If I were the type of person to pray about baseball, I would have prayed for rain. Instead, I spent all day studying the Chicago weather reports like I normally do the Nationals Baseball Reference page. Sure enough, nature gave us a reprieve. A rain delayed Game 4 meant a chance for the Nats to start Stephen Strasburg on full rest rather than Tanner Roark. Yesterday, I imagined lightly hit fly balls off Roark getting carried over the fence by the Wrigley Field wind. Today, I pictured Strasburg striking out 10 Cubs in route to a series-saving win to force a Game 5.
We got the rain, but Dusty is starting Roark anyway. Calling this decision a roll of the dice doesn’t even begin to describe the fallout if the Nats lose a Roark-started Game 4. This is a season-defining and possibly tenure-defining move by Dusty Baker. Strasburg is the ace with a $175 million dollar contract. He is rested and available. The possibility of the season ending with him sitting on the bench, unused, is unthinkable.
At first, this appeared to be another shaky decision from a manager already operating with a postseason credibility deficit. The Nats lost a late lead in a 2-1 Game 3 loss without either of their best relievers seeing the mound. Starting Roark instead of Strasburg seemed like another questionable inside-the-box move from a manager who doesn’t seem to grasp the win-or-go-home mentality of the MLB postseason.
But then something odd happened at the press conference where Dusty announced Roark would start. Baker couldn’t explain the decision. First, Strasburg threw a bullpen session on Tuesday, so he wasn’t available on Wednesday. Then, starting Roark was always the plan because they have full confidence in him. Then, Strasburg was “under the weather” and there was mold in the hotel (you couldn’t make this stuff up). Then, the team later felt the need to clarify that Strasburg threw his bullpen on Monday and could pitch on Wednesday but won’t because he is ill.
Perhaps this is Dusty being Dusty. He doesn’t always give the clearest answers in press conferences, mainly because he’s been on this damn Earth longer than you and he doesn’t feel like he has to explain himself. Maybe there’s a combination of factors, which led to the multiple explanations. Maybe Dusty is just stubborn and dead set on making a huge mistake and everyone–club included–is trying to save face. Or perhaps this a false flag operation, and everyone in Nats management is laughing their asses off right now.
The most troubling of all is that Dusty couldn’t adequately explain the decision because he didn’t make it. Did Rizzo dictate it? Did Strasburg or–gulp–Boras pull the plug?
I’m asking a lot of questions right now because I don’t have answers. There’s a disturbing pattern of this franchise prematurely exiting the playoffs while their best weapons remain in the arsenal. History has been repeating itself this series. For Dusty’s sake, and ours, I hope it doesn’t happen again.