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I'm all for chaos, but do the Nats really gain an edge if there's #MondayBaseball and a #Game163 for the NL Central crown?

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With three races separated by just a game a piece, I know that I'm certainly hoping for #MondayBaseball of some kind. However, I'm not really sure that the Nationals would gain any legitimate edge if the Pirates and Cardinals have to play an extra game on Monday for the NL Central crown. Here's why.

Mitchell Layton

At 95-66, the Washington Nationals have secured the best record in the National League, which gives them home field advantage in the NLDS and (if they win the NLDS) the NLCS.  The Nationals know that Game 1 of the NLDS will take place in Nationals Park next Friday night against the winner of the wildcard game.  The two teams that are battling to secure the NL Central title have each clinched a playoff spot.  Whichever team doesn't win the division will host the wildcard game against the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday.

The prevailing notion from the fanbase seems to be that the Nationals could gain a big edge if the Cardinals and Pirates have to slug it out on Monday, but I'm not so sure.  Their race to the wire has already helped the San Francisco Giants (with or without a Monday game), but not necessarily the Nationals... unless we all really want to face the Giants.

Why would we assume that the Nationals would gain an edge by the Cardinals and Pirates playing an extra game?

I could say that general team-wide fatigue could be one way that the Nats could gain an edge, but I wouldn't really mean it.  The fact of the matter is that this is what the schedule will look like if the Pirates win and the Cardinals lose on Sunday.

  • Monday: Pittsburgh at St. Louis (St. Louis won the season series 11-8)
  • Wednesday: San Francisco at Monday's loser
  • Friday: Wedensday's winner at Nats
Yes... It's been a long and grueling 162 game season to this point.  Just about every player on a major league roster is dealing with dings and dents of some sort.  However, one of the beautiful things about baseball is that it's a game where teams play pretty much every day.  It's rare that a team plays fewer than six games in a week.  They often play all seven days.

As you can see from the schedule above, the team that loses Game 163 (if necessary) would have a day off before the wildcard game.  If they were to win that game, they would have a day off before the NLDS.  This certainly isn't going to make any of their position players or relievers unavailable for the start of the NLDS.  What it comes down to is.........

Starting Pitching

Without looking at who has thrown recently in their rotations, the thing that instantly comes to mind when I see that the Cardinals and Pirates might have to play a Game 163 is that it will be a Game 7 type of atmosphere.  I quickly jump to the conclusion that they're going to throw their best starter (or, at least their number two starter) in the hopes of avoiding having to play in the wildcard game.  That's where I'd go wrong, though.  Let's stack up the Cardinals' and Pirates' rotations as they would probably set them for a postseason series if every pitcher was (currently) on full rest:

Cardinals Pirates
Adam Wainwright Francisco Liriano
Lance Lynn Gerrit Cole
John Lackey Edinson Volquez
Shelby Miller Vance Worley
Michael Wacha Jeff Locke

If you'd like, we could probably rearrange that a bit.

  • The Cardinals #3 through #5 guys don't have a great deal of separation.   Wainwright is their clear number one.  Lynn has separated himself from the pack this season with a 2.74 ERA and looks like their clear number two starter.  Lackey gets the edge over Miller because of experience, but the two could easily be swapped. Based on how Wacha has come back from his injury, he's just now approaching full strength.  He threw 98 pitches in his last outing of the regular season, but that was just his fourth start back from the disabled list (first time he'd thrown more than 80 pitches since his return).  It's not out of the realm of possibility that they would use him as a starter in the playoffs, but it seems he'd be the likely candidate to move to the bullpen.
  • The Pirates don't lose as much from Liriano to Cole (the two could easily be swapped) as the Cardinals do going from Wainwright to Lynn.  Volquez and Worley look to be the clear third and fourth starters, with Locke moving to the bullpen (if he makes the roster at all).

Why did I tell you all of that?

  • The Cardinals started Lance Lynn on Saturday and will start Adam Wainwright on Sunday with a chance to clinch the division with a win.
  • The Pirates started Francisco Liriano on Saturday and will start Gerrit Cole on Sunday with a chance to force Game 163 with a win and a Cardinals loss.
Here's how this sets up.

Pirates

If the Pirates force Game 163, they'll start either Jeff Locke (on regular rest) or Edinson Volquez (on three days rest) in Monday's game.  Were they to lose that game, they would have these three choices for the wildcard game:
  • Volquez on regular rest (if they don't use him Monday)
  • Worley on regular rest
  • Liriano on three days rest
Liriano would seem unlikely, but possible.  Should they opt not to use Liriano on short rest and win the wildcard game, their top two starters would be on regular rest to start Games 1 and 2 at Nationals Park.

