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NLDS Preview: Cardinals vs. Nationals

Oct 7, 2012, 8:33 AM EST

busch stadium getty Getty Images

You can’t predict baseball, but you can at least lay out the parameters. So let’s take a look at what the Cardinals and Nationals have in store for us in the National League Division Series.

The Teams

St. Louis Cardinals (88-74) vs. Washington Nationals (98-64)

The Matchups

Game 1 Sunday in St. Louis: Gio Gonzalez vs. Adam Wainwright
Game 2 Monday in St. Louis: Jordan Zimmermann vs. Jaime Garcia
Game 3 Wednesday in Washington, D.C.: Chris Carpenter vs. Edwin Jackson
Game 4 (if necessary) Thursday in Washington, D.C.
Game 5 (if necessary) Friday in Washington, D.C.

Analysis: The Nationals’ postseason rotation would obviously look far more fierce with Stephen Strasburg active, but you already knew that. And these previews are supposed to be informative. Gonzalez, a Cy Young Award candidate in the National League, posted a stellar 2.89 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 32 starts this year for the NL East champions, tallying 207 strikeouts over 199 1/3 innings. But he was almost a full run worse on the road (3.31 ERA) than at home (2.28 ERA) and he has a 4.2 career BB/9. The Cardinals, meanwhile, finished with the highest collective on-base percentage in the major leagues this season.

Beating Gonzalez in Game 1 would put the Cards in a pretty great spot. Game 2 starter Garcia has a 2.48 career ERA at home and matches up well against a Nats lineup that relies heavily on left-handed hitters Bryce Harper and Adam LaRoche. There’s a decent chance that 88-win St. Louis could be up 2-0 on 98-win Washington before the five-game series shifts to the nation’s capital. You have Bud Selig to thank for that one.

The Storylines

  • The Nats beat the Cards in four out of seven games during the regular season and outscored ‘em 43-40.
  • Zimmermann had a 2.36 ERA in 16 road starts this season and a 3.54 ERA in 16 starts in Washington. If the Nationals drop Game 1 at Busch Stadium, he could be a stabilizing force the next day.
  • Wainwright showed some signs of fatigue in early September, but his final regular season start was against this same Nationals team and he held them to one earned run over six innings while striking out five. He’s been telling reporters all summer that his surgically-repaired right elbow is 100 percent healthy.
  • E-Jax started opposite Wainwright in that aforementioned game, yielding eight earned runs while recording only four outs against the team he won the World Series with in 2011. That game was played at Busch Stadium. Jackson should feel a little more comfortable at home in Nationals Park for Game 3.
  • Carpenter made a surprise return to the Cardinals’ rotation in mid-September after being ruled out for the year with thoracic outlet syndrome. He looked fairly sharp in his three starts down the stretch, posting a 3.71 ERA and 12/3 K/BB ratio in 17 innings against the Cubs, Astros and Reds. The veteran righty was an animal in the postseason last October and can be effective even when he doesn’t have his best stuff.
  • It’s an odd thing in a series that features big names like Matt Holliday, Ryan Zimmerman, Carlos Beltran, Jayson Werth and Yadier Molina, but the player most casual fans will tune in to see this week is the 19-year-old Harper. He registered a 1.043 OPS over his final 126 regular-season plate appearances and told CSN Washington’s Mark Zuckerman on Saturday that he has no nerves about playing in his first postseason game. Harper has been overshadowed somewhat this year by the Angels’ Mike Trout. With the Halos failing to make the playoffs, Bryce gets the phenom spotlight all to himself.
  • The Nationals will have a distinct advantage if these games are close in the later innings because of their dominant bullpen. Tyler Clippard struggled in September but has the goods to bounce back now that he’s been given a week of rest. Drew Storen has been exceptional his entire young career and Sean Burnett is an elite setup man. The Cards have some nice, battle-tested relievers in Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs and Lance Lynn, but there’s a clear talent discrepancy. Oh, and St. Louis will carry only one lefty in the ‘pen: Mark Rzepczynski. He had a 4.24 ERA in 46 2/3 innings during the regular season.

Prediction

At the MLB level, anything can happen in a five-game series. And there’s certainly no glaring favorite here. But the Cardinals get to open with two consecutive games at home, where they were 50-31 this season. A quick two-game lead would put the younger, less experienced Nationals roster on the ropes.

CARDINALS WIN THE SERIES 3-1

  1. burgundyandgold - Oct 7, 2012 at 9:13 AM

    I don’t like the Cardinals, they are Arrogant. But the Nationals can’t be taken seriously since they a) shut their best pitcher down denying him the experience of the postseason and b) think it is a given they will be back. Its not in a divison with the Phillies, braves and even the Mets. Here’s hoping for a Cardinals sweep.

    • kiwicricket - Oct 7, 2012 at 10:07 AM

      The team with the best record in baseball at the end of the regular season ‘can’t be taken seriously’ ??? Riiiigggghhhtttt…..

  2. natsattack - Oct 7, 2012 at 9:32 AM

    You can’t substitute “Cardinals” for “Nationals” in the last sentence!

  3. johnjb2315 - Oct 7, 2012 at 10:03 AM

    How the hell can you say the cardinals are arrogant, that’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard .

  4. sumerduckman - Oct 7, 2012 at 10:49 AM

    I hate to say it, and I hope I’m wrong, but I agree with Mr. Silva, Cards in 4.

    The way the games are arranged in this years version of Seligball, the critical game will probably be game #4 at DC.

    The Cards will have their #1 pitcher back on the mound,to be countered with Ross Detwiler for the Nats.

  5. voteforno6 - Oct 7, 2012 at 11:19 AM

    Maybe the Cardinals do win this series. I don’t think it’s quite so clear cut as the preview makes it out to me. The Nationals have the best road record of any team this year, and Gonzalez and Zimmermann have pitched very well on the road. Also, I’m not sure how well Jaime Garcia matches up with their lineup. The Nats have some very good right-handed hitters (Zimmerman, Morse, Desmond), and Harper had a pretty good game against him back at the end of August. Also, inasmuch as managers make a difference, the Nats have a clear advantage.

    So, we’ll see how this plays out. But, you need to remember, the Nats won 98 games for a reason.

  6. mungman69 - Oct 7, 2012 at 12:06 PM

    Yes, the Nats won 98 games which means that they are real good but the Cards have been playing real well in postseason play. Not having Strausburg hurts. I see the Cards in four.

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