NLDS Preview: Cardinals vs. Nationals

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You can’t predict baseball, but you can at least lay out the parameters. So let’s take a look at what the Cardinals and Nationals have in store for us in the National League Division Series.

The Teams

St. Louis Cardinals (88-74) vs. Washington Nationals (98-64)

The Matchups

Game 1 Sunday in St. Louis: Gio Gonzalez vs. Adam Wainwright
Game 2 Monday in St. Louis: Jordan Zimmermann vs. Jaime Garcia
Game 3 Wednesday in Washington, D.C.: Chris Carpenter vs. Edwin Jackson
Game 4 (if necessary) Thursday in Washington, D.C.
Game 5 (if necessary) Friday in Washington, D.C.

Analysis: The Nationals’ postseason rotation would obviously look far more fierce with Stephen Strasburg active, but you already knew that. And these previews are supposed to be informative. Gonzalez, a Cy Young Award candidate in the National League, posted a stellar 2.89 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 32 starts this year for the NL East champions, tallying 207 strikeouts over 199 1/3 innings. But he was almost a full run worse on the road (3.31 ERA) than at home (2.28 ERA) and he has a 4.2 career BB/9. The Cardinals, meanwhile, finished with the highest collective on-base percentage in the major leagues this season.

Beating Gonzalez in Game 1 would put the Cards in a pretty great spot. Game 2 starter Garcia has a 2.48 career ERA at home and matches up well against a Nats lineup that relies heavily on left-handed hitters Bryce Harper and Adam LaRoche. There’s a decent chance that 88-win St. Louis could be up 2-0 on 98-win Washington before the five-game series shifts to the nation’s capital. You have Bud Selig to thank for that one.

The Storylines

  • The Nats beat the Cards in four out of seven games during the regular season and outscored ’em 43-40.
  • Zimmermann had a 2.36 ERA in 16 road starts this season and a 3.54 ERA in 16 starts in Washington. If the Nationals drop Game 1 at Busch Stadium, he could be a stabilizing force the next day.
  • Wainwright showed some signs of fatigue in early September, but his final regular season start was against this same Nationals team and he held them to one earned run over six innings while striking out five. He’s been telling reporters all summer that his surgically-repaired right elbow is 100 percent healthy.
  • E-Jax started opposite Wainwright in that aforementioned game, yielding eight earned runs while recording only four outs against the team he won the World Series with in 2011. That game was played at Busch Stadium. Jackson should feel a little more comfortable at home in Nationals Park for Game 3.
  • Carpenter made a surprise return to the Cardinals’ rotation in mid-September after being ruled out for the year with thoracic outlet syndrome. He looked fairly sharp in his three starts down the stretch, posting a 3.71 ERA and 12/3 K/BB ratio in 17 innings against the Cubs, Astros and Reds. The veteran righty was an animal in the postseason last October and can be effective even when he doesn’t have his best stuff.
  • It’s an odd thing in a series that features big names like Matt Holliday, Ryan Zimmerman, Carlos Beltran, Jayson Werth and Yadier Molina, but the player most casual fans will tune in to see this week is the 19-year-old Harper. He registered a 1.043 OPS over his final 126 regular-season plate appearances and told CSN Washington’s Mark Zuckerman on Saturday that he has no nerves about playing in his first postseason game. Harper has been overshadowed somewhat this year by the Angels’ Mike Trout. With the Halos failing to make the playoffs, Bryce gets the phenom spotlight all to himself.
  • The Nationals will have a distinct advantage if these games are close in the later innings because of their dominant bullpen. Tyler Clippard struggled in September but has the goods to bounce back now that he’s been given a week of rest. Drew Storen has been exceptional his entire young career and Sean Burnett is an elite setup man. The Cards have some nice, battle-tested relievers in Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs and Lance Lynn, but there’s a clear talent discrepancy. Oh, and St. Louis will carry only one lefty in the ‘pen: Mark Rzepczynski. He had a 4.24 ERA in 46 2/3 innings during the regular season.

Prediction

At the MLB level, anything can happen in a five-game series. And there’s certainly no glaring favorite here. But the Cardinals get to open with two consecutive games at home, where they were 50-31 this season. A quick two-game lead would put the younger, less experienced Nationals roster on the ropes.

CARDINALS WIN THE SERIES 3-1

And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

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Good morning. I hope your Memorial Day is safe and meaningful. Here are what sound like some good thoughts about all of that. In the meantime, here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

White Sox 7, Tigers 3: Miguel Gonzalez took a perfect game into the seventh inning as the Chisox take three of four from the Tigers. Many baseball experts think that Memorial Day is the point of the baseball season when the early season mirages begin to dissipate and the shape of the season truly begins to take form. I think the wild card and overall parity has altered that some, pushing the date of baseball reality well into the summer, but it’s worth noting that the White Sox are only two games worse than the Cubs right now and have a better pythagorean record.