Cardinals

Unlike the Pirates, the Cardinals had Thursday off.  This means that they would have their choice of starting John Lackey or Shelby Miller on regular rest.  Were they to lose that game, the other would likely pitch the wildcard game (or they could use Lance Lynn on three days rest).  If they were to get through the wildcard game, this means that Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn would be ready to go on regular rest for Games 1 and 2 at Nationals Park.

In summation

If one of these two teams were to end up winning the wildcard game and become the Nationals first round opponent, the most obvious advantage that we would assume the Nats could gain by them having to play Monday and Wednesday is that it could keep them from setting up their rotation for the NLDS.  As the evidence above points out, unless Pittsburgh is that team and uses Liriano on short rest in the wildcard game, they're going to have their rotations set up exactly how they'd like.

I don't see the Nats gaining a clear advantage here.  In fact, I think that the fact that it's been so close that both teams have had to use their top starters this weekend because the division isn't settled, it may actually be detrimental to the Nats if one of these teams get through.  I believe that the Nationals will beat whichever of their three possible opponents gets through to the NLDS, but if the Cardinals and Pirates have to play Monday, it hasn't helped the Nats.

So who has this race that's gone down to the wire helped?

While they'll be playing on the road in the wildcard game, there's a way that the San Francisco Giants have actually gained a significant edge over their Wednesday opponent.  The Giants were eliminated from the NL West race on Wednesday and clinched a wildcard berth on Thursday.  Here's how the Giants rotation stacks up:

Madison Bumgarner
Jake Peavy
Tim Hudson
Ryan Vogelsong
Yusmiero Petit

Once again, feel free to quibble a bit.  We can say this much.  Madison Bumgarner is their clear number one starter.  Jake Peavy has been terrific since they acquired him from Boston in July. It's already been announced that if the Giants make it to the NLDS, Peavy will be their Game 1 starter.  Hudson is a veteran (and a guy who has had quite a bit of success against the Nats) who was having a good season.  He's been dealing with a hip injury and hasn't looked like the same pitcher lately that he was earlier this year.  Vogelsong is a reliable back of the rotation starter.  Petit has been a pleasant surprise, but I don't know how many magic beans he has left.  He's been an up and down (shuttle to AAA) guy for the past seven or eight years.

Anyway... Since the Giants knew that they were going to be the wildcard team on Thursday, they've made sure that Madison Bumgarner hasn't pitched this weekend.  He last pitched Tuesday and won't take his usual turn on Sunday because he'll start the wildcard game for them.  While the San Francisco Giants won't have home field advantage in the wildcard game, they'll be throwing their ace against either the Cardinals or Pirates number three starter in a one game playoff.  This will happen regardless of whether those two teams play Monday or not because of who has pitched Saturday and Sunday.

If nothing else, the NL Central race going down to the wire has made it more likely that the Nationals will be facing the San Francisco Giants on Friday.  In my eyes, this would be the biggest advantage the Nats could gain.  I'm not saying that the Giants are less dangerous than the other two teams.  However, knowing that Madison Bumgarner wouldn't pitch twice, I would much rather face them than the Cardinals (knowing Wainwright could pitch twice) or Pirates (knowing that Liriano and/or Cole could pitch twice).

Hopes for #MondayBaseball #Game163

OK... So I don't think that the Nats can really benefit from the NL Central race being pushed to a 163rd game.  Does this mean I'm rooting against that happening?  Absolutely not! Just like all of you (given that this post will go up early on a Nationals blog on a September Sunday morning, I sure hope anyone reading it fits this criteria), I'm a baseball fan!  The Nats are in the playoffs, so the more chaos the merrier!  Let's have a little fun and see what we can all hope happens so that we don't have a Monday without baseball.

NL Central Race

The Cardinals have a one game lead over the Pirates heading into the season's final day.  Both teams have clinched that they will at least host the wildcard game.  A Pirates win and a Cardinals loss would force a one game playoff in St. Louis to decide who hosts the wildcard game and who will win the NL Central and play the Dodgers Friday.

  • Pittsburgh (Gerrit Cole) at Cincinnati (Johnny Cueto) 1:10 PM EDT
  • St. Louis (Adam Wainwright) at Arizona (Josh Collmenter) 4:10 PM EDT
It makes me a bit sad that the Cardinals are in Arizona for this game.  The Pirates game is likely to be over (or close to it) before the Cardinals and Diamondbacks even get started.  If the Pirates were to lose (Cueto is likely to finish in the top three in the Cy Young balloting, so that could very well happen), St. Louis could have the division clinched before they even take the field.  It would certainly be preferable that the two games were played simultaneously.

