NLDS Preview: Chicago Cubs vs. Washington Nationals

Cubs and Nationals 2017 Regular Season

Chicago Cubs – 92-70 (1st NL Central)

The reigning World Champions are back in the Postseason and they sure didn’t make it look easy. After a slow start to the year, the Cubs put up a very impressive 2nd half of the season to hold off the over-performing Milwaukee Brewers and the Voodoo Magic Cardinals in the central division.

2017 brought more bright spots with young Cubs bats, much like the past two seasons. The offense was the second best in the National League with a 101 wRC+ and .332 wOBA. A total of seven players were above the league average 100 wRC+ mark individually with a minimum of 250 plate appearnaces, with the major contributors being Kris Bryant (146), Anthony Rizzo (133), and Willson Contreras (121).

Speaking of Contreras, the young backstop really busted out in his sophomore season with an impressive slash line of .276/.356/.499 and has really locked down the cleanup spot in the Cubs order, making up for a lackluster season from the once consistent Ben Zobrist.

The Cubbies will trot out a rotation of Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, and Jake Arrieta in games one through four of the series. The historic rotation from 2016 has come back down to earth this year, even falling on some hard times in the first half of the season. Now heading into the playoffs, each aforementioned starter is throwing the best they have all season with the exception of Lester who has limped to the finish with his 4.33/4.10 ERA/FIP. He will bring his experience and pedigree into his game two match-up and look to put the sub-par regular season behind him.

Even with the loss of Aroldis Chapman going into this season, the Chicago bullpen hasn’t skipped a beat. They added one of the best closers in baseball in Wade Davis (2.30 ERA) as well as Brian Duensing (2.74). The trio of Pedro Strop (2.83), Carl Edwards Jr (2.98), and Mike Montgomery (2.49) have improved off their numbers from last year to round out a bullpen which is expected to be one of the better pens in the Postseason.

 

Washington Nationals – 97-65 (1st NL East)

Regular seasons have yet to be a major problem for the Washington Nationals, as it has proven to be the Postseason that has given them troubles in the past. Going into 2017, the front office and fans both figured they had assembled a team that was built to compete throughout the regular season and contend for a World Series crown in the Postseason.

Injuries were an issue in the nation’s capitol throughout this season with Adam Eaton, Trea Turner, Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, and Joe Ross all missing significant time. Even still, the team was still able to completely run away with the division crown.

The bats in 2017 were right in line with the numbers the Cubs put up, finishing just behind them in both team wRC+ at 100 and wOBA with .331. The Nats had quite a bit of firepower at the top of their order, with the big boppers carrying a heavy load during the regular season. Those big bats included the likes of Harper (156 wRC+), Anthony Rendon (142), Ryan Zimmerman (138), and Daniel Murphy (136).

While their bats are impressive in themselves, you can’t help but also be in awe of the rotation the Nationals will send out there for games one through three of the series with Stephen Strasburg (2.52 ERA/2.72 FIP), Gio Gonzalez (2.96/3.93), and Max Scherzer (2.51/2.90). All three pitchers will get Cy Young votes this year, with Scherzer being the favorite to win the NL Cy Young award.

Those starters will pass the ball off to a bullpen that is much improved from where they were at during the first few months of the season. The 7th, 8th, and 9th innings are entirely different now with the midseason acquisitions of Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson, and Sean Doolittle. Those three pitchers will be a lock to pitch every single game they have a lead or are within striking distance of the Cubs and have excelled in their roles as a member of the Nationals.

 

Players to Watch In The NLDS

MVP candidates, Cy Young hopefuls, entertaining managers, and terrific fan bases. This series features many reasons to keep up with each game and you probably don’t need another reason to catch what should be an incredible series. But if you do need a reason to tune in, here are some players and storylines to look out for in this NLDS.

Kris Bryant

In case you weren’t aware, Bryant has had one of the quietest MVP-hopeful seasons in the National League, putting up statistics that are better than the 2016 MVP version of himself almost all across the board. The guy can do it all. With the bat, on the bases, or in the field wherever Joe Maddon decides to put him on any given day. He had a very impressive Postseason last year and he will need to lead the Cubs alongside Anthony Rizzo to compete with the starpower in the middle of the Nationals lineup.

Ryan Zimmerman

Zimmerman started off the year at a torrid pace OPSing 1.345 through May before coming back down to earth during the middle part of the season. But during September and October, the Nats first baseman has turned it back on again, with an OPS of 1.021. He will need to continue to stay hot during this series to protect the big bat of Bryce Harper. To do that, he will need to turn around what have been awful numbers against the Cubs over the course of this season. In 7 games against the Northsiders, Zimmerman is slashing just .167/.259/.250/.509.

Daniel Murphy

While Zimmerman has struggled against the Cubs, Daniel Murphy has been a known Cubs killer over the course of his career, with his peak coming the last time that he faced the Cubs in the Postseason. In that NLCS which saw Murphy’s Mets sweep Chicago to get to the World Series in 2015, Murphy became Babe Ruth. He hit .529 with 4 bombs in the 4 game series and quickly dashed the Cubs title hopes that season. This series will certainly bring up many opportunities for him to continue his mashing of Chicago pitching.

Greg’s NLDS Series Prediction

On paper this series might be the most even match-up the divisional round has to offer. With the Nationals being favored with a 52% chance of advancing, the projection systems have the series as basically deadlocked. I think that one of these years Mike Rizzo and company will put together a baseball team that has as much success in the Postseason as they do in seemingly every single regular season they play, but I just don’t think that 2017 is that year. This series will come down to timely hits, and I just think that Chicago will come up with more of them. Often times, adjustments are the name of the game in the Postseason and the combination of Joe Maddon and his deep bench will provide the ability to make adjustments that the Nationals and Dusty Baker just won’t be able to make.

Chicago Cubs Win NLDS In 5 Games

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  1. […] I wrote over at Baseline Times earlier in the week about how similar the two teams have been this year, with equally impressive starting rotations, bullpens, and offenses that lead them to take their respective division crowns. […]

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