Rain gives Nationals a big break, Strasburg's illness gives it right back

CHICAGO — In the time after Anthony Rizzo’s bloop single won Monday’s Game 3 for the Cubs, members of the Nationals remained resolute they’d also be getting a break of their own in the future.

They were right. A big break for the Nats arrived before Game 4 even started, taking the form of a storm system that approached Chicago from the west. The great big blob of radar green issued a dare to Major League Baseball to even think about starting the game, one that officials didn’t take.

Chicago’s chance to put the Nationals to the sword was postponed until Wednesday at 3:08 local time.

The immediate reaction was that this was a great thing for the Nationals as it would give them a chance to start Stephen Strasburg on regular rest Game 4, bypassing the lesser Tanner Roark.

But you have to remember that it’s October and these are the Washington Nationals we’re talking about. Any ground gained was immediately given back as Dusty Baker announced that Strasburg was sick and that Roark will start in Game 4 as scheduled.

Here’s Baker’s full quote, not edited for clarity in the slightest:

“Well, we decided to stay with Tanner because, number one, you know, he was slated,” Baker said. “Didn’t work out for Stras for his bullpen day, and we’re all creatures of habit, and plus, we’ve got full confidence in Tanner. And Stras, it would have been better, because he’s feeling under the weather, like a lot of my team is.”

Eyebrows in the rooms rose as one.

Strasburg was sick?

“Yes, and a lot of my team is under the weather with the change of weather and the air conditioning in the hotel and the air conditioning here,” Baker explained. “It’s just this time of the year for mold around Chicago — I think it’s mold. I mean, I have it, too.”

(AP Photo)

So where to start with this?

Well, “Chicago Mold” sounds like the worst “Chicago Fire” spinoff yet.

If it were any other manager, I’d assume Baker’s media conference was a bit of misdirection, something to leave the other side wondering as the Chicago mold slowly creeps in from a roaring air conditioning duct over night.

But what Baker says he usually means. Also, the Nats later clarified that Strasburg’s poor bullpen session had come on Monday, not Tuesday as Baker had relayed.

It appears that Strasburg is sick. Actually, “very sick and has been for a few days,” according to Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post.

So instead of the rain giving the Nats Stephen Strasburg vs. Jake Arrieta with their playoff lives on the line, they’re still getting Tanner Roark, he of the 13-11 record and 4.67 ERA, vs. Arrieta.

A Strasburg start would have been an incredible break. The former No. 1 overall pick went 15-4 with a 2.52 ERA and ERA+ of 176 this season. Though he took the loss in Game 1, he pitched great against the Cubs, striking out 10 and allowing only two unearned runs over seven innings.

One of the ongoing narratives in Chicago lately has been how the Cubs offense can’t hit top pitchers this season. That offense looks at Roark in that projected starters box right now and can’t believe the break Chicago’s mold and air conditioning returned to them.

According to Janes, Roark will be backed by an all-hands-on-deck situation that includes Gio Gonzalez and one inning of Max Scherzer, who pitched in Monday’s Game 3.

That’s not a bad setup, but the Nationals better hope for a lot of offense from a lineup that has been quiet outside of the eighth inning of Game 2, as well as Roark lasting longer than people currently expect. Game 5 is on Thursday and if Strasburg has been “very sick,” who says he’ll feel great after a late flight on Wednesday night? All of those hands might be needed for Game 5’s deck.

Maybe the Nats will fight through it. Maybe they won’t. Whatever the case, this much is clear: Tuesday’s rains didn’t deliver the kind of break the Nationals believed they were due.