Washington Nationals starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg has won 17 games and has been pitching especially well lately. Will he start for the team in Tuesday’s wild-card game? (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

There is an age-old baseball question: If you had one game that your team absolutely had to win, which pitcher would you choose to start the game?

The question is a way to examine which pitchers are almost certain to overpower the other team and hold them to just a few or maybe no runs. But it is also a way to ask which pitcher has the cool confidence to pitch his best in a big game.

Over the years, baseball fans have answered the question with a number of pitchers. Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers was the best pitcher in baseball in the early 1960s. From around 1998 to 2003, big league batters could barely touch Pedro Martinez of the Boston Red Sox.


Pitcher Max Scherzer, who has won 11 games this year for the Nationals, may get the nod to pitch Tuesday, according to recent comments from Manager Dave Martinez. He has missed some time this season because of injuries. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Or if you want to go way back, you might choose Walter Johnson. The “Big Train,” as he was called, threw an unbelievable 110 shutouts from 1907 to 1927 for the Washington Senators. Other fans have other favorites.

The Washington Nationals have to make that age-old baseball decision. Because of their recent wins against the Philadelphia Phillies, the Nats will play in the National League Wild Card game on Tuesday.

That’s a one-game playoff between the two teams that have the best regular-season records but did not win their division. The winner of the game goes on to play the Los Angeles Dodgers in a five-game series. The loser goes home.

The Nats absolutely have to win this game. So which pitcher should they start?

Washington is lucky to have three terrific pitchers. The chart below shows the regular-season win-loss records and earned run averages of the Nats’ three top starters.

Pitcher Win-loss record ERA
Patrick Corbin 14-7 3.05
Max Scherzer 11-7 2.92
Stephen Strasburg 17-6 3.37

Let’s begin by saying the Nats shouldn’t start Patrick Corbin. He’s an outstanding pitcher, but he has never pitched in the postseason. Who knows how he would react to the pressure of a winner-take-all game?

A lot of Washington fans would say: “Start Max Scherzer!” After all, he has received the Cy Young Award three times for being the league’s best pitcher. This season, “Mad Max” has struck out more than 12 batters every nine innings.

But Scherzer was injured and missed several starts during July and August. Since his return, Scherzer has been good but not great.

Since the middle of August, Stephen Strasburg has started seven games and has posted an earned run average of 1.80. That’s fantastic.

Manager Dave Martinez appears to be leaning toward Scherzer. But if I were making the decision, I would choose Strasburg. It’s close, but Strasburg is pitching the best right now.

And the Nationals absolutely have to win this game.