ST. LOUIS — With the Washington Nationals on the verge of clinching the NL East and in position to finish with the best record in the league and top seed in the playoffs, one might expect manager Davey Johnson to be far along in setting up his postseason pitching rotation.
Nope. Not with this crazy playoff format that penalizes the team with the best regular-season record. The problem is, no matter when the top seed clinches, it won't know its opponent until after the wild-card playoff is decided Friday. Once the the records are finalized, the second seed knows it will play the third seed (San Francisco, if the season ended today) no matter what.
Some reward for being the best. The final few days of the regular season, time that could be used to set up rotations — to rest certain guys, to fine-tune others — can be used only to guess.
"The way it's set up, it's a lot more complicated," Johnson said. "The team with the best record ... it's very confusing, the setup, not knowing who you're going to play. That's a bad format."
The Nationals and Reds are tied for the NL's best record with three games to play in the regular season, and Washington holds the tiebreaker because it won the season series. Regardless, when it comes to getting the top seed, may the better team lose.
The quandary facing the Cardinals about which pitcher should go first — Adam Wainwright or Kyle Lohse — pales by comparison. Everybody in the playoffs has choices like that. But the best team in the regular season being left in the dark? That's bull-oney.
Left-hander Gio Gonzalez or right-hander Jordan Zimmermann probably will start Washington's first playoff game. The rest is murky — and not because Johnson has weak choices.
"If you do any research like I do, this club [St. Louis] is 31-17 against left-handers. Atlanta's not very good against left-handers," Johnson said. "San Francisco is 39-17 against left-handers. ... Against San Francisco, I'll probably have our right-handers more at the top."
Against the Braves, it could mean the Nats go with Gonzalez and lefty Ross Detwiler out of the box, with Zimmermann in the wings for Game 3. It could mean lefty John Lannan gets a start sometime. It could mean righty Edwin Jackson plays a role, or doesn't. The only one we know isn't starting is Stephen Strasburg.
It all depends on which #MysteryTeam (TM) the Nats (or Reds) face. And the same goes, naturally, for the AL side. It's an obvious flaw in these expanded playoffs that commissioner Bud Selig foisted upon us. Then there's the 2-3 away/home format for the first round. Don't get anyone started on that.
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