Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

How do we stack up against Chicago for the NLDS?


Nats Nation breathes a sigh of relief; it was just a cramp. Photo via

Nats Nation breathes a sigh of relief; it was just a cramp.  Or was it? Photo via

Warning: lots of judgments based on short sample sizes and possibly not taking into account other factors that may have been in play during 3- and 4-game series, which are in reality a small fraction of a season.  And  yes I know, past performance is no indicator of future performance.  Just read and stop being a buzz-kill will ya?  :-)

So, we’ve known for a while that we were going to face the Cubs in the NLDS.  But now its official.  So lets peek back at our two series against them this year to see how our guys matched up to see if there’s any places to keep an eye on.  On a macro level, we took the season series from the Cubs 4-3, outscoring them 39-28 in the process.  We split four games at home in June, then took 2 of 3 against them on the road in August.

Nats Starters:  Here’s how our playoff starters fared against the Cubs this year:

  • Max Scherzer went 6, gave up 2 hits and a run with a victory over Chicago at home in June.  That sounds pretty good.
  • Stephen Strasburg went 7, punched out 13 (!) and gave up 3 runs (2 earned) in a home victory in June.  I’ll take that.
  • Gio Gonzalez went 6, gave up just two hits (good) but walked 5 (bad) , managed to give up just one run (good) and was an unlucky loser in the June home series.
  • Tanner Roark went 6+, gave up 2 runs on 5 hits and took a loss in Chicago in August.  Not bad.
  • The other three starts against the Cubs were Joe Ross in June, Edwin Jackson in August and Erick Fedde in August, so the Cubs have only seen our starters once each this year.

So, all four of our starters basically had quality starts against the Cubs this year.  That sounds promising.  No red flags.  We’ll ignore the fact that both Gio and Roark got bombed on the season’s closing day.  Maybe they were hung over.

Cubs Starters: How did Chicago’s presumed playoff rotation fare against us?

  • Jon Lester went 6, gave up 3 hits and a run in a no-decision in the June finale.  Tough.
  • Lester threw another QS in August, going 6 2/3rds, giving up 3 runs on 6 hits and getting a ND against Fedde.  Not bad.
  • Jake Arrieta was super-wild, walking 6 in 4 innings and taking the loss against Scherzer in June.  Uncharacteristic performance.
  • Kyle Hendricks went 7, giving up 3 runs on 5 hits and took a loss against Roark in the August series.  About what you’d want out of a 3rd starter.
  • Jose Quintana was a mid-season acquisition and did not pitch against us this year.
  • The other starts against us were thrown by Eddie Butler (who hails from Chesapeake, went to power-house Greenbrier Christian and was a 1st rounder out of Radford a few years back) and Jon Lackey (twice).

So, Lester was solid against us twice, Arrieta had an uncharacteristic struggle, and Hendricks was good but not dominant.  Quintana has thrown to a 3.74 ERA in his 14 starts, good but not lights out.  I have no idea how they’ll line up for the playoffs but think it may be as they’re listed above (maybe Quintana is #3 and Hendricks is #4).  It does look like Lackey is odd-man out of the Chicago rotation, which should be a fun conversation with their manager.

Summary: I like how our Starting Pitching lines up frankly; Scherzer is Scherzer, Strasburg has been unhittable for two months, and Gonzalez has been sneaky good all year.  Gonzalez and Roark project to pitch in Chicago … but Gio’s away splits are pretty good this year (11-5 with a 3.12 ERA).


Nats Hitters; here’s how some of our key hitters have fared against Chicago starters in their career (thanks to the wonderful per-Pitcher stats):

  • Bryce Harper is 1-7 against Lester, 4-14 against Arrieta, 4-13 against Hendricks and has never faced Quintana.  At least his one hit against Lester was a dong.
  • Daniel Murphy is 4-14 against Lester, 6-19 against Arrieta, 4-15 against Hendricks and also has never faced Quintana.  Better.
  • Ryan Zimmerman is 2-16 against Lester, 5-21 against Arrieta, 0-9 against Hendricks and has also never faced Quintana.  Might be a rough series for Zim.
  • Trea Turner is 1-2 against Lester, 1-2 against Arrieta, and has never faced either Hendricks or Quintana.  Not much to go on here.
  • Jayson Werth is 2-4 against Lester, 2-9 against Arrieta, 0-3 against Hendricks and has never faced Quintana.  About what you’d expect.
  • Anthony Rendon is 1-5 against Lester, 4-11 against Arrieta, 2-11 against Hendricks and has never faced Quintana.  Not bad.

I didn’t bother looking up Wieters or Taylor numbers because I expect little from them this off-season; anything they contribute is gravy.  Our 1-6 hitters need to make it happen.

