NLDS Preview and Pick: Nationals vs. Cardinals

NLDS Preview and Pick: Nationals vs. Cardinals

NLDS Preview and Pick: Nationals vs. Cardinals
By Greg Warren
Covers.com

Washington Nationals (98-64) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (88-74)

Regular season head-to-head: Washington won the season series 4-3.

Series odds: Nationals -135, Cardinals +115 - Bet365.com

PITCHING

It’s time to find out whether the decision to shut down ace Stephen Strasburg in early September will come back to haunt the Nationals. Team management believes that 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez and righty Jordan Zimmermann can lead the charge and with good reason. Both of the young hurlers had better ERAs (2.89 and 2.94) than Strasburg (3.16) this season. Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard form a formidable one-two punch late in games and Sean Burnett is one of the most effective lefty specialists in the bigs.

The Cardinals are the defending World Series champs and boast a pitching staff that’s playoff proven. Chris Carpenter has rejoined the rotation just in time for the playoff run after finally dealing with a nerve ailment. The battle-tested veteran was untouchable in October last year, posting a perfect 4-0 record. Adam Wainwright missed last year’s storybook run because of Tommy John surgery, but he isn’t a stranger to the postseason. Remember, he closed out Game 5 against the Tigers during the club’s 2006 title run. Kyle Lohse and up-and-comer Lance Lynn round out a rotation that can most certainly repeat as champions. Closer Jason Motte proved last year he’s a playoff performer, closing out five games.

Edge: Nationals

HITTING

First baseman Adam LaRoche matched a career high with 100 RBI and he and the rest of the infield - Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa - combined for 100 homers this season. Oh yeah, and don’t forget about Bryce Harper. The rookie phenom led the NL in runs (27) in September and ranked in the top five in slugging percentage (.643) and batting average (.330) down the stretch.

Carlos Beltran was brought in to replace Albert Pujols' numbers this season and he didn’t disappoint. The veteran outfielder hit .269 with 32 home runs, while driving in 97 runs. Catcher Yadier Molina, who is renowned for his game-calling abilities, should receive some consideration for the league MVP after also putting up big offensive numbers (.315 BA, 22 HRs, 76 RBIs) this season.

Edge: Cardinals

INTANGIBLES

The Nationals return to the postseason for the first time since 1981, back when they were the Montreal Expos. The club posted the best record in the bigs this year, but have 11 regulars who will be making their playoff debuts Sunday. They'll have little margin for error in a shortened five-game series against a Cardinals squad loaded with postseason experience.

St. Louis overcame a 9 1/2-game deficit last season to nab a playoff spot on the season's final day and rode that momentum to claim its 11th World Series title. The Cardinals were once again strong down the stretch this year, taking 12 of their final 16 regular-season to build some serious momentum heading into the play-in game against Atlanta.

Edge: Cardinals

PREDICTION: Cardinals in five games.

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