- The Washington Times
Tuesday, October 10, 2017

CHICAGO — Following an afternoon of waffling, meeting and debating, Major League Baseball decided to postpone Tuesday’s Game 4 of the best-of-five National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs. The coming rain that caused the decision did not change who will start Game 4 for on-the-brink Washington.

Game 4 will be played Wednesday at 4:08 p.m. in Wrigley Field. The Nationals will keep Tanner Roark as their starting pitcher instead of sliding Stephen Strasburg into the spot on regular rest, a decision that stunned many following the postponement. Jake Arrieta will start for the Cubs. Washington trails the series 2-1. If they lose Wednesday, the season is over.

Strasburg would not have been able to pitch if the game was Tuesday, since he would have been on short rest. Washington pitching coach Mike Maddux was asked about that option Sunday. He unequivocally shut it down. Tuesday’s late-arriving rain made it possible, but the Nationals chose not to use him.

“Well, we decided to stay with Tanner because, number one, you know, he was slated,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. “Didn’t work out for Stras for his bullpen day, and we’re all creatures of habit, and plus, we’ve got full confidence in Tanner. And Stras, it would have been better, because he’s feeling under the weather, like a lot of my team is.”

The Nationals later clarified that Baker misspoke and that Strasburg actually had his regular bullpen session on Monday. They also emphasized that the National League pitcher of the month for September, and the best starting pitcher in the National League since the All-Star break, was weakened by his illness, forcing him to pitch in Game 5, should there be one.

Strasburg dominated the Cubs in Game 1 of the series. He carried a no-hitter through five innings. Anthony Rendon’s error in the seventh led to Chicago coming up with two unearned runs. Strasburg’s final line for the outing was seven innings pitched, three hits, zero earned runs, 10 strikeouts and one walk. Like his fellow ace, Max Scherzer, Strasburg did not win the game despite his tremendous results on the mound.

Baker said before the game that they were considering swapping Strasburg in for Roark. He planned a conversation with Maddux and Strasburg if Game 4 was postponed, which it was. Strasburg played catch in the outfield Tuesday, then threw a bullpen session, according to Baker.

Roark is the Nationals’ No. 4 starter and finished the season with a 4.67 ERA.

Strasburg is still scheduled to pitch Game 5, if it is necessary, Thursday night in Washington.

“It’s fine,” Baker said. “We have full confidence in Tanner.”

Baker was set to deploy a new lineup Tuesday, too, since the Nationals scored five runs in the eighth inning of Game 2 and in the other 26 innings, they have scored two.

Trea Turner, who is yet to reach base in the series, remained in the leadoff spot. Jayson Werth was moved up from sixth to second. Bryce Harper was slid into the No. 3 spot. Ryan Zimmerman was to hit cleanup. Daniel Murphy was moved down to fifth and Anthony Rendon to sixth. The bottom of the order stayed the same.

“Well, this is our most successful lineup that we had, but I was kind of waiting on [Harper] to get some more reps, get some more ABs, and to get a little sharper; and that’s why,” Baker said before the game. “We had faced left-handers the first couple games, and so I shuffled and went back to our original. First time we’ve had that lineup in months since Harp got hurt. Feels pretty good.”

Murphy was critical of himself after Game 3 and again Tuesday afternoon. He’s just 1-for-11 in the series (.091) out of the cleanup spot. He has one walk.

“I’m not having very good at-bats,” Murphy said after Game 3. “I don’t want to speak for anybody but myself. Get better pitches to hit and hit them harder.”

Murphy’s most solid contact of the series produced an out when he hit a liner to first in Game 1 that Anthony Rizzo caught. Oddly, Murphy has been on base just three times, but has scored twice in the series.

The Nationals are by far the worst hitting team in the postseason. As a team, they are hitting just .121. They have a .431 on-base plus slugging percentage.

“[The Cubs] continue to get the clutch hits,” Baker said after Game 3. “You know, we haven’t gotten them, yet. But we will.”

Their next chance comes Wednesday afternoon when the chance of rain is forecasted to be greatly reduced. Drops of water were still stuck to the glasses of Cubs manager Joe Maddon when he spoke at a press conference following the postponement. Baker said he wasn’t irritated with the process that ultimately led to the game being cancelled. The game was delayed from its scheduled start of 4:38 p.m. Central, then eventually postponed around 5:15. Joe Torre, Major League Baseball’s Chief Baseball Officer, said the forecast shifted, but it always included rain Tuesday.

“The one thing we didn’t want to do is try to milk it and get this game in at any cost, and that — we have to do that sometimes during the season; it’s a lot of times,” Torre said. “But you know, it’s important that we get input from both teams. We had both managers, both general managers, in our initial meeting, and then the general managers came in, and everybody was pretty much on the same page on this one.”

And, apparently, so were the Nationals’ decision-makers when they decided to stick with Roark instead of Strasburg.

• Todd Dybas can be reached at tdybas@washingtontimes.com.

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