NLCS Preview: St. Louis Cardinals vs Washington Nationals

John Lepore | October 11th, 2019

The St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Nationals both won their series despite playing three games on the road. The Cards exploded for 10 runs in the first inning in Game Five against the Atlanta Braves basically ending Game Five before it barely started. The Nats had to fight a bit more. Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto hit homers off Clayton Kershaw in the eighth inning to tie the game. Howie Kendrick then blasted a Grand Slam in the tenth to take Game Five 7-3 in Los Angeles. Let’s take a look at how these two underdogs stack up against each other.

Lineups

St. Louis Cardinals NL Rankings (10th in runs 764, 12th in HRs 210, 11th in OPS .737)

When looking at the Cardinals lineup and their stats during the season, there isn’t much to scare an opposing pitching staff. A deeper look tells a different story. A story of a team that doesn’t depend on a couple players to carry them. Of the 13 players who were in 60 or more games this season, only two players were under a .700 OPS, and only two were over .800. No one on the team scored 100 runs or drove in 100. The Cards actually led the league in SBs with 116 while no one stole more than 24, but they had nine players with six or more. Their defense up the middle actually helped a ton this season as Kolten Wong and Paul DeJong each had 14 DRS and Harrison Bader chipped in with 13. Of course, the playoffs are a different animal. Amazingly, the Cardinals had a .737 OPS during the NLDS, which was the same as the regular season. Of the three errors they committed, Wong and DeJong made two of them. Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna hit the four HRs for the team. Yadier Molina made his presence felt by tying then winning Game Four.

Washington Nationals NL Rankings (2nd in runs 873, 6th in HRs 231, 2nd in OPS .796)

The Nats took on the two-time defending NL Champs and came out on the other side. Their offense runs through MVP candidate Anthony Rendon and young gun Juan Soto. While those two have had great seasons and proved their playoff mettle, the ageless 36-year-old Howie Kendrick has been nothing short of a shock. He had a .966 OPS during the season and hit the biggest home run of his career in the tenth inning Wednesday night. Trea Turner is coming into his own. He had an excellent season hitting 19 HRs and swiping 35 bags, even though he missed 40 games. He was 6-21 with three doubles in the NLDS and has plenty of room for improvement at only 26 years old.

Rotation

St. Louis Cardinals NL Rankings (3rd in ERA 3.78, 9th in FIP 4.44, 13th in K-BB% 12.9)

Jack Flaherty has been the ace of this staff. He went on an absolute tear to finish the season and had two great outings against the Braves. He will start Game Three. Miles Mikolas will be starting Game One and is somewhat of an enigma. He started Game One against the Braves and pitched fairly well. For the season though, he allowed 27 HRs in just 184 innings. Mikolas also allowed more than a hit per inning. While he doesn’t issue free passes, he also pitches to contact. The difference between a good and bad outing will be the quality of contact he allows to the Nats. Adam Wainwright will get the ball for Game Two. Wainwright pitched masterfully in his lone start in the NLDS, tossing 7.2 innings, allowing no runs, and striking out eight on 120 pitches. Can Wainwright sip from the Fountain of Youth once again? Will he look like a 38-year-old at the tail end of his career?

Washington Nationals NL Rankings (2nd in ERA 3.53, 2nd in FIP 3.72, 2nd in K-BB% 18.3)

The Nats will open with Anibal Sanchez. The veteran righty was a solid number-four starter this year. In his only start of the playoffs so far, he shut down the Dodgers lineup for five innings. The lone blemish was a Max Muncy homer in the fifth inning, but Sanchez struck out nine that game. Game Two will feature Max Scherzer, the perennial Cy Young candidate. Not much really needs to be said at this point about Max. He can shut down any team at any time. The key for him will be to avoid the early HR ball that has plagued him so far this postseason. Stephen Strasburg will go in the third and pivotal game in this series. He has been absolutely ridiculous in his playoff career. Strasburg has thrown 34 innings, allowed five earned runs and two HRs while maintaining a 45/5 K/BB rate. Patrick Corbin may go in the fourth battle, but much of that will depend on how the first three games shake out and if Corbin is used extensively out of the bullpen.

Bullpen

St. Louis Cardinals NL Rankings (3rd in ERA 3.88, 2nd in FIP 4.01, 4th in K-BB% 15.9)

Here is where the Cardinals have a distinct advantage. Aside from Carlos Martinez and Tyler Webb, the Cardinals’ bullpen hasn’t allowed a run. Ryan Helsley and John Brebbia contributed during the NLDS, and Genesis Cabrera is a solid lefty as an alternative to Andrew Miller. Giovanny Gallegos was especially effective during the season allowing only 44 hits in 74 innings while striking out opponents at 33%. Will Mike Schildt stick with Martinez as his closer, or will he make the switch to Gallegos?

Washington Nationals NL Rankings (15th in ERA 5.68, 13th in FIP 4.94, 12th in K-BB% 12.6)

The Achilles’ heel for the Nats always seems to be the bullpen. Sean Doolittle is good when he throws strikes, which he has done fairly well this season (15 BB in 60 IP). Daniel Hudson has been very good since being put in the closer role. He’s appeared in four of the six games the Nationals have played and has a win and two saves without allowing a run. After those two, it gets dicey. Fernando Rodney is an adventure. He allowed five baserunners and only got five outs in the NLDS but escaped unscathed. The combination of Hunter Strickland, Tanner Rainey, and Wander Suero gave up eight hits and seven runs in just 4.1 innings against the Dodgers. Luckily for Washington, they can deploy their starters out of the bullpen. If they had to rely on some of these guys, they probably wouldn’t get any further.

Conclusion

The fact that the Nats’ one weakness, the bullpen, is something that can be minimized by the use of Corbin, Scherzer, etc., gives Washington the advantage in the series. The Cardinals offense can’t hang with Washington’s and the Nats’ starters are much better than the Braves’ starters. The St. Louis offense will struggle to score runs and they will have to depend on pitching, defense, and some timely hitting. Although that got them past Atlanta, it will not get them to the World Series.

Prediction: Nationals in Five

Series MVP: Anthony Rendon

Questions and comments?
thescorecrowsports@gmail.com

Follow Us on Twitter @thescorecrow
Follow Us on Reddit at u/TheScorecrow
Follow Us on Facebook at The Scorecrow
Follow Us on Instagram at The Scorecrow
Facebook Group where you can read and post articles at The Scorecrow
Reddit Group where everyone can post without fear of being banned at The Scorecrow

Follow John Lepore on Twitter @jball0202

Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images

Advertisements