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
|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.
- Volquez on regular rest (if they don't use him Monday)
- Worley on regular rest
- Liriano on three days rest
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:
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
- Oakland (Sonny Gray) at Texas (Nick Martinez) 3:05 PM EDT
- Los Angeles Angels (Cory Rasmus) at Seattle (Felix Hernandez) 4:10 PM EDT
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I only wish we'd have three games....