After the grind of 162 regular-season games and a hard-fought NL Central title, the Cubs enter the playoffs for the third straight year. Their opponent in the National League Division Series is the NL East champion Washington Nationals.
The Nats (97-65) finished five games better than the Cubs (92-70), so the series starts out east. Washington features perhaps the deepest lineup in baseball this season, with Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy, and Jason Werth grinding down even the best pitchers. Their .266 average was fourth in the majors and they scored 819 runs, good for fifth in baseball.
The pitching in DC was quite good as well. The top three in the rotation — Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez — combined for a 2.90 ERA across 577 innings pitched. A very shaky bullpen was solidified by the July acquisitions of Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle, and Brandon Kintzler; Doolittle has saved 21 of 22 opportunities in the second half of the season.
The Cubs have been on a tear the entire second half, posting a 49-25 record after the break. The offense and pitching significantly improved as the year went on and team batting average improved from .239 in the first half to .273 in the second. Team ERA improved from 4.10 to 3.78 as well.
The biggest improvement has come from the starting pitchers, namely Kyle Hendricks, who has a 2.09 second-half ERA, and Jake Arrieta, who won NL Pitcher of the Month in August before being slowed by a hamstring strain in September. The injury has knocked Arrieta back to a Game 4 start and a similar injury has forced Scherzer back to at least game three.
These are two evenly-matched teams stacked with talent up and down their rosters and this series promises to be a very tense and close fought affair. Don’t expect it to be decided before Game 5 and get ready for the gut-wrenching tension of playoff baseball. Isn’t October great?
Game Time and Broadcast Info
- Game One: Friday, October 6 at 6:30 CT on TBS and 670 the Score
- Game Two: Saturday, October 7 at 4:30 CT on TBS and 670 the Score
- Game Three: Monday, October 9 at TBD on TBS and 670 the Score
- Game Four (If necessary): Tuesday, October 10 at TBD on TBS and 670 the Score
- Game Five (if necessary): Thursday, October 12 at TBD on TBS and 670 the score.
*Strasburg will likely start in game four against Arrieta and Hendricks will face Gonzalez in game five if necessary.
What To Watch For
- Kyle Schwarber hit .288 with 6 homers and 11 RBI in September. He had very good playoff performances in 2015 and ’16, so keep an eye on him.
- Last time Daniel Murphy faced the Cubs in the playoffs he hit over .500 and single-handedly wrecked the NLCS for Chicago. Would probably be wise to avoid that this go-round.
- He might not get the publicity of his teammates, but Anthony Rendon is an excellent hitter. The Nats third baseman slashed: .301/.403/.533 with 25 bombs and 100 RBI.
- The Cubs double-play combination of Javy Baez and Addison Russell has always come up huge in the playoffs. Russell in particular has looked good since returning from a foot injury.
- Wade Davis proved he was indeed human, blowing his first save of the season against the Brewers in September. Hopefully he got it out of his system, because Chicago will need him this series.