WASHINGTON — How do the Cubs and Nationals stack up heading into Friday night’s opener of their best-of-five playoff series? Here’s a quick breakdown of each key area:
STARTING PITCHING Edge: Nationals
The Cub rotation’s second-half ERA (3.36) ranked second only to the Indians in the majors. The Nationals have the NL’s No. 3 rotation overall, including three with a chance to be Cy Young finalists: Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez. But each staff had its potential Game 1 playoff starter suffer a late-season hamstring strain that lingers into the series, with Jake Arrieta pitching Game 4 if he pitches at all. Scherzer’s status is even less clear after he was hurt in his last start.
BULLPEN Edge: Nationals
This would have been an easy advantage for the Cubs until the Nats acquired Brandon Kintzler, Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson near the trade deadline – transforming the league’s worst bullpen into its best down the stretch. The Cubs’ deadline addition, Justin Wilson, not so much.
LINEUP Edge: Nationals
Say hello to your little friend, Daniel Murphy. And welcome back to the Nats lineup Bryce Harper – the most dynamic hitter in the series. The overall numbers for the teams were close this season, but the return of Harper (1.008 OPS) means a lineup that averaged 5.4 runs instead of the 4.1 per game over the 42 games he missed. And the Nats are one of the most dangerous base-stealing teams in the majors, led by Trea Turner (46).
FIELDING Edge: Cubs
The Cubs aren’t the clamp-down, dominant group of fielders they were last year, but they’re still among the best teams in the league at preventing runs. And with Addison Russell and Javy Baez together again in the middle of the infield, they’re definitely better than the Nats.
Dusty Baker and Joe Maddon have a combined six Manager of the Year awards and three World Series appearances. They might be the two coolest, hippest managers in the game, with similar outlooks on the value of individuality and trusting their players. Both excel at motivating performance from players. Neither is considered an elite game tactician.
RIZZOS Edge: Nationals
Anthony Rizzo is a three-time All-Star with 32 homers for the Cubs. Chicago-born Nats GM Mike Rizzo built a four-time division champ and to this day is regarded with awe in the Angels organization for an urban legend dating to his Class A days under manager Joe Maddon in the early 1980s. “He’d been released in spring training, and the guy that was chosen in front of him was no longer to be found right after that,” Maddon said. “The next day, Rizzo was reinstated. So if anybody knows where Dave Govea is living right now, please let us know.”
CONCLUSION YOU CAN’T REFUSE: Nats in 5.
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