Once all four American League playoff teams start their second game of the Divisional Series earlier today, the National League will open play. The NLDS round begins with the Cubs and Nationals, NL Central champs and defending World Series champions against the NL East champs.
The Nationals’ advantage in this series is their starting pitching. While the Cubs have some questions up and down their rotation, the Nats have two aces to throw Games 1 & 2.
At least that’s what they had thought. Now, Washington has some problems too, namely Max Scherzer’s bum hamstring. Dusty Baker will not push Scherzer to start either of the first two games at home and instead will go with Stephen Strasburg in Game 1 and Gio Gonzalez in Game 2. The tentative plan is to throw Scherzer, who insists he will pitch in the series, in Game 3.
That’s not a horrible situation for the Nationals. Strasburg has been fantastic all season, but even better of late. His ERA was virtually nonexistent in September — 0.83 in five starts. Overall, he finished 15–4 with an ERA just over 2.50 and a WHIP barely over 1.00. He has only made one postseason appearance in his career and, though it was a loss, he gave up one earned run in five innings against the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants.
He’ll be met by the one guy Joe Maddon feels he can really trust at this point: Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks battled injuries in the heat of the summer but he finished the last two months uninterrupted and dominant. Hendricks posted an ERA in the low-2.00s in his last 11 starts. That strong finish, coupled with his reliability in last year’s postseason, has earned him the start in Game 1 of this series.
He will face a lineup that was the best in baseball out of the gates but doesn’t look the way it did anymore. Bryce Harper came back right at the end of September after missing a month and a half and managed just three singles in 18 at-bats. Ryan Zimmermann and Jayson Werth are healthy enough to start but neither seemed to finish the season with the sort of energy they started it with. October can change that, though.
I’m actually more willing to bet on Hendricks being the better starting pitcher tonight. Strasburg has the stuff but we have seen this week that missed locations make the difference in the postseason, especially when the other lineup can hit the ball out of the park. The Cubs have some power and are in a better position to take advantage of Strasburg’s mistakes than the Nats when the Professor does happen to miss location. Then there is the huge mismatch that is Joe Maddon against Dusty Baker. Washington is favored in this series but I like the Cubs and I especially like them in Game 1 on the road in what should be a low-scoring, coin flip sort of game.
Free Pick: Cubs (+1) +100