After a couple interesting division series matchups, we are left with a pair of underdogs going head-to-head in the National League Championship Series as the St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Nationals get set for the best-of-seven series set to begin on Friday night. Both teams have already exceeded expectations. Now it’s time to see which will continue their magic journey to the Fall Classic.
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- NLCS Preview: Washington Nationals vs. St. Louis Cardinals
- Date and Time: Game 1 slated for Friday, October 11, 2019 at 8:08 p.m. ET
- Location: Busch Stadium and Nationals Park
- 2019 MLB Betting Odds at Betcris: (Check Back Later)
- Nationals vs. Cardinals 2019 MLB TV Coverage: FS1 and FOX
The rotations are still unannounced, but Game 1 isn’t likely to feature any of the big names on either staff with both teams having to go to their big guns late in the NLDS to advance. With that, Adam Wainwright or Miles Mikolas are favorites to get the start for the Cardinals in the first two games of the series while Anibal Sanchez is likely to get the nod in Game 1 for the Nationals while Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin catch their respective breath after being used heavily both starting and relieving against the Dodgers.
Overall, the Nationals’ rotation is the deeper one. Sanchez is the team’s No.4 starter, but the veteran right-hander is coming off a strong season where he went 11-8 with a 3.85 ERA and 1.271 WHIP in 30 starts. He also pitched well against the Dodgers in the NLDS, going five innings and giving up just one run—on a solo homer—and limited the opposition to four hits and a pair of walks.
Unlike the other three in the Washington rotation, Sanchez isn’t one to go too deep in games. Dave Martinez is likely to give him a couple times through the order and will be happy with five or six solid frames. That’s just what he’s been able to deliver more times than not. That said, the Cardinals did stick him for three runs in five innings in his only start against them this season.
After the opener of the series, the Nationals will turn to their three aces to start the next three games. Scherzer pitched to 2.92 ERA in the regular season and tossed a gem in Game 4 to push the NLDS to a fifth game. He held the Dodgers to a run in seven innings. That was huge, particularly considering Scherzer hadn’t really looked his dominant self at the end of the regular season nor in the Wild Card game where he allowed three runs in five innings to the Brewers, but between his Game 4 start and shutdown inning in Game 2, he seems to be back to elite form just in time for the NLCS.
Strasburg, meanwhile, had a 6.5 WAR season this year, going 18-6 with a 3.32 ERA and 1.038 WHIP in 209 innings, the wins and innings pitched lead the league.
Beyond that, he’s established himself as a strong postseason pitcher with a 1.32 cumulative ERA through his first six postseason appearances.
In the NLDS, Strasburg made two starts, throwing 12 innings and allowing just four runs on nine hits and one walk while striking out 17 against the NL’s best offense by nearly every statistical measure.
Over his career, Strasburg has owned the Cardinals, making eight starts against them and pitching to a 2.50 ERA.
As for the last of the Nationals’ three-headed monster, Corbin—the southpaw of the group—was 14-7 with a 3.25 ERA in 202 regular season innings. This season marks his first time pitching in the postseason. He pitched well in Game 1, going six innings, giving up two runs—one earned—on three hits, but he did walk five.
Interestingly, Corbin pitched in both losses for the Nationals, taking the loss in Game 1 and then coming in out of the pen in Game 3 of the NLDS and allowing six runs in less than an inning. He bounced back in a clean 1.1 inning performance in Game 5, however, and will hope to carry that into the NLCS.
On the other side of this matchup, Jack Flaherty is the ace of the staff for the Cardinals even though he’s not likely to get the start until Game 3 after starting Game 5 of the NLDS. The 23-year old right-hander really came into his own in the second half of the season. He ended the year going 11-8 with a 2.75 ERA but was nearly unhittable down the stretch. The youngster in his second full season pitched to a 0.91 second half ERA in 15 starts, striking out 124 in 99.1 innings and allowing just five homers and 48 hits in that time. Making two starts in the NLDS, he pitched 13 innings, allowing four runs and striking out 16 to just two walks.
Instead of Flaherty, Wainwright and Mikolas get the first two games and offer some solid veteran presence. Wainwright also boasts a ton of postseason experience and success with a 2.79 postseason ERA through 25 appearances. That includes a lights-out start against the Braves in the NLDS where he went 7.2 scoreless innings.
While his NLDS appearance was vintage Wainwright, his stuff isn’t nearly what it was in his younger days. Still, he knows how to pitch in the postseason and keep his team in the game. He also had a respectable regular season this year after some struggles over the last few years. This year, he went 14-10 with a 4.19 ERA and 102 ERA+. He pitched to a 2.56 ERA at home this season and his first start of the NLCS figures to be at home.
As for Mikolas, the 30-year old right-hander regressed considerably from his impressive 2018 campaign, but ended the year throwing well. He was just 9-14 with a 4.16 ERA but finished the year with six straight games allowing three runs or fewer. He also went five strong innings in the Cardinals NLDS Game 1 victory while offering a scoreless inning in relief in Game 4. Not a bad first postseason experience.
Dakota Hudson is the fourth starter. He went 4.2 innings against the Braves in the NLDS, allowing four runs on five hits. He was 16-7 in the regular season with a 3.35 ERA, but that was always a bit of an illusion. Hudson struggles with command and allowed a league leading 86 walks. A mediocre strikeout rate and large number of walks led to a 4.93 FIP.
