I totally called that. Where's my prize?
Nats win. 8 games up, only the most ardent pessimists are not calling it. In the commentary talk shifted to who you want to play and who you don't want to. It's a mostly silly argument. At this point any team that gets into the playoffs is good and could take 3 of 5 from the Nats. It's not like "oh this team, that'll be a piece of cake". At the same time you do have preferences based on your own team.
The Nats strength is its starting pitching. Against a weak offense, like the Braves, they can dominate and win a series all by themselves. They don't give up home runs and they don't walk people (well Gio does). Maybe you could say they don't go deep in games but they haven't had to. I expect in the playoffs that would change. The worst thing you can say about the pitching is that they let the ball get put in play (only 7th in Ks) but the defense of the Nats is pretty good, with the exception of down the right field line. The relief pitching is good, too, but a little less reliable as the Nats are now leaning on a lefty waiver pick-up in Thorton and a closer in Storen who 6 months ago no one had any confidence in.
While the Nats also have a very good offense, they don't have any dominant bats. They are often quieted completely by the upper echelon of starters. (I know, "Who isn't?") and beat up on other arms. They don't have any strong righty lefty preferences and have good balance between power and patience. If they have a weakness it's that they don't get a ton of hits (8th in hits, 8th in average, 5th most Ks). They would match up pretty poorly against the Nats staff actually.
So I'd say the Nats ideal opponent would (1) have no dominant starter so the Nats bats can possibly break out, (2) their pitching in general would be inclined to give up walks and homers, (3) have a weak offense reliant more on homers and walks then hits so the Nats pitching can possibly shut them down completely, (3) have an offense that does worse versus RHP because the Nats are stronger from that side of the mound.
The Dodgers are the match-up that everyone wants to avoid because they have THE dominant pitcher in Clayton Kershaw. In a 5 game series he'll pitch twice and the Dodgers will be heavy favorites to win both those games meaning you have to win the other 3. Of course after Kershaw you have Greinke who Ks a lot of guys and isn't homer prone, and Ryu who never gives up homers and is pretty good with the walks (ok with the Ks). It's tough the see the Nats scoring a ton of runs in this series
Offensively the Dodgers are a hits and walks team which is somewhat good for the Nats but not a perfect match-up. They do better versus right-handed pitching. I don't see the Nats shutting the Dodgers down completely in a series.
The Cardinals have Wainwright, but he's not Kershaw. He's death to home runs but can walk guys sometimes and doesn't K guys. All the Cards guys you'd expect to see in a short series (Lynn, Wacha) kill homers in fact. But they are wild and only Wacha can strike out a bunch. The Nats have a chance versus these starters.
The Cardinals offense hasn't been able to get off the ground, but they'd have a chance against the Nats as they work on hits and not walks or homers. I mean really no homers at all, last in the NL. They have lefties but given the lack of power I'm assuming the RF line would be ok and splits show they don't hit RHP all that well.
Bumgarner should be a mini-Kershaw versus the Nats. Doesn't walk, doesn't give up the homer, Ks a lot of guys. He could win two easy. Hudson, as we've seen many many times, does OK versus the Nats but since he can't work the strikeout like he used to he can be beat. Anyone else pitching doesn't specifically worry me, but overall the staff has very good control which takes away a Nats strength.
It's another decent offense (these are all playoff teams so they'll be good) that gets hits. The Giants are even less walk reliant but do like the home run. Given that, I'd expect a playoff that would be a continuation of their meetings this year. Sometimes the Giants would be shut down completely, other times they blow up. They scored 1,2,2,2,6,7,10 runs in Nats games. They are either going to be able to hit it out that day or not. They don't have significant splits.
The Pirates staff is very wild and
survive with a measure of power control. But just a measure, they still
aren't better than average in giving up the homers. They lack an ace and
instead rely on solid pitching from good but not great arms to win
enough games. I think the Nats could really punish this squad.
Pirates have a special bat in McCutchen who can overcome the Nats
pitching, and otherwise they are good across the board. They walk, hit
for power and just hit in general. The Nats can counter some of that but
I'd expect the Pirates to score some runs. They hit RHP especially well
as their 2nd best hitter Neil Walker is a huge homer threat against
righties (17 of his 19 homers) and Ike Davis is completely useless
versus lefties but a fair threat versus righties. I'd expect a lot of
6-4 type games in this series (Nats favor of course)
The Braves pitchers can be walk prone, but they are ok with the K and good with the homers which is why they seemingly match-up well with the Nats. Still it's hard to see the Nats being shut down for a series by this set of arms. If they can maintain a little patience they should score a few runs.
That should be enough the win because the Braves offense is terrible. They strike out a ton, don't hit, and aren't good with the power, meaning they rely on walks and luck to score runs. That won't work versus the Nats. They also hit RHP much worse than LHP so that's another thing in the Nats favor. Seriously, if it wasn't for the history you'd LOVE a match-up versus the Braves.
The Brewers seem to be dying and it's easy to see why. Their pitchers give up a few walks and a ton of homers and don't strike anyone out. The starting pitching is perfect matchup for the Nats. If for some reason the Nats got into their pen the story flips. A ton of high K guys a few of which are hard to homer off of. Overall they actually give up very few walks but it's more a story of only having one guy prone to walking people, as it is having a few that walk no one, so I think the Nats would find their way on base just fine in a series.
The offense is homer heavy and not much else, which the Nats should be able to handle just fine. While they are a righty-heavy lineup they don't show much in regards to splits.
OK so based on the above how would I rank them from most want to face to least? Being completely honest and cutting out "experience" and the like :
1. Braves - there's no reason the Nats shouldn't hold that offense to 0 or 1 run in 3 out of 5 games.
2. Brewers - The Nats should be able to score a good amount of runs and assuming the Nats starter that day isn't particularly homer prone, should be able to shut the Brewers down.
3. Pirates - There's a gap here as I'd expect the Nats to beat the Braves or Brewers quickly. Now we're in 5-game territory. I flip-flop the Pirates and the Cardinals because I think the Nats have the same measure of edge versus either. Why #3 for the Pirates? I expect higher scoring games in this series and I like luck to factor more for low-scoring games.
4. Cardinals - It would probably be a low-scoring series but the Nats are the better team and match-up ok so should win. Still when you are talking 3-2 a bad bounce can make all the difference.
5. Giants - I would right now make the Giants a toss-up. Bumgarner is good enough to dominate the Nats if he's on and Hudson to keep them in it. If their offense is on that series the Nats could get swept away. If it's off they Nats could do the sweeping. This series could swing all over the place. Now if Bumgarner has to be used for the one-game play-in I still put them as my 5th team but they drop back into the Pirates/Cards territory.
6. Dodgers - I think the Dodgers have the edge over the Nats assuming Kershaw pitches twice. If it's after a one-game playoff then it's more a 50/50 scenario. Still this is the match-up I don't want in a 5 game series.
I'd say the ideal scenario for the Nats finish with the best record, the Dodgers falter and fall into one-game playoff where the Braves or Brewers knock them off (Pirates out in this scenario). The Nats beat up on them and take on the winner of the Giants/Cardinals who went through a 5-gamer with either Wainwright or Bumgarner pitching twice. Make it happen Fate.