Cubs Hitters; here’s the same analysis against our guys for Cubs key hitters (career figures):

  • Kris Bryant is 1-10 against Max, 2-5 against Stras, 2-10 against Gio and a strong 5-11 against Roark.   Might be an interesting series for the defending NL MVP.
  • Anthony Rizzo is 3-10 against Max, 2-13 against Stras, 2-22 against Gio and 4-18 against Roark.  Clearly the lefty and Roark’s swing-back fastball is effective against him.
  • Willson Contreras has never faced Scherzer, is 1-3 against Strasburg, 1-2 against Gio, 1-3 against Roark.  Almost no history go go on.
  • Javier Baez is 0-5 vs Max, 0-6 against Stras, 0-6 against Gio and 1-3 against Roark.  Not a lot of success here for Baez.
  • Kyle Schwarber has just two ABs against any of our starters, going 1-2 in a game against Roark.

I’m not entirely sure that Schwarber will play (he had 30 homers but an awful BA), nor Baez (since the Cubs have Ben Zobrist).  But these are the key bats for the Cubs and there’s not a ton to go on.  It seems like Bryant will be a handful, Rizzo may be an issue against some of our guys, and the rest of the squad could hit or miss (which, perhaps, is what you’d say also having not seen any of these stats).


So how does it look overall?  I like our chances, honestly.  I don’t like how Harper has looked since his “return” so that’s a huge worry, but I like our chances with the Cubs having to beat Scherzer twice and Strasburg once in a short series, and I like Gio going against the power hitting lefties in Chicago’s lineup.  I like our revamped bullpen, especially if we never have to depend on the 5th and 6th guy out of it.

It comes down to this injury scare at this point; is Scherzer going to be ok?  Can the Nats survive if Scherzer is out and we’re forced to give a playoff start to Jackson?

Assuming Scherzer is ok, Nats in 5.


14 Responses to 'How do we stack up against Chicago for the NLDS?'

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  1. I’m perfectly fine with the national media fawning over the Cubs and making them the favorites, but honestly, I just don’t see it. What the Cubs have going for them are the playoff success experience and a reasonably hot finish to the regular season (which Fangraphs says doesn’t mean anything). What the Nats have are more good hitters than the Cubs have, more dominant starting pitchers than the Cubs have, and better bullpen depth. Am I missing something here?

    The Nats have four hitters with OPS over .900 and OPS+ over 135. The Cubs have only one, Bryant, with Rizzo falling just short of both numbers. The Nats also have a hot and motivated Trea Turner ready to run wild. (FWIW, Murphy has also homered in every playoff game he has played against the Cubs. SSS, but a fun fact.)

    Starting pitching: the Cubs have no one close to the level of where Stras and Max are right now. That doesn’t mean that Stras and Max are guaranteed to pitch up to that level or that the Cub starters won’t step it up, but this Cub rotation is no where close to what it was last year. Lester has a 4.33 ERA and 1.323 WHIP, and he’s apparently going to be their lead dog.

    In the bullpen, I would call Davis and Doolittle pretty close right now. I’ll take Madson over Edwards as the setup man any day of the week, though. The Nats have clobbered Edwards, particularly when he has pitched back-to-back days.

    The Nats aren’t THAT much better than the Cubs on any front, but they are better. Alas, we know that doesn’t mean anything considering how much better the Nats were than the Giants in 2014. The playoffs are a crap-shoot, and the Nats have crapped out three times. I like the feel of this situation, though. Let’s start by winning a Game 1 for the first time ever. That’s the only way we can get a sweep, right?


    2 Oct 17 at 12:47 pm

  2. I feel good about the Nats team and chances, but I think KW’s argument makes the point too strongly. I’d make it 55/45 in favor of the Nats. what I like is that with Werth and Harper back to form, there really is just 1 hole in the lineup (C).

    Injuries make pitching a bit of a question mark, but when healthy KW is right that they are clearly better than the Cubs rotation.

    I’m not going to predict anything though. Just a fool’s game (plus I am a little bit superstitious about that stuff).


    2 Oct 17 at 2:53 pm

  3. Whoa, Coppy out at ATL. Some kind of international signing issue. Feels like Jimbo all over again.

    I think Philly becomes the next NL East team on the rise. I thought that before this news but it certainly doesn’t help.


    2 Oct 17 at 3:40 pm

  4. Atlanta has best farm system in the game, probably thanks to sneaky sh*t, so that’s just awesome. Just in time for the hard cap to go in place so nobody can really benefit anymore. Philadelphia has a number of very top end prospects right now and a lot of them are in the upper levels of their minors … ( plus they have a TON of cash coming off the books; they had $100M in payroll this year and have a pre-Arb TOTAL of just $6.8M committed for 2018. that’s just ridiculous. I count 5 arb cases but none of them are going to be even to 8 figures; they might roll out a payroll that would make the Marlins blush in 2018. And then they could throw $40m/year at Harper or Machado or Trout (who, lets not forget, is from Philly’s back yard in South Jersey) and remake their team. The Mets still have all these high end arms and maybe a proper manager might actually keep them healthy. Its looking like Miami is going to bottom out themselves; Stanton already making waves about getting out and Jeter is firing everybody (or rather having someone else fire everybody) before he even gets the keys. NL East may still be there for the taking for the nats for a while if they can get the likes of Robles, Soto, Turner, Eaton to produce at 5-6win levels as we lose Harper.

