It’s now a best-of-three, and lost amid the angst of Saturday’s loss is that the Cubs have the home field advantage, whatever that might mean to you. Two home wins, Cubs move on. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? If only baseball worked that way.
So let’s get right to it. Game Three is basically all about how healthy Max Scherzer is. And it might be what the whole Nationals playoff future hinges on. The Nats right now are scheduled to throw Tanner Roark in Game Four. You would have to imagine Dusty Baker is going to have a very itchy trigger finger when it comes to pulling Roark in that start, if it’s not going well. Which means he’s going to use the pen heavily, and that means he’s not going to want to lean on them too much in today’s game. So not only does Washington need Scherzer to be healthy, they need him to be Scherzer.
It would be tempting to point out that Scherzer had a 4.05 ERA in September, and that was before he got hurt. And some of that was a result of his walks ballooning to their high point of the season. His strikeouts dropped to a season low for the month as well, though there are a lot of pitchers who would take a 10.26 K/9 rate in exchange for the removal of one to a few organs. Even when Scherzer isn’t Scherzer, it’s still awfully imposing. Hitters still managed just a .197 AVG against him in September, and he was a bit undone by sequencing with only a 66 percent left-on-base rate. Getting through him, no matter the state of his hamstring, is on the same level as breaking through against Stephen Strasburg.
While the temptation is to cite players who have been successful against Scherzer in the past, there really isn’t anyone other than Ben Zobrist who has more than a handful of at bats against him. If you must know, Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo have gotten to him best. At this point I would rather see Joe Maddon go with who has been better of late. Kyle Schwarber’s power is probably needed, as the likelihood of stringing hits together isn’t all that high. Ian Happ too? I could make an argument for sitting Addison Russell as well, but I’m not going to sit on a hot stove waiting for Maddon to sit either Zobrist or Russell.
With Scherzer it’s kind of the same conundrum the Cubs had with Strasburg. You can try and be patient, but when he’s on, he’s just going to be pumping fastballs over the plate and then you’re down 0-2 and at the mercy of his nasty breaking stuff. Try and catch the first fastball you find and you might see a lot of seven-pitch innings.
We can’t comment on Jose Quintana’s playoff history, because there isn’t one. If it’s the Quintana of two starts ago and the first four innings of the season finale, then they’re in the proverbial cat bird’s seat. They won’t have to burn through the pen, and they can save that in case Jake Arrieta is iffy on Tuesday. If Quintana isn’t up to it, then you’re throwing a lot of bullpen arms ahead of not knowing what you’ll get from Arrieta. So yeah, tomorrow’s game is just a bit huge.
If you need happy omens, the last time the Cubs had two afternoon starts in the Division Series at home, they blistered the Cardinals to take that series. Not that that’s how this works, but it at least makes for an image you can hold onto.
Lead photo courtesy Brad Mills—USA Today Sports