Posted on October 12, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine

Washington Nationals Stephen Strasburg

Image via latimes.com

As it turns out, Stephen Strasburg wasn’t all that sick. All he needed was an extra day off afforded by Tuesday’s rainout to come up big for the Washington Nationals in Game 4 of the NLDS. Strasburg threw seven scoreless innings at a rainy and windy Wrigley Field, helping the Nationals shut out the Chicago Cubs and force a decisive Game 5 back in Washington. Of course, the rainout on Tuesday means that both teams lose a travel day, meaning the Nationals and Cubs are right back at it on Wednesday night, with the winner advancing to play the Dodgers in the NLCS.

Late and Close

Washington’s offense has been non-existent for almost the entire series. However, the Nationals have come up big when they’ve needed to, scoring most of their runs late in games. In Game 2, home runs by Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman gave the Nationals five runs in the 8th inning and a 6-3 lead that would hold up. In Game 4, it was an 8th inning grand slam from Michael Taylor to help secure a 5-0 win. Outside of those two innings, the Nationals have scored just three runs all series. But despite how poorly the Nationals have hit as a team in the last four games, they have had success when the game is late and close, and they may only need one more productive inning to secure a spot in the NLCS.

Pitching Matchup

With a set four-man postseason rotation, there’s no question that the Cubs will go with Kyle Hendricks in Game 5. Hendricks started Game 1 at Nationals Park and was nothing short of outstanding. He tossed seven shutout innings, allowing just two hits and three walks while striking out six. In eight career postseason starts, Hendricks now has an ERA of 1.98. The Cubs have to feel confident knowing he’s taking the mound in Game 5.

As of Wednesday morning, the Nationals have still not announced a starter. However, we know it will either be Tanner Roark or Gio Gonzalez. Roark was slated to start Game 4 before Strasburg pronounced himself ready, while Gonzalez started Game 2 and is on regular rest. Gonzalez was solid through five innings in Game 2 but was hurt by a pair of home runs. He also had an exceptional regular season and is capable of coming through in a big spot. Meanwhile, Roark had a mediocre regular season, although he did beat the Cubs back in August.

X-Factor

Washington’s bullpen has been the team’s X-factor all season, and that will be on display in a decisive Game 5. Obviously, the Nationals aren’t as confident in their Game 5 starter as the Cubs are, so the bullpen figures to play a more prominent role. Washington relievers have performed well up to this point in the series. The Nationals will also have either Roark or Gonzalez and Max Scherzer available if necessary. Having those extra arms should help. But let’s face it, the Washington bullpen has been a concern all year. Are they really going to come up big during the most important game of the season?

Prediction

If past results are the best predictor of future results, the Cubs are going to win this game. The Nationals have had several attempts but never made it past the NLDS, while the Cubs are reigning world champions. The Nationals may have their entire pitching staff available to go, but they’ve struggled to hit all series, and that won’t change against Hendricks in Game 5. Cubs win 3-1.

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