MLB

2019 NL Wildcard Game Preview: A Battle of Resilient Teams

Frank Ammirante  | October 1st, 2019 

Overcoming Adversity

The Washington Nationals entered the 2019 MLB season with tempered expectations after a long-time franchise player, Bryce Harper, signed with the Phillies in the off-season. They looked to be headed for a disappointing season, stumbling to a 19-31 record after 50 games. But despite losing Harper and struggling early in the season, this was still a talented team, with star hitters like Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, and Juan Soto, as well as a trio of aces atop their starting rotation in Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and new arrival Patrick Corbin.

The Nats responded by going 74-38 in their final 112 games en route to a wild card berth. They were able to get hot even without Scherzer, who missed time due to injury, which limited him to 172.1 innings, his lowest total since 2009, his first full season in the big leagues. They were also without dynamic shortstop Trea Turner for 40 games.

The Milwaukee Brewers came into this season with lofty expectations following a 2018 National League Central division title that concluded with a hard-fought, seven-game loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Reigning MVP Christian Yelich was in the midst of an even more dominant season until he suffered a fractured knee cap, a devastating, season-ending injury. At the time of the injury, the Brewers were 76-68, one game back from the division rival Chicago Cubs for the final National League Wild Card spot. Many pundits wrote them off, dismissing their chances of making the playoffs due to the loss of Yelich. The team responded by showing remarkable resiliency, winning 13 of their final 18 games, finishing the season with an 89-73 record and the final wild-card berth.

Lineups

Milwaukee Brewers (17th in Runs, 9th in OBP, 12th in SLG, 12th in OPS)

The Brewers’ lineup without Yelich is led by veterans with playoff experience like third baseman Mike Moustakas (.254 AVG/.329 OBP/.516 SLG, 35 HR, 87 RBI) and catcher Yasmani Grandal (.246 AVG/.380 OBP/.468 SLG, 28 HR, 77 RBI), and a dynamic rookie in second baseman Keston Hiura (.303 AVG/.368 OBP/.570 SLG, 19 HR, 49 RBI). Veteran center fielder Lorenzo Cain had a disappointing season (.260 AVG/.325 OBP/.372 SLG, 11 HR, 48 RBI), but he’s been here before. As has left fielder Ryan Braun, who turned in a solid season (.283 AVG/.343 OBP/.505 SLG, 22 HR, 75 RBI). This is still a capable lineup without Yelich.

Washington Nationals (5th in Runs, 5th in OBP, 8th in SLG, 8th in OPS)

The Nationals’ lineup is led by MVP candidate third baseman Anthony Rendon (.319 AVG/.412 OBP/.598 SLG, 34 HR, 126 RBI), phenom left fielder Juan Soto (.282 AVG/.401 OBP/.548 SLG, 34 HR, 110 RBI), and speedster shortstop Trea Turner (.298 AVG/.353 OBP/.497 SLG, 19 HR, 57 RBI). Howie Kendrick has been a pleasant surprise (.344 AVG/.395 OBP/.572 SLG, 17 HR, 62 RBI) and they also have an exciting young outfielder in Victor Robles (.255 AVG/.326/.419 SLG, 17 HR, 65 RBI). This is a balanced lineup mixed with contact, power, speed, and plate discipline.

Advantage: Nationals

Pitching Matchup

Milwaukee Brewers

Brandon Woodruff (3.62 ERA, 3.36 xFIP, 1.14 WHIP, 6.1 BB%, 29.0 K%, 11.6 SwStr%) vs, 2019 Nationals: 6.0 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 9 K- Woodruff had a strong season, but he’s only made two appearances since July 21st. The good news for the Brewers is that Woodruff looked sharp, with a pair of shutout two-inning outings, one walk, and seven strikeouts. We can expect a short outing for Woodruff in this game – expect the Brewers’ ace to toss three-to-four innings before turning it over to the bullpen.

Washington Nationals

Max Scherzer (2.92 ERA, 2.88 xFIP, 1.03 WHIP, 4.8 BB%, 35.1 K%, 16.3 SwStr%) vs. 2019 Brewers: 6.0 IP,6 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 10 K – Simply put, Scherzer is the best pitcher of our generation. All that’s missing from his career is a World Series ring. You can bet that Max will come out pumped in this one. The encouraging news for the Brewers is that Scherzer has struggled a bit since returning from injury: 38.0 IP, 4.74 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 8 BB, 54 K.

Bullpens

Milwaukee Brewers (18th in ERA, 10th in WHIP, 2nd in K%, 19th in BB%)

The Brewers’ bullpen is led by the most dominant reliever in baseball, Josh Hader (2.62 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 6.9 BB%, 47.8 K%). Hader will likely be asked to go multiple innings in this do-or-die situation. Their x-factor could be Drew Pomeranz, who has been absolutely lights-out since joining the team (2.39 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 8 BB, and 45 K). We could conceivably see both Pomeranz and Hader pitch two innings each in this contest.

Washington Nationals (29th in ERA, 27th in WHIP, 23rd in K%, 15th in BB%)

The Nationals’ bullpen is the clear weakness of this team. Their best reliever is Sean Doolittle, who has been productive in the past but has had a disappointing season (4.05 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 5.8 BB%, 25.4 K%). It would not surprise me to see the Nats use one of their starters to help out their relievers in this one. Anibal Sanchez is the likely option here, as he last pitched on September 25th. In this win-or-go-home game, we can even see Stephen Strasburg.

Verdict

The Nationals have been one of the best teams in baseball since late May. They have a +149 run differential, which is second-best in the NL. The Brewers have a +3 run differential, which ranks 7th in the NL. Both of these teams have overcome adversity this season, but it’s clear that the Nationals have the superior team. The Brewers’ only advantage is in the bullpen, but Washington can offset this by using one of their starters.

Expect the Nats to take care of business in the NL Wild Card game.

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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images

 

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