[ed. note: Previously, the writers of Federal Baseball answered a few questions about the upcoming Washington Nationals vs Chicago Cubs NLDS. We sent a modified version of those questions to Al Yellon of Bleed Cubbie Blue, and he kindly responded. Here’s what he said:
What storyline are you most excited to see for the Cubs in October?
One of the biggest storylines that the national media is going to make a big deal about is Nats manager Dusty Baker, who of course managed the Cubs for four years and nearly got them to the World Series.
Honestly -- while that interests me, Dusty is kind of old news in Chicago now that the Cubs have won a World Series under Joe Maddon. I'd rather not re-live the stories of 2003; rather, I'd simply like for the Cubs to send Dusty down to another postseason series defeat.
That will be a good enough storyline for me.
What scares you most about the Nats? Excites you most about playing them?
This is a great matchup. The teams played some close and competitive games during the regular season and while the Nats are an excellent team, I believe the Cubs can defeat them.
There are plenty of scary things about the Nats for any opponent. That has to start with their pitching. Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg are a great trio, and Scherzer and Gonzalez in particular have been tough on the Cubs.
So has Daniel Murphy. I'm sure you are familiar with how he dismantled Cubs pitching during the 2015 NLCS as a Met. Fortunately, the Cubs now have a couple of left-handed starters who might be able to stop Murphy. They'll need to, as he went 9-for-28 against the Cubs with three HR during the regular season.
And that isn't even mentioning Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, and Zimmerman had a fantastic regular season. It's a scary lineup top to bottom.
What concerns you about the Cubs most?
Right now, the Cubs' biggest concern is relief pitching. Wade Davis has been very good at closer, with just one blown save all year in 33 opportunities. But it's the guys who will help get the late innings to Davis are a concern. Carl Edwards Jr., Brian Duensing and Pedro Strop have been mostly reliable, but not lockdown. A key factor is the performance of former closer Hector Rondon. Rondon has had a tough year, but his last few outings have been excellent. If Rondon is reliable, that really helps the Cubs' setup relief.
What do you think the Cubs' best aspect will be?
A lot of people don't see this year's Cubs offense as being as good as last year's, but they actually scored more runs in 2017 (822) than 2016 (808). That was just two off the league lead, and three more than the Nats. And the Cubs led the major leagues with 423 runs scored after the All-Star break, and the +127 run differential after the break was second only to Cleveland's +180. So the Cubs' offense should be well-placed beginning this division series.
Also, a few of the Cubs have been banged up with minor injuries during the second half, including Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras and Javier Baez. The four days off before the series begins should really help them.
Should the Cubs go with an extra bench player or an extra reliever?
I've always been in favor of more bench players -- gives way more versatility, especially in a five-game series with two off days. But Joe Maddon has gone with extra relievers much of this year. On the other hand, in six postseason series with the Cubs (including the wild-card game) he has gone with 11 pitchers and 14 bench players all but one. So I'll say the Cubs will have the extra bench player in this series, and it could be Leonys Martin, who can provide speed on the bases and good outfield defense.
Can the Cubs repeat?
Absolutely. Once the playoffs begin, any team in it can win it. It's unusual for the team with the best regular-season record to win the World Series, as the Cubs did last year. And that wasn't easy either: they were a miracle four-run rally away from having to face Johnny Cueto in Game 5 in the first round, then got shut out twice in a row in the NLCS before winning three straight, then had to win three straight elimination games in the World Series, including Game 7 in extra innings after blowing a lead. (Whew! I'm exhausted again just writing that.)
The Nats are a tough opponent, but I expect this to be a close, hard-fought series. Cubs in five.