MLB Daily: Looking Into the Future, Cubs vs. Nats 2016 NLCS Preview?
The Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals will meet Monday Night to kickstart a three game series in the nation’s capital. Last time these two teams met, the Cubs swept the four game series back in May. National’s superstar right fielder, Bryce Harper was walked 13 times in that series alone. So will Cubs pitchers continue their philosophy which worked? Or will they insist to pitch to him. The Cubs enter Monday’s game with the best record in baseball at 43-18. They have four more wins than the teams with the second most wins, the Texas Rangers, and the Nationals. While we can’t put too much stock into these games (the NLCS in 2015 featured the Mets and Cubs, the Mets were 0-6 against the Cubs in the regular season but swept them in the NLCS), these games do matter on the schedule and both teams will look to get any sort of feel of each other that they can in these games. With that being said, let’s take a look at each games for this series at break them down.
Monday’s matchup features Chicago’s Kyle Hendricks versus Washington’s Max Scherzer. Hendricks has won two of his last three starts and is 4-5 with a 2.90 ERA. He’s given up just four homers in 11 starts. Back on May the fifth against these Nats, he went six innings allowing no runs, striking out four and walking just two batters as he got the win. At home, Hendricks has an ERA of 1.99 and has given up just one home run. Both teams come in hot, the Nationals have won four of their last five and the Cubs three of their last four. Scherzer is making his first start against the Cubs away from Wrigley Field. Against the Cubs on May sixth, Scherzer went five innings giving up seven earned runs and four home runs. But since that start back in early May, he’s 4-2, winnings two straight decisions, and has an ERA of 2.62 starting six games since then. He’s also fourth in the majors in strikeouts with 107 of them in 13 starts.
Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward has hit two homers in the last five days and has incredible numbers against Scherzer. He owns a lifetime average of .500 against him. In nine plate appearances against Scherzer, Heyward has four singles, a double, a walk, and three runs. After a slow April and early May, Heyward looks like he’s turning the engine on in June. A productive 2-3 type day tomorrow versus Scherzer from Heyward would put the Cubs nicely in line for a win.
Tuesday’s pitching matchup is set for Chicago’s John Lackey versus Washington’s Gio Gonzalez. In his last five starts, three of them on the road, Lackey has averaged seven innings per start. He also has a 1.34 ERA over that span. On May sixth, he beat the Nationals as he went seven innings allowing two runs. He’s been a great piece for the really deep Cubs rotation. He was hardly touchable in his last outing against Philadelphia as he went seven without allowing a run. If he goes six deep, the Cubs should win. Gonzalez has been shaky as of late, after a great start to the year for the Nationals, he’s had a few hiccups and has seem to run into a bit of a wall as of late. He hasn’t won a decision since May 18th and has just one quality outing over his last four starts. If he can fan eight or more batters on Tuesday however, I like the Nats chances in this one.
The Nationals Jayson Werth, Daniel Murphy, and Ryan Zimmerman all have a lifetime batting average of .400 or more against Lackey lifetime in a combined 37 plate appearances. The Cubs have six players who have a .300 batting average or greater against Gonzalez so this one could be high scoring.
The third and final game of this series is set for Chicago’s Jason Hammel taking on Washington’s Stephen Strasburg. While not the inning eater that Strasburg has been, Hammel has been steadily consistent. He has just one game this year where he’s given up four runs, and is 7-2 on the season. Hammel pitched against the Cubs on May seventh but didn’t get the decision, he went five innings allowing three runs. He gave up two homers in his last outing against Atlanta so limiting home runs is key, especially against the Nationals who have hit 85 home runs all year, fourth most in the MLB. Strasburg is yet to lose a game this year and has 10 wins to his name. His 110 strikeouts are third most in all of the game. He didn’t make an appearance back in May when these teams squared off, and hasn’t faced the Cubs since 2013, when he threw eight innings allowing four runs. Heyward has hit .412 with a home run in 34 at bats against Strasburg. But other than him, the Cubs don’t have very much history against the young stud. You would expect a pitchers duel in this one, something like 1-0 or 2-1. On the road, Strasburg actually has a much better ERA than at home. He’s given up just nine earned runs away as opposed to 20 at home. He’s been lights out all year, so I would expect that to continue versus the Cubs.