In perhaps their first true concession to the difficult task they now face in overtaking the Mets for the NL East title, the Nationals have reshuffled the order of their rotation, ensuring their top three starters all line up for their Labor Day series against their division rivals.
Max Scherzer, who was initially scheduled to pitch Thursday’s series finale against the Padres, has been pushed back to Friday night against the Marlins. That move, in turn, lines up Jordan Zimmermann, Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg in order and lines them up to pitch against the Mets in two weeks.
Manager Matt Williams confirmed that was the logic behind the move, acknowledging the importance of that showdown with the current NL East leaders. The Nationals entered play Tuesday trailing New York by 5 1/2 games, with six head-to-head matchups still on the schedule (including the season’s final weekend at Citi Field).
“I know that we have opportunity when we face that team,” Williams said. “There’s a lot of games in between that we have to win to have that opportunity. Lining it up, we’ve been talking about it for weeks now. Given where we’re at and what’s in front of us and what we want to accomplish, it gives us the best option.”
The Nationals came under some criticism when neither Scherzer nor Strasburg faced New York during their last two series, including the Mets’ 3-game sweep the first weekend of August that propelled them into a first-place tie and ultimately a season-high lead in the division. The Mets lined up their three best pitchers (Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard) for both series.
At the time, Williams downplayed the significance of one series against his team’s chief division rival compared to other opponents on the schedule.
“If we get to where we want to get to, it’s going to take five guys, not one,” Williams said July 17. “I know there’s a lot made of it, and I can have an opinion about it, and everybody else can too. But if we want to get to the postseason and be a contender in that postseason, we’re going to need all five of the guys.”