    Todd Boss

    2 Oct 17 at 4:49 pm

  5. One nit, KW: we won G1 in 2012, though G1 was in St. Louis. The Nats have never won the first game played in Nats park – losing G3 in 2012 and G1 in 2014 and 2016.

    Nats NLDS home record: 2-6 (3-3 on the road)

    The Nats’ last six postseason losses have each been by one run.


    2 Oct 17 at 5:06 pm

  6. Picture Philly with Arrieta, Cobb and Moustakas. That’d be a tough team starting next year, with all those prospects coming.

    I think the Mets have significant issues now. If Thor is back, that’s a great top two but no one strong after that, plus health issues. The lineup also,has major issues now. Cespedes should be back, but Conforto has a serious injury. Rosario should be good in time but Smith isn’t showing much. Who else would you be excited about in their lineup.

    Atlanta – I dunno, just not seeing it yet. The opposite of the Mets problem. The lineup is fine. Swanson will be ok, I guess, but 2d tier SS, imo. I like Albies and Incinarte, and Freeman of course, and let’s assume Acuna is the real deal. That’s youth and talent. They still have some holes but if Freeman keeps this up, it’s a decent lineup. But where’s the pitching? There is not one guy I’ve seen who scares me. I know they have a big pipeline and maybe I’m missing it, but I’d like to see some real studs before I get worried.

    Miami – ah, I’ll worry when they actually give me reason.


    2 Oct 17 at 7:22 pm

  7. Damn, Laz Diaz on the Nats crew. Now that could be a problem.


    2 Oct 17 at 8:16 pm

  8. Good writeup, Todd.
    Sample sizes are too small to even look at if you’re just using 1 year.
    The Nats rotation is just so much better than the Cubs; think that overrides everything else.

    It’s a given that Maddon will run circles around Dusty but that won’t be enough.

    Mark L

    2 Oct 17 at 9:16 pm

  9. Not claiming huge differences, but if the Nats execute, they’re better, both offensively and particularly in starting pitching. But having demonstrably better regular-season starting pitching is no guarantee — just ask the Braves of the 1990s.

    The postseason is a combination of talent, execution, and luck. It’s about time the luck swung in our direction for once!

    (Plus I’ll admit it, I’ve worked up a healthy dislike of the Cubs and their sense of entitlement.)


    2 Oct 17 at 9:38 pm

  10. MLB owes the Braves some serious consequences if the stories about Coppolella are true, including fines, lost draft picks, and an international signing freeze.

    Wally, I’m very curious about whether Miami is going to have a fire sale. If they blow up that OF, that’s a big mistake, but it would help the Nats. If the Fish got some legit starters and got Prado healthy, they’re not that far from wild-card contention. They’d have to sign the starters, though, as they’ve got very little to trade.

    The Mets are stuck needing to rebuild but in a big market where it would be embarrassing to do so. They had the arms to carry them across the transition but have all but ruined them.

    Bottom line: no excuses for the Nats not to keep rolling next year.


    2 Oct 17 at 9:46 pm

  11. I think the Braves might be in more serious danger. Passan reporting that their big signing last offseason may be in jeopardy of being declared a FA (Kevin Maitan).


    Passan’s article lists a whole slew of violations:
    – agreements with 14yr old IFAs
    – tampering with players not yet FAs
    – offering under the table benefits to rule4 players to get them to sign underslot deals (this seems even worse)
    – paying for benefits for IFAs before they were officially signed.


    Todd Boss

    3 Oct 17 at 10:00 am

  12. Playoff predictions:

    Mine are pretty much in agreement with Boz and Barry S. Is it wishful thinking to put the Nats in the WS? We’ll see. All in all, I think Boz is right that this may be one of the deepest top eights in recent memory. That means that the it’s going to be a difficult run to a title for any team.

    Tonight, I would laugh long and hard if the Twins take out the Yanks. I don’t think it’s going to happen, but it would be fun to see.


    3 Oct 17 at 7:36 pm

  13. Braves’ mess: wow. There should be an unprecedented level of punishment.


    3 Oct 17 at 7:42 pm

  14. I’ll do a playoffs prediction piece tomorrow once we know who wins the NL wild card.

    Todd Boss

    4 Oct 17 at 9:52 am

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