Game 4 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs was postponed due to rain yesterday, setting off a bizarre sequence for the Nats. With Washington facing elimination, manager Dusty Baker announced that the originally scheduled starter, Tanner Roark, would remain the starter despite the extra day leaving ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg on regular rest.
Strasburg has had a great year and has been especially dominant since the All-Star break. He is much, much better than Tanner Roark. So, unsurprisingly, the Washington media promptly lost its collective mind and the rest of baseball scratched its head.
Baker said Strasburg was under the weather due to, uh, the weather and air conditioning and mold in the team hotel. That probably didn't help the reactions. No one knew Strasburg was sick before, either. Also probably not helpful. Strasburg woke up this morning to a litany of columns and tweets and takes, many of which openly called into question whether he was actually sick. Here's the Washington Post, for example:
Let's say Strasburg is, actually, very, very sick. Work with me here.
Why, then, was he even at the ballpark Tuesday? Why would he play catch, as he did in the outfield grass as other Nats warmed up? Why would he be at Wrigley in particular? It might be known as the "Friendly Confines," but it's hell on visiting teams, with the tiny visitors' clubhouse forcing players and coaches and team officials to step over and around each other just to shower or dress or grab a bite to eat.
That's no place for a very ill player, unless you want more very ill players.
About being sick and playing: This is the town of Michael Jordan, so it's pertinent. Does anyone with a stake in the Nationals — player, coach, exec or fan — think Scherzer would delay a season-saving start because of illness? Mike Rizzo, the Nationals' general manager, has said out loud that it's the time of year for heroes.
Now, I know it's the playoffs, and the Nationals are sort of snakebitten when it comes to October baseball, but my word, relax for a second before you turn into some kind of glorified body language expert or something.
In the end, it doesn't matter. Crisis has been averted. Strasburg is indeed going to start today. ESPN's Pedro Gomez reports that Strasburg was on the first bus to Wrigley and told Baker he was feeling better and was ready to go. His agent Scott Boras also sent a text to another ESPN reporter saying "He didn't feel well yesterday but today may be a new day."
Today may indeed be a new day. Obviously, we don't know what the hell is going on or what went on yesterday, but this is an extra layer of drama in a playoffs that has not been short on it. Maybe Strasburg really was sick. Maybe he didn't want to pitch but everyone throwing a shitfit changed his mind. Maybe Dusty Baker outfoxed everyone with a clever ruse, forcing Joe Maddon to switch up his lineup at the last minute. (OK, maybe not that last one.)
Whatever the case, the better pitcher is now pitching when they need him most, I'm sure no one will make a bigger deal out of this than needs to be made.