up more than half-a-run in the playoffs, 3.17 to 3.73. And now, he has the back issue to consider.

I, for one, believe Scherzer is going to rewrite the narrative someday with gems in the playoffs. And if this was Game 1 of a full series, Scherzer would be my guy. 

But for one game with the season on the line? Give me Strasburg.

Outcome: TBD. Scherzer will pitch on Friday, staying on regular rest, as expected. That puts him in line to start game 162 (if it matters) or the wild-card game Oct. 1.

Strasburg pitches Wednesday night in Minnesota.

That also puts him in line to be available to pitch the wild-card game, should Washington make it.

Stay tuned.
 

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Why Nationals fans should be rooting for the Yankees in the ALCS

Why Nationals fans should be rooting for the Yankees in the ALCS

The Nationals wrapping up the NL Championship Series in a sweep has given them an unusually long break of six days before Game 1 of the World Series takes place Tuesday night. That has allowed the team and their fans to stop and soak in the glory of making it this far. It also gives plenty of time to watch the ALCS and consider Washington's next opponent.

When it comes to that, Nationals should have one clear, if undesirable, option. That is to root for the New York Yankees.

Yes, the team everyone loves to hate, the Evil Empire, the team with more bandwagon fans maybe than anyone else in sports. In a sense, the Yankees don't deserve going to the World Series as much as the Houston Astros, as they have won more championships than anyone else. But they also probably represent the Nats' best path towards getting their first.

The Astros, though more likeable than the Yankees, are also better. They are a superteam devoid of weaknesses. They would meet the Nationals in the World Series with an advantage in just about every single category. Their lineup is better, their defense is better, their pitching staff as a whole is better and their manager is more experienced. They won a World Series just two years ago and are arguably better now than they were then.

Even their starting rotation, one could argue, is at least as good if not better than that of the Nationals. They may be the only team in baseball that can match the triumvirate of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin with an equally-imposing trio of Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke. Not to mention their vastly superior bullpen.

The Yankees, meanwhile, also have a better lineup and bullpen than the Nationals. But they don't have the rotation the Nationals do. They only had one starter this season post a sub-4.00 ERA and that was James Paxton, who has already allowed four runs in seven innings so far this postseason.

The Nationals' rotation would be a clear strength against the Yankees' and would be the ideal counter to New York's best asset, a power-hitting lineup led by Aaron Judge, D.J. LeMahieu and Giancarlo Stanton. And while Stanton has given the Nationals nightmares for many years, he is not 100 percent healthy due to a quadriceps strain.

There are also some good narratives in a potential Nationals-Yankees series, for those who are interested in those sorts of things. For one, the last time a D.C. baseball team made the World Series, back in 1933, they played a New York team, the Giants. In fact, the Senators beat the Giants in 1924 to capture Washington's only World Series title.

There is also an angle many Nationals fans may dismiss, but will be a factor for some. Before the Nats arrived in Washington, generations of baseball fans in Washington grew up rooting for the Baltimore Orioles. And not only were those fans trained to view the Yankees as rivals, many were scarred by the 1996 ALCS when a young fan named Jeffrey Maier reached out to catch a fly ball in Game 1 that should not have been a home run. To many baseball fans in this area, it cost their favorite team a chance to play in the World Series.

Playing New York would also give fans an easier way to travel to road games. The drive to New York is only about four hours via car or bus, and the train is even faster. Yankee Stadium would likely have a good amount of red in the crowd.

Travel considerations and media storylines aside, the most important goal for the Nationals is to win four more games and capture the team's first World Series title. Playing the Yankees increases the likelihood of that happening at least a little bit.

It's like a prescription with adverse side effects that is essential for a patient. Nationals fans should know what to do as they watch the ALCS. Just maybe hold your nose as you wash it down.

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Everything we know about the Nationals' World Series schedule (so far)

Everything we know about the Nationals' World Series schedule (so far)

The Nationals are going to the World Series. Everybody knows that by now. But how and when you can watch the Nationals play is becoming clearer by the day.

The first two games will be played in either Yankee Stadium or Minute Maid Park, depending on whether the Yankees or Astros win the American League Championship Series. Game 1 will be on Tuesday, Oct. 22, while Game 2 will be Wednesday, Oct. 23.

Games 3 and 4 will be at Nationals Park on Friday, Oct. 25 and Sunday, Oct. 26, respectively. If necessary, Game 5 will also be played at Nationals Park on Sunday, Oct. 27. A Game 5 would be the last game the Nationals host this season.

Games 6 and 7, if necessary, would be at the American League representative's ballpark on Tuesday, Oct. 29 and Wednesday, Oct. 30, respectively.

All games will be broadcast on FOX.

World Series Schedule:

Tuesday, Oct. 22:
- World Series Game 1: Nationals at ALCS Winner. Time: TBD. TV Channel: FOX.

Wednesday, Oct. 23:
- World Series Game 2: Nationals at ALCS Winner. Time: TBD. TV Channel: FOX.

Friday, Oct. 25:
- World Series Game 3. ALCS Winner at Nationals. Time: TBD. TV Channel: FOX.

Saturday, Oct. 26: 
- World Series Game 4. ALCS Winner at Nationals. Time: TBD. TV Channel: FOX.

Sunday, Oct. 27: 
- World Series Game 5*. ALCS Winner at Nationals. Time: TBD. TV Channel: FOX.

Monday, Oct. 29: 
- World Series Game 6*. Nationals at ALCS Winner. Time: TBD. TV Channel: FOX.

Tuesday, Oct. 30:
- World Series Game 7*. Nationals at ALCS Winner. Time: TBD. TV Channel: FOX.

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