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: Tuesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Nationals 2, Padres 1: Michael Taylor had a night. He made an incredible throw home to save a run, then doubled home the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.

Here’s the throw:

Here’s the walk-off double:

Jeremy Hellickson held the Padres to one run but had to leave with one out in the sixth due to a blister. The Nats’ bullpen took it from there, fanning five over the final 3 2/3 innings. Opposing starter Eric Lauer was also solid, yielding a run in his six innings of work. Bryce Harper hit his 14th dinger of the year.

Braves 3, Phillies 1: The Braves hold onto their first-place lead over the Phillies, winning this nail-biter. Brandon McCarthy and Vince Velasquez matched up for a fourth time this season. McCarthy has won all four starts. He gave up a run on on four hits and two walks with five strikeouts. He owns a 2.08 ERA against the Phillies this season and a 6.53 ERA against everyone else. Velasquez struck out nine, but lasted only 4 1/3 innings, giving up two runs (one earned) on six hits and three walks. Ozzie Albies hit his 14th homer of the season and scored all three runs for the Braves. His power progression has been impressive, to say the least.

Indians 10, Cubs 1: Ugly loss for the Cubs. Starter Tyler Chatwood walked six and gave up four runs in 2 2/3 innings. Mike Montgomery, who relieved him, wasn’t any better, giving up six runs in 2 1/3 innings. Yonder Alonso racked up three hits and three RBI. Jose Ramirez hit a three-run home run. The top-third of the Indians’ lineup combined to go 5-for-11 with four walks and six runs scored. Trevor Bauer continued to deal, tossing six shutout frames with six strikeouts. His ERA stands at 2.35. Something, something, spin rate. The first-place Indians are back at .500 with a 23-23 record.

Blue Jays 5, Angels 3: The Blue Jays put up a five-spot in the first inning against Garrett Richards, proving to be all the offense they would need on the evening. The Angels helped them out with a wild pitch and a fielding error. Kendrys Morales capped off the frame with a two-run homer. J.A. Happ went seven innings, limiting the Angels to two runs on three hits and three walks with five strikeouts.

Reds 7, Pirates 2: Scooter Gennett put the Reds’ offense on his back, contributing an RBI double, a grand slam, and a sacrifice fly. You may recall Gennett hit four grand slams last year, becoming one of only a handful of players to accomplish the feat. He has five in the last calendar year. Matt Harvey limited the Pirates to just one run on three hits and two walks with five strikeouts over six innings. Jameson Taillon was on the hook for all six runs the Reds scored, going six innings with eight strikeouts.

Red Sox 4, Rays 2: It was mostly a bad night for the Rays, as starter Jake Faria and catcher Wilson Ramos both exited the game in the third inning with injuries. However, shortstop prospect Willy Adames crushed his first major league homer off of Chris Sale. Sale went 7 2/3 innings, giving up two runs (one earned) on four hits and two walks with nine strikeouts. He now holds a 2.17 ERA. Mookie Betts hit his major league-leading 16th homer of the season. Rafael Devers also went yard.

Marlins 5, Mets 1: Zack Wheeler pitched pretty well but the Mets just couldn’t swing the bats enough to support him. Wheeler struck out nine and gave up three runs (one earned) on seven hits with no walks over six innings. Caleb Smith was better, limiting the Mets to a lone run on three hits and two walks and eight strikeouts in 6 2/3 frames. Jose Bautista made his Mets debut, going 1-for-3 with a double.

Brewers 1, Diamondbacks 0: Another heart-breaker for the D-Backs. They have now lost six games in a row and 12 of their last 13. The Brewers’ lone run scored on a Domingo Santana sacrifice fly in the sixth inning. Jhoulys Chacin narrowly out-pitched Matt Koch and the Brewers’ bullpen took it from there. Matt Albers, Josh Hader, and Corey Knebel combined to hold the D-Backs scoreless for the final 12 outs. The first-place Brewers are 30-19. The Brewers might’ve scored more if not for Jarrod Dyson:

Rangers 6, Yankees 4: Jurickson Profar kicked things off for the Rangers with a three-run homer in the first inning. The Rangers scored two more in the second against Domingo German, who lasted 3 2/3 innings and was on the hook for all six runs in total. Cole Hamels held the Yankees to a pair of runs on four hits and two walks with seven strikeouts over seven innings. The two runs came on solo home runs from Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar. Austin Romine added two more in the eighth with a two-run shot off of Jake Diekman.

White Sox 3, Orioles 2: May continues to go well for James Shields, who now owns a 3.27 ERA in five starts this month (but a 4.62 ERA overall). He gave up only two runs on five hits and two walks with five strikeouts over seven innings. Kevin Gausman blanked the Sox over 6 1/3 innings on nine hits and a walk while striking out 10. Mark Trumbo went 3-for-3 with a pair of doubles and an RBI. Mychal Givens and Richard Bleier combined to fork over three runs to the White Sox in the bottom of the eighth inning, saddling Gausman with a no-decision.

Twins 6, Tigers 0: Lance Lynn finally put together a good start for the Twins. He shut out the Tigers across 6 2/3 innings, yielding only five hits and a walk while striking out four. The effort lowered his ERA to 6.34. The Twins scored three runs in the fifth and seventh innings, providing more than enough run support. Brian Dozier knocked in three of those runs with a pair of doubles. Ehire Adrianza reached base three times and picked up a pair of RBI in the effort as well.

Astros 11, Giants 2: The Astros singled and doubled the Giants to death, pounding out 12 total hits, none of which went for more than two bases, and drew five walks. Gerrit Cole gave up two runs on four hits and three walks with eight striekouts in six innings. His ERA ballooned all the way up to 1.86. Each pitcher that entered the game for the Giants gave up at least one run. It wasn’t all bad for the Giants — at least Brandon Crawford got to homer off of brother-in-law Gerrit Cole.

Royals 5, Cardinals 1: The Royals got homers from Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez plus seven strong innings from Jason Hammel. Hammel gave up nine hits, walked none, and struck out six in the effort. On a lot of other nights, Luke Weaver would’ve had a W, but settled for the L with seven innings of three-run ball. He struck out eight. Yairo Munoz and Marcell Ozuna each collected three hits. Gordon and Alcides Escobar had three hits each for the Royals.

Mariners 3, Athletics 2 (10 innings): Guillermo Heredia broke a 2-2 tie in the top of the 10th with an RBI double. Edwin Diaz worked a perfect bottom half with a pair of strikeouts to close it out. Both starters — Trevor Cahill for the A’s and Mike Leake for the Mariners — pitched into the seventh inning and gave up two runs.

Dodgers 5, Rockies 3: Chris Taylor hit a go-ahead two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth and Yasiel Puig tacked on an insurance run with a solo homer. Ian Desmond went yard for the Rockies.