Well now it’s here. You forget how interminable the four-day wait from the end of the season to Game One can be, but at least it’s over. Let the shpilkus flow!
It always feels a touch silly previewing one baseball game, because as we know these things can go anywhere on the whim of the wind and ghosts. But that is our charge today, and we’ll start with the pitching matchup. The Cubs are sending out what is their best right now in Kyle Hendricks (and that’s more a comment on how good he’s been rather than the health and effectiveness of the others) and the Nationals get two to choose from to do the same. They’ll go with Stephen Strasburg, meaning he’ll also be waiting in a potential Game Five should it get there, or even on short-rest for Game Four if need be.
Obviously, you don’t need me to tell you what a monster Strasburg has been this season, even if he missed a handful of starts with his yearly injury. And he’s been particularly killer in the last two months of the season, holding batters to a .178 average in August and .167 in September, while carrying a 7.5 K/BB and 5.7 K/BB in those months, too. If you were hoping to find some ray of optimism in recency, we’re all sold out on that here.
So how about his history against this Cubs team? As I mentioned on my preview of the Nats starters on my site, you may blink a lot and maybe even choke on your coffee a bit when you read that Jason Heyward has actually torched Strasburg over his career. .405 average, .595 slugging in a not completely irrelevant 41 plate appearances against him. Of course, only one of those hits has come in the last two years, as most of them came when they shared a division. Still, I would imagine those numbers get J-Hey into the lineup this evening.
Beyond that though it is not pretty. Bryant is 2-for-5 against him with a walk, but that’s really about it. So we’re left to conclude that Strasburg is really tough. It’s that kind of stinging analysis that keeps you coming back here, isn’t it?
Strasburg has changed up his attack this year a touch. He throws fewer four-seamers than he has in the past, cut off his slider into a curve and a change that he uses far more often than ever. The change is a particular weapon, as he gets whiffs on half the swings it entices, and he throws it to all hitters, not just lefties which is what you tend to see from right-handed pitchers. Given the whiff-tendencies of some Cubs hitters…ok look no one said it would be easy. The curve isn’t much more of a treat, as he gets 40 percent whiffs on the swings hitters are baited into taking on it. So yeah, weapons galore.
Ok, let’s try and feel a little better. Not only has our “Cerebral Assassin” (Hendricks) been nails since he came off the disabled list in July, but his particular fashion of approach to hitters is anathema to a couple important Nationals hitters. Both Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon have problems with change-ups–Turner had a .021 ISO and whiffed at 40 percent of them this year, while Rendon batted .175–which hopefully means the table-setter and perhaps their most dangerous hitter with Harper hurt are up against it today. That’s not automatic obviously, Hendricks will have to be on his game, but it’s a start.
The danger-man, other than Daniel Murphy simply because the gods hate us, might be Ryan Zimmerman, who has simply crushed fastballs low in the zone and below this year, otherwise known as where Kyle lives. Look, no one said it would be easy, ok?
It sounds a little funny but Hendricks does have a huge experience advantage if that counts for anything. This will be his eighth playoff start, and only Strasburg’s second. Strasburg’s first came last year and it wasn’t bad but he didn’t get out of the fifth inning as Dusty wasn’t afraid to go to his pen early to get left-handed pitchers out against the Dodgers, which was a really solid strategy. As we know, Hendricks was pretty marvelous in the playoffs last year, even if his manager kind of lost his mind in his last one.
So there it is. Given Strasburg is starting you can probably expect Heyward to start in right and Jay in center with Zobrist in left. Or Zobrist in right getting Schwarbs in there. Oh who knows? If Strasburg is on, it probably doesn’t matter. Same goes for Hendricks though.
Let’s kick this pig.
Lead photo courtesy Brad Mills—USA Today Sports