A happy flight back to St. Louis and here we go. The Cardinals look to take down the Washington Nationals, the team with the best record in MLB this season at 98-64. It will be important for the Cards to grab game 1 in the NLDS this year more than year’s past. The new best of 5 format is 2-3, putting the pressure on the Cardinals and Adam Wainwright right from the start, or does it? I still think it does for a couple of reasons. One, the Nationals do not have a whole lot of playoff experience. Jayson Werth, Edwin Jackson and Adam LaRoche are the only ones who do. There will be no better way for the Cards to put a dent into the confidence of the Nats than by taking game 1, and letting them know who the defending champs still are.
When you talk about pressure, I feel like most of the Nationals are going to feel it right out of the gate if the Cards can get to Gio Gonzalez early. No words from their 3 playoff veterans are going to make it any less, and they are going to make mistakes. If the Cards can get into their heads a bit early and often, it should only add to the pressure. So, in a way, I feel the pressure is on both teams. Both teams need to win game 1 for many reasons, but I feel the Cards need to make a statement right out of the gate more so than in year’s past.
Even though he isn’t quite the same AW after Tommy John Surgery, I’m still excited the Cards are handing the ball off to him in game 1. Looking ahead to game 2 for a second, do we really want to see Jaime Garcia in a best of 5 down 1-0? This is another reason I think the Cards have to win game 1.
Here are the Cardinals and Nationals games 1-4 SP matchups with their W-L record, ERA, WHIP and SO/9 in parenthesis:
Here is the finalized 25-man roster for the Cards in the NLDS:
Starting pitchers (4): Wainwright, Garcia, Carpenter, Lohse
Relievers (8): Jason Motte, Edward Mujica, Mitchell Boggs, Marc Rzepczynski, Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal, Fernando Salas
Catchers (2): Yadier Molina, Tony Cruz
Infielders (6): Allen Craig, Daniel Descalso, Skip Schumaker, Pete Kozma, David Freese, Matt Carpenter
Outfielders (5): Carlos Beltran, Jon Jay, Matt Holliday, Shane Robinson, Adron Chambers
Looking at the Nats on offense, only one thing really stood out. They had the 3rd most strikeouts as a team in the NL with 1325, only behind the Astros and the Pirates. The Cards had 1192. I tried to find a hole in other team stats, but failed to do so. The Nationals were tied for 2nd with the Reds in FP% on defense at .985. They had the best team ERA in the NL at 3.33. The Nats pitchers held opponents to a BA of .237, also tops in the NL. Looking at advanced fielding metrics, the Nats were among the leaders in UZR on defense as well, which means they cover a lot of ground. Everything on paper suggest the Nats are no fluke, they deserve to be where they are and have only one weakness which I’ve already touched on, which is experience.
However, when talking about experience and the managers of both clubs, the Nationals have the edge. Davey Johnson has been there, done that. He won the WS with the Mets in 1986. In fact, in his 7 years with the Mets, his team’s never finished below 2nd place. In 3 years with the Reds, he won 2 division titles. In two years with the O’s, he won one division title and was 2nd in his other year there. He’s now won the first division title for the Nats. Johnson’s steady hand and the hard nose play of rookie Bryce Harper (who may rub you the wrong way but you would love him if he were a Cardinal), along with the SP and the bullpen, is a handful to say the least.
Here’s the Nationals 25-man roster:
Starting pitchers (4): Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, Edwin Jackson, Ross Detwiler
Relievers (8): Christian Garcia, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Ryan Mattheus, Craig Stammen, Sean Burnett, Michael Gonzalez and Tom Gorzelanny
Catchers (2): Kurt Suzuki and Jesus Flores
Infielders (6): Adam LaRoche, Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, Chad Tracy and Steve Lombardozzi
Outfielders (5): Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, Michael Morse, Roger Bernadina and Tyler Moore
I wasn’t going to give a 1 game prediction in the WC game against the Braves, but that’s not going to stop me today. I’m going to go with the Cards in 5.