Despite how hot the Cubs were in the second half of the season, you have to be at least a little nervous about their matchup with the Washington Nationals in the first round of the 2017 Postseason.
In fact, among all the NL playoff teams, I have to think the Nationals are probably the toughest draw in a short series, not only because of their loaded offense, but also because of the three-headed monster at the top of their rotation – Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez.
All three starters are ranked among the top ten by fWAR in the National League, while Scherzer/Strasburg take the top two spots overall. Of course, despite Strasburg’s immense talent, Scherzer is the true ace of that staff and to that end, the Cubs may have caught a bit of a break this weekend.
If you recall, Scherzer exited early in the fourth inning of Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Pirates, after landing awkwardly and “tweaking” his right hamstring. And while the early MRI results confirmed that the injury was nothing more than a tweak, Scherzer has been unable to confirm that he’ll pitch in the first game of the NLDS.
“That’s tough to say right now,” Scherzer said when asked if he’d be ready for Game 1, per Nationals.com. “We’re not even 24 hours out. We’re still trying to get all the doctors to take a look at this and make sure that we have the absolute correct diagnosis. But we have a really, really good idea of what we’ve got here.”
Scherzer suggested that had Saturday been a playoff game, he wouldn’t have come out at all, but given their proximity to the postseason and his relative importance, they made the decision to play it safe. In any case, this is probably good news for the Cubs.
Now, Scherzer will either pitch in Game 1 at less than 100% (we saw how minor hamstring injuries can negatively affect a pitcher when Jake Arrieta struggled his last time out), or he’ll be forced to pitch in Game 2 which means he would not get an extra day of rest if the Nationals thereafter decide to pitch him again in Game 5. Or he might pitch only one game in the series. That’s very much a non-zero consideration.
It’s not the huge coup it would be for nearly any other team, given how talented Stephen Strasburg is, but with all due respect, Stephen Strasburg isn’t Max Scherzer. And again, given that you might have to face one of them twice, the marginal talent difference between the two is magnified across two games.
The Cubs will still be the underdogs in this series, there’s no doubt about it, but the scales may have just been evened ever so slightly. We’ll have to wait and see.