The Nationals certainly have the edge in the rotation with three aces a solid No.4 starter, but they don’t have a whole lot to back them up in the bullpen.
We saw Dave Martinez get creative with his bullpen usage in the NLDS, going to Corbin out of the pen twice and turning to Scherzer in relief in Game 2.
While it makes sense to give your best pitchers the ball as much as possible, it’s also indicative of the bullpen for the Nationals which posted the worst bullpen ERA in baseball during the MLB regular season. Some midseason additions helped and the bullpen down the stretch was better, but there’s still only two reliable arms: Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson.
Doolittle was overworked early in the season and hit a wall in the second half but pulled it back together down the stretch. He was also the one to close the door on the NLDS though Hudson is now the team’s closer. The point is, however, that both can pitch the ninth. If the Nationals’ aces go seven, these two are in line to finish the job, but the rest of the options are limited.
Look for Washington to use their starters in relief some this series like they did in the NLDS. That improves the pen, but potentially weakens the rotation.
Besides Doolittle, Hudson and the starters, there’s little else to rely on save maybe Tanner Rainey. He did get an inning in Game 5 of the NLDS and will be asked to step up again in the NLCS.
As for the Cardinals, they have a much deeper bullpen. Mikolas was the only starter the Cards used in relief in the NLDS, going with seven other relievers to cover the rest of the innings. Carlos Martinez recorded a save in the series, but also allowed six runs in 3.1 innings. Outside of him, however, the rest of the St. Louis relievers combined to allow two runs all series.
Andrew Miller and Tyler Webb are the primarily left-handed options while Giovanny Gallegos may be the most tested in this series against a right-handed heavy Nationals’ lineup.
While the Nationals struggled to find options beyond Doolittle and Hudson, the Cardinals have plenty of options like John Brebbia and Genesis Cabrera, beyond their late inning guys.
The Nationals hit just .221 in the NLDS, but the team ranked second in the NL in runs scored during the regular season and put up an impressive .832 team OPS in the second half of the year. St. Louis, meanwhile, had a .757 OPS down the stretch and finish in the bottom half of the league in runs scored.
We saw just how dangerous Washington can be offensively late in Game 5 of the NLDS when Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto went back-to-back against Clayton Kershaw. That was Soto’s second homer of the series while it was Rendon’s fourth extra base hit. The two carried the Nationals’ offensively throughout the series until Howie Kendrick’s big grand slam in the tenth.
With Rendon and Soto swinging well, that really allows the rest of the offense to come together. Trea Turner and Adam Eaton are quality table-setters. Kendrick is as professional a hitter as anyone in the game. Ryan Zimmerman and Asdrubal Cabrera along with Victor Robles give this team a nice blend of different style hitters, all capable of giving the team a big hit when needed.
On paper, St. Louis’s lineup isn’t quite as strong as the Nationals’, but the Cardinals did put up 13-runs in their deciding Game 5 against the Braves, including a 10-run first inning.
Yadier Molina is a legend. A great backstop, the face of the Cardinals can still collect a big hit in a big spot as he showed in the NLDS.
Dexter Fowler and Kolten Wong are solid top of the order guys while Paul Goldschmdit and Marcell Ozuna are the Cardinals’ answers to Rendon and Soto. From there, Matt Carpenter, Paul DeJong, and Tommy Edman fill out a solid lineup.
MLB Odds Analysis and Recent Trends
Both teams needed all five games of the NLDS to advance, but Game 5 went a very different way for both teams as the Nationals pushed the Dodgers to a tenth inning with a couple bombs and eventually won it on a grand slam home run. On the other side, Game 5 between the Cardinals and Braves was over after the first inning thanks to a 10-run opening frame.
Despite the differences in Game 5, both teams battled their way to the NLCS and not just during the NLDS. The Nationals, of course, had to top the Brewers in the Wild Card game, but both teams had to push down the stretch of the regular season, too. Each found their groove later in the season. The Cardinals were a .500 club at the All-Star break, going 47-27 in the second half. The Nationals, meanwhile, were 19-31 in mid-May before ending the year with more wins than the Cardinals with 93.
The Nationals were able to overcome their bullpen deficiencies in their five-game series with the Dodgers thanks to a strong offense and excellent starting pitching. The relief pitching woes will be more difficult to overcome in a Best-of-Seven contest.
Despite that, look for Washington to take this series on the strength of their starting pitching. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin are all guys that can go seven innings and minimize the exposure to the Nationals’ pen. All three were also used in relief during the NLDS reminiscent to how Alex Cora used his starters—most notably Nathan Eovaldi—last year in route to a World Series title and how A.J. Hinch juggled his pitching staff to cover for a lackluster bullpen with the Astros won it all the year before. We have seen creative management of a pitching staff work in the past. The extra off days in postseason play helps.
Look for the Washington offense to be another difference maker as the Nationals’ bats have been rolling of late and offer a bit more depth than St. Louis.
Overall, this is a rather even matchup, but count on the Nationals to mask their Achilles Heel enough to advance to the World Series.
Washington Nationals vs. St. Louis Cardinals Series Pick: Look for the depth of the National’s rotation to be the difference as they topple the Cardinals.
Washington Nationals vs. St. Louis Cardinals Series Prediction: Nationals in Six