Phil Wood: Don't count out Lannan for Nationals' postseason rotation

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Sports,Phil Wood

It seems to be a foregone conclusion the Nationals will head into postseason play with a four-man rotation. That would likely leave one current starting pitcher either in the bullpen or off of the postseason roster entirely. As the ballclub prepares to play their final four regular-season games, the odd man out reportedly is left-hander John Lannan.

Since it's uncertain who the Nats will play in the NLDS, it's premature to assume anything. The winner of the play-in game between the two wild cards should be the determining factor as to which way the roster goes. The new playoff format allows for teams to reset their rosters between series, so the rotation used in the NLDS -- or even in that single wild-card game -- can be adjusted a couple of times.

Let's assume the Nats open the NLDS against the Braves. Conventional wisdom would seem to dictate that the Nats would want to start more left-handers with Atlanta boasting lefty swingers like Brian McCann, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Michael Bourn. In right-hander Edwin Jackson's career, he is 0-1 in six games (four starts) against the Braves, including two this year. In 271Ú3 innings, he's allowed 27 hits with 27 strikeouts. That loss came in one of his starts this season, though his 2012 numbers vs. Atlanta are otherwise pretty solid: 121Ú3 innings, nine hits, 16 strikeouts and four earned runs (2.92 ERA).

Lannan has 16 career starts against the Braves, going 9-5 with a 3.20 ERA. His initial start this year was in what was perhaps the biggest game of his career, July?21 against Atlanta, in the second game of a doubleheader. Washington had lost the opener, allowing the Braves to creep within 11Ú2 games of the first-place Nats. Lannan went a solid seven innings, allowing just five hits and two runs. The Nationals won the series finale on Sunday, and Atlanta left town trailing by the same 31Ú2 games they arrived with.

Jackson racks up the Ks; Lannan is a groundball guy. Lannan has the greater experience against the Braves, but how big a factor is that in manager Davey Johnson's mind? Yes, Lannan has a career losing record and a 4.01 ERA. Jackson's career ERA is even higher (4.36).

In the hubbub over Stephen Strasburg's shutdown, remember that he wasn't nearly as effective in his final five starts. He totaled 26 innings over those outings, allowing 25 hits and 13 earned runs for a 4.50 ERA. In Lannan's first five big league starts this year, he allowed 27 hits in 272Ú3 innings and the same 13 earned runs for a 4.23 ERA. Take away his rough outing against the Dodgers on Sept. 19 and his ERA drops to 2.62.

Jackson has 30 career relief appearances; Lannan has none. That may end up the larger factor in setting a postseason rotation. Jackson has an edge, but I wouldn't count Lannan out just yet.

Examiner columnist Phil Wood co-hosts the "Mid-Atlantic Sports Report" and is a regular contributor to "Nats Xtra" on MASN. Contact him at philwood@washingtonexaminer.com.

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Phil Wood

Staff reporter - sports
The Washington Examiner