Gio Gonzalez
(Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Upon clinching the National League East on Monday night, the Nationals scratched left-hander Gio Gonzalez from his final start of the regular season in order to preserve their No. 1 playoff starter for any potential postseason scenario. Left-hander Tom Gorzelanny will replace Gonzalez, a 21-game winner and Cy Young candidate.

Manager Davey Johnson tabbed Gonzalez to start Game 1 of the National League Division Series. The problem is, the Nationals are tied with the Reds in the race for the top seed with two games to go. They still do not know when their NLDS will begin.

If the Nationals finish ahead of the Reds for best record in the NL – or tied, by virtue of winning the season series, five games to two – then they will open the five-game series Sunday, at the winner of the wild-card game between the Braves and either Cardinals or Dodgers. This scenario would give Gonzalez regular rest.

But if the Reds beat out the Nationals, then the Nationals would begin their NLDS on Saturday at San Francisco. Under that scenario, Gonzalez would have three games of rest and would have to be pushed back. And so to be safe, the Nationals will end Gonzalez’s regular season and let him stay fresh by throwing in the bullpen.

In his first regular season with the Nationals, Gonzalez fulfilled the promise the Nationals saw in him when they shipped four prospects to the Oakland A’s to acquire him. Gonzalez finishes the year with an NL-best 21 wins, a 2.89 ERA (sixth in the National League) and 207 strikeouts (fourth). Gonzalez is a leading candidate for the Cy Young, but his lack of innings may be counted against him. His 199 1/3 innings ranks him 18th in the NL.

Also, just to clarify, here’s the Nationals’ playoff schedule based on their seed:

If first seed: Sunday and Monday on the road; Wednesday, Thursday, Friday at home

If second seed: Saturday and Sunday in San Francisco; Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday at home