Win-or-go-home games becoming norm

3B — Josh Donaldson: A catcher when the Cubs traded him for Rich Harden, he was 5-for-17 for the A's against the Tigers' stingy pitching staff.

LF — Yoenis Cespedes: You can make good arguments for Ryan Ludwick and Nate McLouth, but only Cespedes stole second and third, then scored on a wild pitch.

CF — Angel Pagan: He had only three hits but made the most of them, driving in four runs against the Reds. Another former Cub, he's a very good all-around player.

RF — Jayson Werth: His game-winning homer Thursday sent the Nationals to Friday's Game 5.

UT — Raul Ibanez: The Yankees don't make it to Game 5 without his two homers off the bench in Game 3.

Head over heart: The emotional groundswell against the Nationals' decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg a month ago peaked last week, when the Nats played the Cardinals without him. General manager Mike Rizzo fired back at critics quoted anonymously by USA Today, telling CBSSports.com that he can take the heat, especially from unnamed rivals.

"That's not how we do things in my neighborhood,'' said Rizzo, who grew up in River Grove, the Chicago suburb known for its iconic hot-dog stand, Gene & Jude's. Of course not. The River Grove motto is "Village of Friendly Neighbors.''

Rizzo hasn't been treated kindly since taking Strasburg off the big stage with an unprecedented decision. But it's highly unlikely that the decision greatly affected the Nationals, who replaced him with lefty Ross Detwiler, who allowed no earned runs in six innings of Game 4.

As great as Verlander is, the Tigers were 4-4 in his eight postseason starts before this year, and there's no reason to think Strasburg wouldn't have had a similar learning curve. There really wasn't that big of a falloff from Strasburg to Detwiler.

Writing for ESPN.com, Dave Szymborski uses his ZiPS system for projection to estimate that Strasburg would have been likely to allow 3.27 runs per nine innings in the playoffs compared to 3.88 for Detwiler. Mixed with the Nationals' lineup and bullpen, he says that meant Washington could have expected a 64.4 percent chance to win a game behind Strasburg compared to a 58.2 percent chance behind Detwiler.

That means one more victory for every 16 games lined up behind Strasburg. Is that worth the wear and tear?

For what it's worth, based on their value compared to the talent behind them, Szymborski says there were 15 more important players in the postseason than Strasburg. The least replaceable according to his calculations — Posey, Votto, Miguel Cabrera, Verlander and Johnny Cueto.

progers@tribune.com

Twitter @ChiTribRogers

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