Posted on October 7, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Chicago Cubs became the first road team to win a game this postseason when they took Game 1 of the NLDS from the Washington Nationals. Despite Stephen Strasburg taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning, the Cubs were eventually able to grind out a few runs. Meanwhile, Kyle Hendricks was brilliant, yielding just two hits over seven innings. The Nationals now face a virtual must-win game on Saturday, as they can’t afford to fall behind 2-0 before the city shifts to Chicago.
Waking Up the Bats
Game 1 of this series has been the only game this postseason not dominated by offense. It was a welcomed change from what we’ve seen early in the playoffs, but both the Cubs and Nationals would probably prefer to get going offensively. Even in a win, the Cubs only managed five hits, and that was with a lineup that was geared more toward offense than defense. The Nationals definitely need to get their top hitters going after just two hits on Friday. One difference between these teams is that the Cubs have enough depth to make changes if necessary, whereas the Nationals are more or less stuck with the eight players that started Game 1 unless Dusty Baker wants to sit the aging Jayson Werth and give Howie Kendrick a shot.
Already up 1-0, the Cubs will turn to proven playoff ace Jon Lester in Game 2. The 33-year old took a huge step backward from last season, posting a 4.33 ERA this year, his highest since 2012. But you can’t argue with Lester’s postseason history. He’s made 22 appearances and 19 starts, going 9-7 with a 2.63 ERA. Last October, the lefty was 3-1 with a 2.02 ERA, so there should be no doubt he’s ready for Game 2. Also, as long as Washington’s most dangerous hitters are Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy, the Cubs are best off starting a lefty.
The Nationals will counter with a lefty of their own in Gio Gonzalez. After showing signs of regression in recent years, Gonzalez has had a huge bounce-back season in 2017, winning 15 games and posting an ERA under 3. He struggled a bit down the stretch, so there could be some concern that the 32-year old is starting to get tired. Gonzalez threw over 200 innings this year and exceeded 180 innings for the first time since 2013. His postseason history is also a little uneven, and he has just four career playoff starts. The silver lining is that in late June Gonzalez allowed just one run over six innings in a start against the Cubs and the players on Chicago’s roster have a combined average of under .200 against him.
If the Nationals are going to win Game 2, they’ll need contributions from everyone in their lineup. Look for Matt Wieters to be an X-factor hitting toward the bottom of the lineup. The switch-hitting catcher has had a down year offensively, but he’s one of the few Washington hitters with a good track record against Lester, going 16 for 51 (.314) with four extra-base hits. If Lester is able to neutralize left-handed hitters like Harper and Murphy, the Nationals will need hitters like Wieters to step up and do some damage.
Despite Washington’s poor track record in the playoffs, the Nationals aren’t going to lose two straight at home. Lester hasn’t had a great season this year, so Washington’s bats will wake up against him on Saturday. Gonzalez will pitch just well enough to get to the back end of the Washington bullpen with a lead. Nationals win 7-5.