Dodgers, 9, Cubs 4: Cody Bellinger and Kiké Hernandez each hit three-run homers as the Dodgers offense compensates for a rare bad Clayton Kershaw start (4.1 IP, 4 R, 11 H, 3 HR). He’s allowed to have a bad day, though, I suppose. Jon Lester‘s was worse (3.1 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 2 HR).

Brewers 9, Diamondbacks 5: That Chicago thing is weird, but how many of you had the Milwaukee Brewers in first place come Memorial Day? They are — 1.5 games up on both the Cards and Cubs. Here Domingo Santana hit his first career grand slam and Jimmy Nelson struck out ten over seven innings.

Yankees 9, Athletics 5: Aaron Judge hit a grand slam and now sits at .321/.422/.679 and is on pace for 55 homers. His minor league track record suggested he’d be good, but I don’t think many folks expected him to be this good this fast. Meanwhile, Michael Pineda picked up his sixth win. He had six wins in all of 2016.

Rangers 3, Blue Jays 1: The Rangers snap a five-game losing streak as Joey Gallo‘s 15th homer broke a 1-1 tie in the fourth. He’s on pace for 48 homers and is hitting .198. That’s not ideal, but I hope he keeps that pace up exactly, mostly because it’ll make people’s heads explode. And by “people,” I mean those color commentators of a certain age who retreat to their fainting couches when players don’t hit the ball the other way, make contact for contact’s sake and think homers kill rallies.

Indians 10, Royals 1: Josh Tomlin tossed a complete game, allowing only one run on six hits. He only struck out three batters too, which goes against everything baseball in the teens is supposed to be about. It was probably a lot of fun to watch. Jason Kipnis went 4-for-4 with a home run and two RBI. He walked too, reaching base in all five plate appearances

Marlins 9, Angels 2: Marlins starter Jose Urena walked six guys in five innings. Struck out seven and got the win too. “That’s more like it,” says teens baseball. Giancarlo Stanton had three hits and a homer and J.T. Riddle homered and drove in three. Meanwhile, Mike Trout sprained his left thumb while stealing second base. X-rays revealed no fracture, but he is set to have an MRI today. If he’s out for a significant amount of time Angels fans can turn their attention to other things for the rest of the summer.

Mariners 5, Red Sox 0: Christian Bergman tossed seven shutout innings, allowing only four hits, to help halt the Red Sox’ six-game winning streak. Not bad considering the the last time he pitched he gave up ten runs on 14 hits. The M’s turned four double plays behind him in the first four innings. Robinson Cano and Guillermo Heredia hit homers.

Padres 5, Nationals 3: On Friday and Saturday the Padres scored only one run and had only six hits while striking out 31 times in losses to Max Scherzer and Steven Strasburg. Here they had five runs on fourteen hits. The lesson: it’s better to face Joe Ross than Max Scherzer and Steven Strasburg. Probably worth noting that Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Daniel Murphy and Matt Wieters were all out of the lineup for Washington.

Reds 8, Phillies 4Patrick Kivlehan hit two solo shots and Adam Duvall hit two two-run dongs. Scott Schebler hit only one homer. Slacker.

Rays 8, Twins 6: Fifteen innings of baseball lasting six hours and twenty-six minutes. Even Longoria and Logan Morrison ended the nonsense in the 15th with a pair of solo homers. Meanwhile, Joe Mauer did something special.

Astros 8, Orioles 4: Baltimore had a 3-0 lead at the end of an inning and a half, but it was all Houston after that. George Springer homered and Marwin Gonzalez and Yuli Gurriel each hit RBI doubles during the Astros’ six-run second inning. The O’s have lost seven straight.

Rockies 8, Cardinals 4Gerardo Parra had three hits, including a three-run homer as the Rockies win their fourth straight and their sixth in eight games. German Marquez got the win. The rookies went 4-1 in May. Overall, Rockies’ rookie starters finish 12-3 in May.

Giants 7, Braves 1: Johnny Cueto‘s blisters didn’t seen to be bothering him yesterday as he allowed one run on six hits and struck out eight over six innings. Brandon Crawford drove in three via a fielder’s choice and a two-run single.

Mets 7, Pirates 2: Matt Harvey allowed one run over six to win his second straight start. Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson each had three hits as the Mets rattled off 14 in all.

Report: Mets ownership backs Terry Collins

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The Mets entered Sunday night’s game against the Pirates with a disappointing 20-27 record. While the club has dealt with a litany of injuries, manager Terry Collins has also drawn criticism for in-game decision-making, particularly regarding his decision-making.

Owner Fred Wilpon is still Collins’ strongest supporter, however, Newsday’s Marc Carig reports. As a result, the team is unlikely to make a managerial change anytime soon. If the Mets continue to struggle, though, ownership may feel pressured to make a change.

Collins became the longest-tenured manager in Mets history last week. Collins managed the Mets to a 77-85 record in 2011 and has overall helped the club go 501-518, winning the NL Pennant in 2015. He is not signed to a contract beyond this season.