Posted on October 10, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
The National League gave us two compelling series in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, not to mention two shocking results in Game 5 of both series. The result is an NLCS between the NL Central champion St. Louis Cardinals and the Washington Nationals, who survived the Wild Card Game before taking down the heavily-favored Dodgers. For the Nationals, this will be their first time in the NLCS since the franchise moved to Washington. Meanwhile, the NLCS is old hat for the Cardinals, who will be making their 10th trip to the League Championship Series since 2000, going 4-5 in those appearances.
Offense – Advantage Nationals
Despite getting shut out by the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLDS, the Nationals have scored at least four runs in every other postseason game. Outside of the catcher position, Washington has received contributions from just about every position on the field during the playoffs. As was the case during the regular season, Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto have anchored the middle of the lineup with plenty of big hits while Trea Turner has helped set the table, going 7 for 25 with four extra-base hits this postseason. Aside from that trio, the Nats have plenty of veteran hitters who are capable of coming up with key hits in big moments.
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The Cardinals, to their credit, are coming off a 13-run performance in Game 5 of the NLDS. But in the two games that they lost to the Braves, their lineup went completely cold. Marcell Ozuna and Paul Goldschmidt have carried them at times, but the rest of the lineup has been largely unreliable outside of that Game 5 performance. Veterans Yadier Molina and Dexter Fowler combined to go 5 for 43 (.116) in the NLDS. Unless they can get more out of the guys behind Goldschmidt and Ozuna, the St. Louis lineup will be unreliable when it comes to scoring runs.
Rotation – Advantage Nationals
The starting rotation is the biggest reason why opposing teams feared the Nationals if they were able to get past the Wild Card Game. Both Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg have been hittable at times, but the two are a combined 3-0 with an ERA under 3.00 during the postseason. Both have also come out of the bullpen to help. However, depth is sudden a question mark, as Patrick Corbin has struggled, and being asked to pitch out of the bullpen twice hasn’t helped. On the bright side, Anibal Sanchez gave the Nats five solid innings against the Dodgers. If Washington can get Corbin on track and get one more decent outing from Sanchez, they’ll be in great shape.
To be fair, the Nats get the edge here based primarily on reputation because the St. Louis rotation was excellent in the NLDS. Jack Flaherty threw two gems while Adam Wainwright also pitched as well as he has all year, giving the Cards 7.2 scoreless innings. St. Louis also can’t complain about what they got from Dakota Hudson and Miles Mikolas. However, outside of Flaherty, it’s worth wondering if the Cardinals can continue to get top-notch performances from their starters. Does Wainwright have another gem in him? Will Hudson tire out at the end of a long year? These are valid questions.
Bullpen – Advantage Cardinals
If the Cardinals are going to win this series, this is the advantage they have to exploit. The St. Louis bullpen has been among the best in baseball all year, and that has continued into the postseason. A couple of shaky outings from closer Carlos Martinez is the one caveat. The three or four bullpen arms in the pecking order in front of Martinez have gotten the job done, leaving it all on Martinez. St. Louis isn’t going to win this series if their closer blows a save opportunity.
Surprisingly, the Nationals survived both the Wild Card Game and the NLDS despite their bullpen. Daniel Hudson has been the savior, notching two saves in his four appearances. Fernando Rodney and Sean Doolittle also look reliable. But it’ll be hard for the Nationals to trust anyone else in a big spot, which could come back to haunt them in a seven-game series.
Prediction – Cardinals in 7
The Nationals have quickly gone from Wild Card participant to NLCS favorites. But they’re going to ask a lot from a handful of pitchers because they don’t have enough trustworthy pitchers in their bullpen. The longer this series lasts, the more it favors the Cardinals and their bullpen. Offensively, St. Louis should get a great boost from their 13-run performance in Game 5 of the NLDS. They’ll carry that into the NLCS and score just enough runs to give their bullpen a few leads. St. Louis wins in seven games.
Note: This prediction is the opinion of the author and not necessarily the prediction of Jon Price or Sports Information Traders.