WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 06: Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals delivers a pitch in the first inning during game one of the National League Division Series against the Chicago Cubs at Nationals Park on October 6, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

(Editor’s note: this post was originally published before reports that Stephen Strasburg would be starting today’s game.)

The season is on the line Wednesday afternoon in Chicago for the Washington Nationals. On the brink of yet another early exit from the postseason, the Nationals were given a little help from Mother Nature when Game 4 was washed out on Tuesday, which supposedly could have helped the Nationals give starter Stephen Strasburg another day to recover from an illness. Instead, Nationals manager Dusty Baker announced that Strasburg was under the weather, and that Tanner Roark will take the mound for the NL East champions on Wednesday.

Having Strasburg on the mound in Game 4, sick or not, would have been comforting for the Nationals knowing that Gio Gonzalez would be lined up for Game 5, with Max Scherzer available in the bullpen if needed. Instead, the Nationals will let the season ride on Roark, the right-handed pitcher who ended his regular season with two starts in which he allowed nine runs in 11.2 innings pitched against Atlanta and Philadelphia. This seems risky.

If Strasburg is sick, then there is not much that can be done to cure him. Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports Strasburg was the one to say he will not be pitching in Game 4, saying he was too ill to do so. If this were the World Series, would Strasburg be pitching? That’s a fair question to ask, because you cannot play in the World Series if you cannot get by the NLDS, which has been the kryptonite for the Nationals during their run as the top team in the NL East.

This is their story. No matter how good of a roster they put together, there always seems to be some hurdle that cannot be cleared. For the Nationals, the handling of Strasburg has been scrutinized before; when he was younger and he was shut down ahead of Washington’s playoff run. There are some in the D.C. area that haven’t forgiven the Nationals for shutting Strasburg down when they did. Those same critics may be wondering why the team is once again making the Strasburg situation more complicated than it needs to with the team down 2-1 in the NLDS against the defending World Series champions.

Washington Post columnist Barry Svrluga points out the absurdity of an under-the-weather Strasburg even being at the ballpark with his teammates on Tuesday.

Why, then, was he even at the ballpark Tuesday? Why would he play catch, as he did in the outfield grass as other Nats warmed up? Why would he be at Wrigley in particular? It might be known as the “Friendly Confines,” but it’s hell on visiting teams, with the tiny visitors’ clubhouse forcing players and coaches and team officials to step over and around each other just to shower or dress or grab a bite to eat.That’s no place for a very ill

That’s no place for a very ill player, unless you want more very ill players.

That’s a pretty valid point. Plus, the Nationals should be desperate. They’ve had the window open to the NLCS and perhaps the World Series for a few years now, but they still cannot manage to squeeze through the opening.

Sure, things could work out for the Nationals. Roark could help lead the Nationals to a must-win Game 4 victory in Chicago to force the series to return home, and having Strasburg/Gonzalez/Scherzer available in some capacity for Game 5 would help stack the odds on the mound in the winner-take-all for Game 5, or allow the Nationals to have two of those three ready to go for Games 1 and 2 in the NLCS. But then again, things never go that easily for the Nats, even when everything seemingly falls into place for them.


And now reports have Strasburg starting today:

This only enhances the very Nationals nature of the story.

About Kevin McGuire

Contributor to Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Previously contributed to NBCSports.com. Host of the Locked On Nittany Lions Podcast. FWAA member and Philadelphia-area resident.