Debate: Who should start wild-card game - Strasburg or Scherzer?

Todd Dybas and Chase Hughes

An interesting question has popped up recently: Should Max Scherzer or Stephen Strasburg pitch the wild-card game should the Nationals make it?

Scherzer has landed on the injured list twice this season, but his numbers when he does pitch remain elite. Strasburg leads the Nationals in starts and innings. He's pitched well throughout the year, dominating at times.

So, who should it be Oct. 1? Todd Dybas and Chase Hughes talk it out:

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Dybas: Is this an authentic question? There's someone other than Max Scherzer who should pitch a do-or-die playoff game? 

The guy with the team's lowest ERA? Its best WHIP? The highest strikeout rate? The ornery, Hall-of-Fame bound, still-in-his-prime guy? That guy? Someone should replace him? No, thanks.

Scherzer, even coming off pesky back injuries, is the choice. Did you see him against Atlanta on Sunday? That's the guy who should be pitching in the highest stakes. He was back (no pun intended). Fastball up in the mid-90s, cutter cutting, curveball curving. He's paid $210 million -- and has been worth it -- to handle the biggest games, the most challenging times. Scherzer is the frontline of any staff and could well end up winning the Cy Young Award again this season.

He can handle the Cubs, especially without Javy Baez in the lineup. He struck out 10 Brewers in just six innings earlier this year when he allowed just an earned run (in Miller Park). His ERA against Philadelphia this season? 0.75. And, unlike Strasburg, he handled Arizona: seven innings, 10 strikeouts, two earned runs.

I think we're here mainly for Chase just to type stuff, but no one would blame him for leaving his space blank.

Hughes: What fun would the world be if everyone agreed on everything? I'm glad you asked (begged) me to do this debate, Todd, so I can dust off my Trapper Keeper and take you to school.

Now, things can change over the next few weeks, of course. But as of now, if I'm going into a do-or-die game tomorrow, I'm taking Strasburg. The reasoning has little to do with Scherzer's health.

If you look at their postseason histories, Strasburg has been much, much better. Scherzer isn't in Clayton Kershaw territory, but he has been a different pitcher in October.

Consider this: Scherzer has pitched in four postseason games for the Nats and they lost all four of them. That includes two very bad outings, one against the Dodgers in 2016 and then the fateful Game 5 relief performance in 2017 against the Cubs.

Strasburg, meanwhile, has been the reverse. He is better in the playoffs than in the regular season. In all three of his postseason starts, he's gone at least five innings with one earned run or fewer. He has a 0.47 ERA across 19 innings in the playoffs with 24 strikeouts and four walks. If he had at least 30 innings or six decisions, that would qualify as the best postseason ERA of all-time.

Scherzer, on the other hand, has had trouble in October dating back to his Tigers days. His ERA goes up more than half-a-run in the playoffs, 3.17 to 3.73. And now, he has the back issue to consider.

I, for one, believe Scherzer is going to rewrite the narrative someday with gems in the playoffs. And if this was Game 1 of a full series, Scherzer would be my guy. 

But for one game with the season on the line? Give me Strasburg.

Outcome: TBD. Scherzer will pitch on Friday, staying on regular rest, as expected. That puts him in line to start game 162 (if it matters) or the wild-card game Oct. 1.

Strasburg pitches Wednesday night in Minnesota.

That also puts him in line to be available to pitch the wild-card game, should Washington make it.

Stay tuned.


Debate: Who should start wild-card game - Strasburg or Scherzer? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

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