The Washington Nationals march towards a division title and the franchise's first playoff appearance since 1981, when the team played in Montreal as the Expos. As fans brace for postseason play, the team is prepping their roster for their October date with destiny. Despite little pennant race drama thanks to a healthy 7.5 game lead in the standings, there are still interesting storylines to follow; as a handful of players audition for postseason roster spots.
With Stephen Strasburg officially shut down for the season, the Nationals will turn to their former rotation regular to finish his remaining starts of 2012. The team can count their blessings of having a proven and reliable starter at this stage of a season. From 2008-11 Lannan averaged 31 starts, 178 innings and an earned ruin average of 4.00. In 2011, the Nationals posted a 17-16 record in Lannan's starts, with the left-hander pitching five or more innings in 28 of his 33 contests.
The Nationals' bullpen has been one of the most dominant in baseball all season and the unit will get a talent infusion in this final month with the promotion of Garcia. The arrival of Garcia is a testament to the drive this pitcher possesses; as the right-hander has had to overcome two Tommy John surgeries and a third surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow. This season the reliever posted a microscopic 0.56 earned run average during his stint in AAA Harrisburg, with an equally impressive WHIP of 0.87. Having a potential lights-out reliever available with current relievers either injured (Sean Burnett) or recently returning from injury (Drew Storen) will be a huge plus for Washington. Through his play this season Garcia has demonstrated he has the tools worthy of pitching in October.
A 2009 National League All Star while pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Duke brings veteran experience and versatility to the pitching staff in September. If any starter is in need of rest, Duke can fill the void. Like Lannan, this left-hander has been a key cog in his prior team's rotations, starting 30 or more games three times in his past seven campaigns. This season Duke won 15 games for AAA Harrisburg and is durable enough to log innings wherever needed. With Tom Gorzellany as the incumbent left-handed long reliever, there is little likelihood that Duke will make the playoff roster.
The oft-injured Wang will again try to demonstrate he is healthy and capable of contributing to the Nationals in the playoffs. Having a pitcher with playoff experience would be an advantage, but he has yet to show an ability to remain healthy and consistent. His September appearances will be his final opportunity to show the team's investment in him (three years, $7 million) was worth while. If nothing else, Wang will be pitching for his next professional contract, whether it is in Washington or elsewhere.
The highly touted prospect brings tremendous speed and outfield versatility to Washington. In September Perez will likely be utilized in a spot starting role, but most likely to be a defensive replacement or pinch runner. With Roger Bernadina doing a solid job in the role of fourth outfielder / defensive replacement for the Nationals all season, there is little chance that Perez will make the October roster. But even if Perez cannot play for Washington in October, this experience will pay dividends for him in years to come.
There are few underlying storylines for a team that has been one of baseball's best all season, but the Nationals have an unprecedented abundance of talent in place. This glut of talent will ensure that the everyday starters get needed rest as well as provide a look at what their future roles may be beyond this season.
Scott Duhaime has been a devoted fan of the Washington Nationals (formerly Montreal Expos) for over 30 years.
Follow Scott on Twitter: @Scott_Duhaime