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On The Horizon: Cubs vs. Nationals National League Division Series preview

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Here’s a look at the matchups for this first-round playoff series.

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

We’ve had a lot here about this series all week, so let’s get right to the view from the other side, from Patrick Reddington, who runs our SB Nation Nationals site Federal Baseball:

A week ago, a lot of my confidence about the Nationals’ chances of success revolved around the 1-2 punch in their rotation with right-handed starters Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg going in the first two games. Right now the Nationals are talking about when Scherzer is going to start after he tweaked his hamstring last Saturday.

Don’t bring up the word “tweak” with Joe Maddon again, please.

We know now, as of this afternoon, that it’s going to be Stephen Strasburg in Game 1 and all signs point towards Gio Gonzalez in Game 2 though the Nationals didn’t make Gonzalez’s outing official by late Thursday. Scherzer didn’t throw a bullpen, however, which he’d planned on throwing but didn’t in the last two days with Dusty Baker explaining that the team decided to push it back.

Maybe Maddon was right to not trust all the tweak talk that followed Scherzer’s injury.

On the offensive end, I’m expecting Bryce Harper, who finally barreled a few up in the regular season finale, to rise to the occasion after working hard to return from what I thought was a season-ending knee injury on the night he slipped on first base back on August 12.

His timing, as expected, wasn’t there when he did return to the lineup late last month, but the Nationals, who were actually still pretty good without him, need him hitting in the heart of the lineup if they’re going to go far this fall in my opinion.

Scherzer and Harper are the big questions for me. I think Strasburg is going to be properly motivated to do something special after missing out on two of the Nats’ three previous postseason runs.

Having him available, and more importantly, starting Game 1 in what was expected to be Scherzer’s start, is huge.

Fun fact

The Nationals are the 10th N.L. team the Cubs have faced in the postseason, following (in chronological order) the Padres, Giants, Braves, Marlins, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Pirates, Cardinals and Mets. (The Cubs have faced the Giants, Braves and Dodgers in two different postseason series.)

Pitching matchups (regular-season statistics)

Game 1 at Nationals Park, Friday 10/6: Kyle Hendricks, RHP (7-5, 3.03 ERA, 1.189 WHIP, 3.88 FIP) vs. Stephen Strasburg, RHP (15-4, 2.52 ERA, 1.015 WHIP, 2.72 FIP)

Game 2 at Nationals Park, Saturday 10/7: Jon Lester, LHP (13-8, 4.33 ERA, 1.323 WHIP, 4.10 FIP) vs. Gio Gonzalez, LHP (15-9, 2.96 ERA, 1.179 WHIP, 3.93 FIP)

Game 3 at Wrigley Field, Monday 10/9: Jose Quintana, LHP (11-11, 4.15 ERA, 1.224 WHIP, 3.68 FIP) vs. Max Scherzer, RHP (16-6, 2.51 ERA, 0.902 WHIP, 2.90 FIP)

Game 4 at Wrigley Field, Tuesday 10/10 (if necessary): Jake Arrieta, RHP (14-10, 3.53 ERA, 1.218 WHIP, 4.16 FIP) vs. TBD

Game 5 at Nationals Park, Thursday 10/12 (if necessary): TBD vs. TBD

  • Jose Quintana’s numbers above include his 18 starts with the White Sox. With the Cubs: 14 starts, 7-3, 3.74 ERA, 1.103 WHIP, 3.25 FIP

Game times (All games televised on TBS.)

Announcers for this series will be Ernie Johnson, Ron Darling and Sam Ryan.

Game 1, Friday 10/6: 6:31 p.m. CT

Game 2, Saturday 10/7: 4:38 p.m. CT

Game 3, Monday 10/9: TBD

Game 4, Tuesday 10/10: TBD

Game 5, Thursday 10/12: TBD

The starting pitcher matchups above are from publicly-available information at the time of this post, still subject to change. Game times had not been announced past Saturday as of the time of this post.

Umpires for this series

Jerry Layne, Cory Blaser, Fieldin Culbreth, Laz Diaz, Ron Kulpa and Will Little.

Prediction

This will not be an easy series to win. The Nationals have outstanding starting pitching and a bullpen that’s much better than it was when these teams split four games at Nationals Park in June.

But the Cubs are a very good team, too, and they have the advantage — and yes, it is one — of having won the World Series and coming back from being down in various ways during that postseason run. That experience is tremendously valuable.

Meanwhile, the Nats have made the postseason three times in the last five years and haven’t made it past the first round in any of them. Thus in some ways, the pressure is on them. And then there’s Dusty Baker, whose teams have lost the last four times they have been in postseason play, sometimes in spectacular fashion.

The fact that Max Scherzer apparently won’t go in Game 1 or Game 2 has to be an advantage for the Cubs. It means his hamstring injury is likely a bit more serious than we’ve been led to believe. Further, it means he’ll only be able to throw in one of the five games — and at Wrigley Field, where the Cubs lit him up the last time they faced him, May 6, 2016, including hitting four home runs off him.

Cubs in five.

Poll

The result of the Cubs/Nationals NLDS will be...

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Cubs win 3-0
    (30 votes)
  • 40%
    Cubs win 3-1
    (203 votes)
  • 35%
    Cubs win 3-2
    (180 votes)
  • 2%
    Nationals win 3-0
    (12 votes)
  • 8%
    Nationals win 3-1
    (43 votes)
  • 7%
    Nationals win 3-2
    (36 votes)
504 votes total Vote Now