Nationals take on the Cardinals in Game 1 of the NLCS tonight

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That best-of-five nonsense is behind us. Not it’s best-of-seven time. The League Championship Series are upon us and we get started tonight with the National League.

The Game: Washington Nationals vs. St. Louis Cardinals
The Time: 8:08 PM Eastern
The Ballpark: Busch Stadium, St. Louis, Missouri
The Channel: TBS
The Starters: Aníbal Sánchez vs. Miles Mikolas

The Upshot:

The Nationals finally progressed past the Division Series round, beating the heavily favored Dodgers in dramatic fashion in their Game 5 matchup on Wednesday and the Cardinals dispatched with the Braves, trouncing them in resounding fashion in their Game 5. Now each team has to reset and gird themselves for a longer battle, each starting with someone other than their ace thanks to their first series going the distance.

Sánchez started Game 3 against the Dodgers, holding them to one run and four hits in five innings while posting nine strikeouts while getting a no-decision in the Nats loss. He faced the Cardinals once this season but it was way back in April. In that one he allowed three runs in five innings, taking the loss.

Mikolas started Game 1 against the Braves in the NLDS, allowing one run in five innings. He also pitched an inning of scoreless relief to earn the victory in Game 4. While that nominally puts him on less than full rest, he only threw ten pitches plus his bullpen warmup in that game, which amounts to nothing more than a between-starts side session, so don’t figure he’ll have any issues, at least when it comes to stamina or freshness. Mikolas made two starts against the Nationals this year. His last one wasn’t too long ago: on September 17 he allowed three runs in six innings and took the loss. He faced them back on May 1 and allowed one run in six and got the win.

That was a very different Nationals team, of course. Back then they were on their way to — and stop me if you’ve heard this one — starting the season with a record of 19-31 by the end of May, with everyone preparing to write their season off and calling for Dave Martinez’s head. As they showed the rest of the way — and truly illustrated against the Dodgers — they are a far better team than that overall. Even a mediocre start could’ve given them the NL East this year. All that matters about that poor start now is that, as the Wild Card team, they don’t have home field advantage even though they had a better record than the Cards.

St. Louis was not all that dominant in 2019 either. They were a game under .500 just after the All-Star break before turning it on and, it should be noted, benefitting from the Cubs’ collapse and the Brewers’ mid-season swoon. They would not be in the NLCS, however, if they hadn’t pulled things together late and then taken it up a notch against a Braves team that, on paper anyway, should have been favored. The paper we tend to look at, though, doesn’t always show the things these Cardinals are really good at. At least not prominently. The defense is solid. Their hitting has proven timely (and scary in the first inning of Game 5). We’re not big fans of the concept of “intangibles” around here, but the 2019 St. Louis Cardinals have proven to be greater than the sum of their parts. Which, as anyone familiar with that franchise’s work over the past couple of decades, is nothing new.

All of which means this should shape up to be a pretty evenly-matched and, hopefully, entertaining series. The winner of which will have to take on a 100-win behemoth in the World Series. But we’ll save that for, oh, ten days from now, shall we?

Orioles sign OF Aaron Hicks, put Cedric Mullins on 10-day IL with groin strain

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BALTIMORE — The Baltimore Orioles signed outfielder Aaron Hicks less than 24 hours after Cedric Mullins went down with a strained right groin.

Mullins went on the 10-day injured list, but the Orioles are hoping Hicks can help defensively in the spacious outfield at Camden Yards. Hicks was released last week by the New York Yankees with more than 2 1/2 seasons left on his contract.

“We had noticed that he was a free agent even before the injury,” Orioles general manager Mike Elias said. “When the injury occurred and it became pretty clear this was going to be an IL, it seemed like a good fit even more so at that time.”

The Orioles are responsible for paying Hicks just $483,871, a prorated share of the $720,000 minimum salary. The Yankees owe him the rest of his $10.5 million salary this year, plus $9.5 million in each of the next two seasons and a $1 million buyout of a 2026 team option.

The 33-year-old Hicks hit just .188 in 28 games for the Yankees this year.

“We have stuff that we look at from a scouting and evaluation perspective,” Elias said. “It’s very different from just looking at the back of a baseball card, and we hope that we get a bounceback from anyone we bring here.”

Hicks batted .216 last season.

“Hopefully that’s a good thing for him,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of the Baltimore deal. “A lot of time here and a lot of good things happened for him here. I know the last couple of years have been a struggle. But hopefully it’s a good opportunity for him and certainly wish him well. Not too well being in our division and a team we’re chasing, but hopefully it’s a really good fit for him.”

Mullins left a loss to Cleveland after he pulled up while running out an infield grounder. Outfielder Colton Cowser – the fifth pick in the draft two years ago – is hitting .331 at Triple-A Norfolk, but he went on the IL in the past couple weeks.

“Certainly he was building a case towards promotion consideration prior to his injury and prior to Cedric’s injury,” Elias said. “We’ll just see where we’re at.”

Hicks was active for the game but not in the starting lineup. Austin Hays, normally Baltimore’s left field, was in Mullins’ usual spot in center.

When the wall in left at Camden Yards was pushed significantly back before last season, it made left field a bigger challenge defensively.

“In this park … you really need two center fielders,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Aaron’s got a lot of center-field experience. Played left field here before also. Brings the defensive aspect and then the switch-hitting.”