Thursday, October 10, 2019

NLCS Series Preview

The Nationals/Cardinals series at a glance.

10-run first innings aside, the Divisional round more or less played out exactly how I predicted it would for the Cardinals. It was a closely matched series, but the Cardinals found a way to pull it off in five games, meaning that they had to clinch in Atlanta. Fortunately, the field wasn't littered with trash this time around. It was a nice catharsis for a fan who had witnessed the horrorshow that was the 1996 NLCS, but few players on the current roster are even old enough to remember it.

St. Louis faces the Washington Nationals for the pennant. By virtue of being a division winner, the Cardinals actually gained the home field advantage over the Nationals even though Washington had a better regular season record. It sucks to be a Wild Card team. Although the Cardinals were markedly better at home versus on the road in 2019, they showed a better ability to win away from St. Louis down the stretch (e.g. the four game sweep at Wrigley) and against Atlanta in the playoffs.

Once again, rosters are not finalized at present, so this is all based on shared speculation.

2019 Season Series: Cardinals won 5-2
The Cardinals took 3 of 4 at Nationals Park (boring name, but huge points for no corporate naming rights) back in late April/early May, and also took 2 of 3 at Busch in a crucial mid-September clash. As usual, the season series results tend to be overemphasized this time of year, especially between teams that don't see each other as often as division rivals do. Managers have tendencies to make different decisions at this time of year, there are different players involved, and there's the whole "playoff pressure" factor. (I'm not just talking about Clayton Kershaw here.) We can probably put a little more weight on the more recent series, with both teams at the time fighting for a playoff spot. Of note, Dakota Hudson, Adam Wainwright and Patrick Corbin all had strong outings in the series while Max Scherzer was roughed up by the Cards.

Starting Pitching: Anibal Sanchez / Max Scherzer / Stephen Strasburg / Patrick Corbin vs. Miles Mikolas / Adam Wainwright / Jack Flaherty / Dakota Hudson
Sanchez will take the first turn for the Nationals in this series, and with the increased number of games you would expect to see Scherzer and Strasburg stick to regular starts instead of working out of the bullpen at times. As mentioned above, the Cardinals had recent success against the St. Louis native Scherzer, but historically this has not always been the case. Stasburg looked a bit fatigured in the finale vs. LA while Corbin allowed 7 ER in just 8 IP in 3 appearances in these playoffs. Something might be up with him. On the Cardinals side, the starters for the first two games (Mikolas, Wainwright) are set, with Waino trying to build on his successful last outing with another home start in game 2. Flaherty is the ace, but will be held back until game 3 due to his start on Wednesday. Dakota Hudson's defense crumbled around him in his first playoff start. His second will likely come on the road. ADVANTAGE: NATIONALS

Bullpen: Daniel Hudson vs. Carlos Martinez
Daniel Hudson took over the closer role late in the season and has pitched well, while Carlos Martinez did nearly all he could do to send the Cardinals home early this season with some rough work against Atlanta. The rest of the Nats pen features the closer-until-recently Sean Doolittle, the oldest active player in baseball (Fernando Rodney) and the shaky Hunter Strickland. St. Louis has better options than Martinez in John Brebbia, Tyler Webb, Giovanny Gallegos and occasionally Andrew Miller. Martinez is one of the longest tenured Cardinals not named Adam or Yadier, so perhaps manager Mike Shildt feels pressure not to make a change here. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Catcher: Kurt Suzuki vs. Yadier Molina
There are long time veteran catchers on both sides. Suzuki was injured and left the field in the last game after being hit by a pitch on his wrist that also ricocheted off his helmet, so it's not a given that he starts the series in the lineup. Either way, Yan Gomes will do some catching as well. Molina has relegated his more than capable backup Matt Wieters to pinch-hit duty for the last month and a half. Both Nationals catchers are a bit more offensive minded than the defensive wizard Molina, though Yadi proved he could win with his bat in game 4 of the previous series. ADVANTAGE: CARDINALS

