This is not a test. This is not a dream. This is the playoffs with the Washington Nationals.
You get the impression that the Cardinals might not be a good team, since they won "only" 88 games and clinched a playoff spot on the 2nd to last day, but that is far from the case. The Cardinals run differential points is impressive. Scored 765 runs, Allowed 648 runs. That's better than the Reds, and much better than the Giants. So why didn't they win closer to the 93 wins you'd expect? A bit of bad luck 21-26 in one-run games, 6-12 in extra innings, and 7-17 in 2- run games. But since roughly 40% of the way through the season the Cardinals have played like one of the best teams in the leauge. And I think that's how Nats fans need to approach this series. The Nats are aren't playing a Wild Card team lucky to have made it. They are playing one of the best teams in the league that's just a tick worse than they are.
Gio has to be a stud. The WC cost the Cards Kyle Lohse. For all that you think about the guy he was one of the best pitchers in the majors this year. After him the Cards are a bunch of good but not great guys. Normally this would be a big advantage for the Nats who basically had two of the best #1s and one of the best #2s all year long, but now that Strasburg's shutdown and ZNN has been up and down to end the year, the advantage basically boils down to Gio. He has to shut down this Cards team. It won't be easy. They are ok with patience (I take back what I said earlier) and have a lot of righties that can mash. Freese and Beltran are basically Adam"MVP" LaRoche. Holliday, Craig and Molina are better than any bat the Nats have. But if Gio can pace himself he should be able use on of the Cardinals weakness, a middle infield that can't hit, to relax and gear up for the next gauntlet
The Nats have to hit some home runs That's a silly key right? but not really. The Nats weakness on offense is the lack of patience. These guys don't take walks. Since the Cardinals don't give up a ton of walks then the Nats can't expect free passes. The batting average is good enough to compensate somewhat for that, but really this offense is driven by the long ball. The Cardinals also don't give up a ton of homers but this is not a weakness vs a strength, like with walks. This is a strength vs a strength and the Nats have to prove their unstaoppable force is better than the Cards immovable object.
The Nats defense has to be on the top of it's game. The Cardinals put the ball in play. High BA, low K's average homers. The Nats infield D, and to some degree their OF, need to make sure every out they can make is made. Occasionally we've seen it break down, be it wild tosses by Zimm, or bad routes by Bryce. That can't happen in these games because 2-3 extra runs vs a Cardinal team capable in all aspects of the game likely means a loss.
I like the Cards to score runs. Maybe not every game versus every Nats pitcher, since every Nats starts can spin gems, but in more games than not. I like the Nats to score runs in more games than not, because there is no shutdown pitcher that can keep the Nats completely down. It's going to be a barnburner but I'll give the Nats an edge because I think they are more likely to get two gems from their pitching staff than the Cards are. Thank the new WC kids.
Nats in 5.