Prediction: It's not going to happen.  I'll be rooting for the Bucs to beat Johnny Cueto and force the Cardinals to win.  Cole will keep them in the game and I think that it could go either way.  I'm not discrediting Josh Collmenter (11-8, 3.57 ERA, 1.16 WHIP on a team that has locked up the worst record in baseball), but the Cardinals have a significant pitching edge in this one.  Wainwright will deliver.

AL Central Race

The Royals and Tigers both lost Saturday night, leaving Detroit one game up on Kansas City for the division crown.  As is the case in the NL Central, both teams have clinched that they will at least host the wildcard game.  A Royals win and a Tigers loss would set up a one game playoff in Detroit (won the season series 13-6) for the AL Central crown and a series that would begin in Baltimore on Thursday.

  • Minnesota (Kyle Gibson) at Detroit (David Price) 1:08 PM EDT
  • Kansas City (Yordano Ventura) at Chicago White Sox (Chris Bassitt) 2:10 PM EDT

  • While the two games won't start at exactly the same time, the Tigers game should only be in the third or fourth inning by the time the Royals start.  If the Twins and Tigers stay close and the Royals jump on White Sox starter Chris Bassitt, maybe the Tigers could start to play a little tight.

    The Tigers went out and got Price at the trade deadline for games just like this, but he hasn't really delivered as much as they'd hoped he would (3.97 ERA, 1.18 WHIP in 10 starts since the trade).  In his last start, he looked dominant... until the 9th inning, when he let a 3-0 lead slip away.  The Tigers went on to win in the bottom half anyway, but it's possible there's some fatigue/carryover.  With Detroit playing for a division title and the Twins (70-91) playing for nothing but pride, Minnesota has hammered the Tigers by a combined score of 23-7 in the past two games.  In doing so, Minnesota has clinched that they'll win the season series (10-8) with Detroit, so they haven't looked intimated by the Tigers.

    The Royals have dominated the season series with Chicago (12-6), but they're coming off of a 5-4 loss in last night's game.  The White Sox may have been riding a bit of a high from the pregame ceremonies honoring Paul Konerko.  They jumped on Royals starter Danny Duffy for four runs in the first two innings.  Overcoming large deficits is not the Royals game, but they cut the deficit to one in the ninth inning before falling a hair short.

    Prediction: I'll say that they both win.  Twins starter Kyle Gibson has faced the Tigers four times this season.  In three of those starts, he's allowed at least four runs (the other saw him throw seven shutout innings, so baseball happens!).  I think Price will step up his game.  The Royals will win as well behind their tremendous young starter Ventura (14-10, 3.07 ERA, 1.27 WHIP).

    AL Wildcard

    Somehow, after giving away a half dozen chances, the Mariners ended up beating the Angels 2-1 in 11 innings last night.  The A's had lost to the Rangers 5-4 earlier, allowing the Mariners to climb to within a game heading into the final day of the season.  This is different than the other two possible Game 163 scenarios.  If the Mariners win and the A's lose on Sunday, the two will play in Seattle (won season series 10-9) for the right to go on the road in the wildcard game.  The loser's season will be over.

    • Oakland (Sonny Gray) at Texas (Nick Martinez) 3:05 PM EDT
    • Los Angeles Angels (Cory Rasmus) at Seattle (Felix Hernandez) 4:10 PM EDT
    The A's are on the verge of the biggest collapse that MLB has seen in decades.  At the All Star Break, the A's had the best record in baseball.  They held just a 1.5 game lead on the Angels (who had the second best record in MLB at the time), but they were 11.5 games ahead of the best non-playoff team.  They now enter the final day with just a one game lead over the division rival Mariners.  Oakland will have a pretty big edge in the pitching matchup, although Martinez (5-11, 5.05 ERA) has allowed just 6 runs (4 earned) in three starts against the A's this season.  Sonny Gray is fantastic, but he's had some struggles down the stretch, and allowed 5 runs (4 earned) in 5 innings against them just ten days ago.

    The Mariners will counter with their ace at home against what could be an Angels split squad.  The Halos have locked up the best record in baseball and are on the road, so there's a good chance that they rest some of their regulars on the final day of the regular season.

    Prediction: It's going to happen.  Gray will have a decent start, but the A's offense will continue to look as anemic as it has for much of the past two months.  King Felix will dominate an Angels lineup that decides to sit a handful of starters.  The A's will fly to Seattle for a game on Monday.  We will have chaos!  We will have Monday baseball!

    If that's the case, the lovely Susanna Hoffs would have something to sing about.

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    I only wish we'd have three games....