First Base: Ryan Zimmerman vs. Paul Goldschmidt
For the Nats, Howie Kendrick also logged some time at 1st, but there were questions about his defense. If Zimmerman hits, he stays in the lineup. It also happens to be Kendrick's bat that has kept him in the lineup no matter what position he's in, as proven by his series-winning grand slam against the Dodgers. On the Cardinals side, the only guy you're going to see at 1st is Paul Goldschmidt, whose bat seems to be heating up at the best time. ADVANTAGE: CARDINALS

Second Base: Howie Kendrick vs. Kolten Wong
Kendrick hit very well late in the season, as did Kolten Wong before his hamstring injury. Wong was able to start every game showing no ill effects of the injury, and his defense is miles above most at the position. ADVANTAGE: CARDINALS

Third Base: Anthony Rendon vs. Matt Carpenter
Rendon is having a mammoth offensive season, the best of his career so far and one worthy of MVP consideration. Carpenter was inserted back into the lineup to generate offense early on in the previous series, but his speed and defense are becoming a bit of a liability. He was hilariously removed for defensive purposes in the final game of the Divisional series before ever taking the field. We would see Edman back here if Bader is in the lineup for his glove. ADVANTAGE: NATIONALS

Shortstop: Trea Turner vs. Paul DeJong
Turner is one of the better base thieves in the league as well as one of the game's most well-rounded players. He has all of the tools as they say. DeJong is more of a power bat at this stage in his career than anything else, but his defense has improved. His pitch selection could use work. ADVANTAGE: NATIONALS

Right Field: Adam Eaton vs. Tommy Edman
To a somewhat lesser extent than Turner, Eaton is another Swiss Army knife of baseball. Edman moved to the outfield, somewhere he had never played professionally before this season, after Carpenter was slotted in at 3rd for his bat. So far, Edman has stood tall under the brightest lights of the season. ADVANTAGE: CARDINALS

Center Field: Michael Taylor vs. Dexter Fowler
Taylor was somewhat of a bit player for Washington this season and seems to be in the lineup for his glove more than anything else. If Victor Robles is healthy, this outfield improves substantially. Fowler manned center after the mid-series lineup change for the Cardinals, and he's solid there if not elite. ADVANTAGE: CARDINALS

Left Field: Juan Soto vs. Marcell Ozuna
Soto is one of the brightest young stars of the game, while Marcell Ozuna has caught fire at the right time, providing one of the scariest two-pronged attacks when he follows Paul Goldschmidt. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Bench: Brian Dozier / Matt Adams / Yan Gomes / Victor Robles vs. Jose Martinez / Matt Wieters / Harrison Bader / Randy Arozarena
Whether it's due to matchups or injuries, the Nationals bench just seems very deep here. Actually, both teams should have plenty of capable hands on deck, although it remains to be seen if there will be roster changes for this round. The Nats may have the bigger bats, but the Cardinals have a couple of speed weapons they could deploy late in games. If Bader isn't starting his skills might be duplicated in Arozarena. ADVANTAGE: NATIONALS

Manager: Dave Martinez vs. Mike Shildt
Martinez was a journeyman player through much of the '80s and all of the '90s and tookover managing duties in 2018 with the Nationals after other coaching stints. He survived the Bryce Harper exodus and seems to have his club heading in the right direction. The not-former-player Shildt also seems to be heading in the same direction with his career, although questions about his bullpen usage will persist if this Carlos Martinez thing isn't straightened out once and for all. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Prediction: CARDINALS IN 7

Game 1 is set for 7:00 PM CDT (local time) tomorrow on the Utz Network TBS. Go Cardinals!


Fuji said...

Super excited for the Nationals. I'd love to see them win their first title in franchise history. Go Nats!

CaptKirk42 said...

Nice analysis. The Cards are favored over my beloved Nats. The oddball Nats who started out very slowly and lowly but picked things up around mid May making their season very interesting. They failed to best Atlanta for the division, but managed to squeak into the Wild Card and Upset the Brewskies and stunned the 2 time NL Pennant winning (but World Series losing) Dodgers. I think Alyssa Milano is still standing at Dodger Stadium with her jaw on the ground. Go Nats, Go!

The Snorting Bull said...

I am going with the Cardinals in 6.

madding said...

Now that Bryce is gone, my only real issue with the Nats is that they were ripped out of Montreal. Probably won't ever get over that. They do have some fun young players to watch, and two of the best starting pitchers around.