The Nationals are locked in a tense battle for a postseason berth. They won’t make the playoffs without a healthy Max Scherzer leading their rotation.
If the postseason started today the Nationals would make the field via one of the National League’s Wild Card berths. If fans in Washington want to see a playoff run for their favorite team, they need to hope Max Scherzer recovers quickly from his recent back injury.
The team believed their 34-year-old right hander would recover in time to pitch against the first-place Braves this weekend, but instead he’ll miss the pivotal series with bursitis in his back. Understandably, the organization wants Scherzer to be relatively conservative with his rehabilitation. Nationals’ manager Dave Roberts insists he doesn’t want his ace to “push” his return to the mound.
That’s an admirable sentiment from Roberts, but the truth is his team doesn’t have a chance to make noise in October without a healthy Scherzer. He’s been nothing short of terrific this season. Scherzer has already posted an amazing WAR of 5.4 for the Nationals in just 19 starts. His win-loss record may only be 9-5, but his 2.30 ERA is a full run better than any other member in the team’s rotation.
In fairness to the other Nationals starters, they’ve been pretty good this season as well. Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez and Erick Fedde all sport ERA’s below 4.00. Their efforts have made up for Washington’s disappointing offensive production on the season. Each pitcher will face even more pressure to keep the team in the thick of the playoff race while Scherzer is on the shelf.
The Nationals can survive life without their ace in the short-term, but if Scherzer is forced to miss significant time it’s going to sink this team. On top of his obvious production, he also gives his team a lift in morale. His teammates take great comfort in the fact that no matter what, they’re going to get a terrific start from Scherzer every five games. Losing that air of invincibility could prove to be a setback the Nationals can’t recover from.
The good news for fans in the nation’s capitol is that Scherzer should be able to shake off this injury and return to the mound relatively quickly. It’s definitely a situation worth watching closely, though. If he suffers any sort of setback, the Nationals are going to lose any chance they might have had at a long postseason run.