Starting Strasburg is fine -- but if Nationals don't hit, they're done

Kurkjian: 'Strasburg situation is bizarre beyond words' (0:50)

Tim Kurkjian says the timeline of events that led up to Stephen Strasburg starting Game 4 were very strange. (0:50)

CHICAGO -- Regardless of how we got here, starting Stephen Strasburg is the right move for the Washington Nationals.

If you want, go ahead and skewer the Nats organization for how they botched the messaging. Scratch your head over how, after Tuesday’s Game 4 was rained out, manager Dusty Baker announced that scheduled starter Tanner Roark – the team’s No. 4 guy – would still pitch in the makeup game on Wednesday because Strasburg, who in theory could’ve worked on normal four days’ rest, was under the weather.

Shake your head in empathy for Roark, the Illinois native who went to sleep on Tuesday (if he actually slept) thinking he was starting the biggest game of his life in the stadium he grew up worshipping, and then reported for duty on Wednesday only to find out that he’d been Strasburged.

Skewer and scratch and shake to your heart’s content. Done? Good, because none of it matters.

None of it matters unless the Nationals start hitting. Whether Washington sends Strasburg or Roark or the ghost of Walter Johnson out into the blustery elements at Wrigley Field on Wednesday, it matters not. Not unless the Nats’ bats suddenly awaken from their astonishing October lumber slumber.

“He was much more like the real Stephen Strasburg,” said GM Mike Rizzo of the hurler who showed up to the park on Wednesday, flush with antibiotics. “We felt that that Stephen Strasburg gave us a much better chance to win Game 4.”

If Strasburg is 90 to 95 percent of his usual self, as Baker said a couple hours prior to first pitch, that would still be 5 to 10 percent less than the guy that showed up in the series opener. If you’re scoring at home, that complete version of Strasburg held the mighty Cubs lineup hitless through the first five frames. In seven innings, he allowed three hits, no earned runs, and fanned 10 to set a franchise postseason record. But the Nationals still lost because, well, they didn’t score any runs.

Three days later, Nats ace Max Scherzer one-upped Strasburg by carrying a no-hitter into the seventh inning of Game 3. But the Nationals still lost, in large part because they managed just one run on three hits. In between, they managed to win Game 2 thanks to an eighth-inning explosion that featured five runs on four hits, including dramatic home runs by Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman. But outside of that momentary glimpse -- which served as a reminder of just how good Washington’s offense was during the regular season -- the Nats simply haven’t hit.

How impotent has the offense been? For the series, the Nats are hitting just .121, which is three points lower than the all-time record for worst team average in a single postseason series (Reds, 2010 NLDS), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Sure, it’s playoff baseball, a time when pitching is better because teams are better and because No. 5 starters don’t exist and because aces such as Justin Verlander and Chris Sale and, in all likelihood, Scherzer, suddenly turn into relievers.

Yes, the guys who pitch and catch the ball for the other team get paid. But Washington’s hitters get paid too, and for most of the first three games against the Cubs, they haven’t earned it. Unless that changes, it doesn’t matter who takes the mound in Game 4.