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NLDS Game 5 preview: Cubs vs. Nationals, Thursday 10/12, 7 p.m. CT

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The winner tonight heads to Los Angeles to face the Dodgers in the NLCS.

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Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

A few thoughts about the Cubs, the Nationals, and elimination games.

The Cubs have won the last four elimination games they have played: the 2015 wild-card game, and the three games they needed to win last year’s World Series after going down three games to one against the Indians.

Also, the Cubs have been in this precise position just once. That is, tied 2-2 in a division series and having to play Game 5 on the road. That was in 2003, when they won Game 5 in Atlanta. (Yes, I know they played and lost Game 5 of a postseason series, dropping the series, after a 2-2 tie, on the road in San Diego in 1984. That was the NLCS, not a division series.)

The Nats... not so much. The franchise has never won a playoff series in four tries, and on three of those four occasions it has gone to Game 5 in the first playoff round. They lost in the added postseason round in 1981, when Rick Monday’s home run defeated the Nationals’ predecessor franchise in Montreal; they lost in Game 5 of a division series against the Cardinals in 2012 when they were twice one strike away from victory; and they lost Game 5 last year to the Dodgers with a seventh-inning bullpen meltdown.

And then there’s Dusty Baker, who was the manager of that loss a year ago. Dusty has not done well in winner-take-all games, as we well know. His 2013 Reds lost the wild-card game to the Pirates (after which he was let go), and his 2012 Reds lost three straight games to the Giants at home after taking a 2-0 lead over them in a division series. You all know about Game 7 in 2003, no sense belaboring that, and Dusty’s Giants lost Game 7 of the 2002 World Series as well.

By my count that’s seven straight winner-take-all games lost by Dusty Baker-managed teams.

Let’s make that eight tonight. One more note about this, via MLB official historian John Thorn:

Home teams are 53–53 in winner-take-all games in baseball postseason history.

One thing that has to change in order for the Cubs to win this game and series is this, though:

Better relief pitching, please.

Here are today’s particulars.

Cubs lineup:

Jay LF, Bryant 3B, Rizzo 1B, Contreras C, Almora CF, Russell SS, Heyward RF, Baez 2B, Hendricks P

Nationals lineup:

Turner SS, Werth LF, Harper RF, Zimmerman 1B, Murphy 2B, Rendon 3B, Wieters C, Taylor CF, Gonzalez P

Kyle Hendricks vs. Gio Gonzalez

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Kyle Hendricks was awesome in Game 1. He allowed just two singles and three walks and had the Nats off balance most of the night with his changeup. Dusty Baker said, after the game, that he felt Nats hitters weren’t aggressive enough with Hendricks’ fastball early in the count. That’s perhaps a fair statement, but now that this potential strategy is out in the open, I’d expect The Professor and the Cubs to adjust to the possibility.

Kyle has stepped up bigtime in postseason games. You’ll recall his magnificent outing against Clayton Kershaw in Game 6 of the 2016 NLCS, the game that sent the Cubs to the World Series. He threw well in two games of that World Series, including getting the start in Game 7.

In eight career postseason starts, Kyle has a 1.98 ERA and 1.000 WHIP in 41 innings. With the rainout, he’s going on five days’ rest.

Here’s an interesting read from SB Nation’s Minor League Ball: a prospect retrospective on Hendricks looking back on how he was viewed while coming up through both the Rangers and Cubs farm systems.

Joe Maddon stated that Jose Quintana could be called on in relief of Hendricks if needed. That means it’s an “all hands on deck” day.

The Cubs scored three runs off Gio Gonzalez, tonight’s starter, in five innings in Game 2. All the runs came on home runs — a solo shot by Willson Contreras in the second inning, and a two-run homer by Anthony Rizzo in the fourth. Gonzalez is going on normal (four days) rest.

He will likely be backed up by Tanner Roark, who hasn’t pitched yet in this series.

Roark thus hasn’t pitched in 11 days, when he threw one inning of relief on the last day of the regular season, and hasn’t started in 15 days, and he got hit pretty hard by the Phillies in that outing.

Roark allowed two runs in 6⅓ innings against the Cubs August 4 at Wrigley Field, both of those runs scoring on a home run by Javier Baez. Roark was also somewhat worse pitching at Nationals Park this year (5.04 ERA, 15 home runs in 94⅔ innings) than on the road (4.26 ERA, eight home runs in 86⅔ innings).

Today’s game is on TBS. Announcers: Ernie Johnson, Ron Darling, Sam Ryan.

Here is the complete MLB.com Mediacenter for today.

MLB.com Gameday (classic mode) (Note: Going forward, I am going to link to the “classic” Gameday here because MLB.com broke the links I used to use to get to their “new” Gameday. If you click on this link, you can then click on “New Gameday” at the bottom of the page to get to the updated version. Note that the “classic” Gameday won’t load until just before game time.)

Baseball-reference.com game preview

SB Nation game preview

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The 2017 Game Thread procedure will be the same as the one used during 2016. Here's how it works.

You'll find the game preview posted separately on the front page, two hours before game time (90 minutes for some early day games following night games).

At the same time, a StoryStream containing the preview will also post on the front page. The First Pitch Thread and all the overflow threads will be published in that stream, as well as the recap. The recap will also live on the front page as a separate post, and at the time I write the recap I will rename the stream "Cubs vs. (Team) (Day of Week) Game Threads" so you can go back and find every thread related to that particular game.

You will also be able to find the preview, First Pitch Thread, all the overflow threads and recap in the box marked "Chicago Cubs Game Threads" at the bottom of the front page (you can also find them in this section link). They will also appear in the game's StoryStream as noted above.

The First Pitch thread will post at five minutes before game time, then an overflow thread at one hour, two hours and 2:45 after the scheduled game time.

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Discuss amongst yourselves.