The National League Championship matchup between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Washington Nationals is intriguing in a way due to the fact that so few predicted that these would be the two teams facing off for a shot at the World Series. While both teams have been competitive for the past decade, they shook things up in the divisional round with thrilling five-game upsets over the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves, as reported by USA Today. However, while each teams’ respective series went five games, that final match couldn’t have gone any more differently.
The Washington Nationals were facing a similar elimination scenario only days earlier in their wildcard matchup against the Milwaukee Brewers: trailing as the eighth inning began. The only difference was this game was on the road against a 106-win Los Angeles Dodgers with former National League MVP Clayton Kershaw on the mound. However, Kershaw lived up to his terrible postseason reputation, surrendering back-to-back home runs that sent the game into extra innings. Washington’s unexpected comeback was capped off in emphatic fashion, with a Howie Kendrick grand slam sending the Nationals to the National League Championship for the first time since the franchise moved to the nation’s capital.
For the Cardinals, any chance of a barnburner against the Braves ended after a first inning that saw St. Louis score 10 runs, a feat that no team has ever accomplished in the first inning of a postseason game, as reported by Fox News. The Cardinals moved on after thoroughly embarrassing the team to face the Nationals in the National League East as they seek their first National League pennant since 2013.
Both teams entered the playoffs as two of the hottest in the league, with Washington bouncing back from a 19-31 start to end the season on a 78-40 run. The Cardinals unexpectedly snatched the National League Central crown from the Brewers and the Chicago Cubs after going on a 33-16 run from August.
The Cardinals will be relieved that they have managed to avoid the three aces in the Nationals’ pitching rotation for Game 1, with Anibal Sanchez facing off against St. Louis’ Miles Mikolas. But while Sanchez doesn’t possess the same reputation as Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, he is far from a soft matchup. His appearance during the divisional series saw him allow only a single run while striking out nine in Game 3 and would have picked up the win if not for the Nationals’ bullpen surrendering the lead.
Mikolas also only allowed a single run in five innings during his Game 1 start against the Braves, While Mikolas’ numbers, as well as the rest of the rotation bar Jack Flaherty, pale in comparison to a Nationals rotation that is arguably the best in the league, they put on an impressive performance against Atlanta, holding their potent offense to a 0.214 batting average and 1.78 ERA with a 28-8 strikeout-walk ratio.
In a series that is too close to call, Game 1 could answer a lot of questions. Will the Cardinals be able to continue their pitching dominance against a Nationals lineup that is weaker than the Braves? Will Nationals’ manager Dave Martinez be able to correctly maneuver a bullpen that has shown a propensity for surrendering leads? Most importantly, will the teams be able to capitalize on their upsets or will the nature of their accomplishments lead to underwhelming performances? Game 1 will reveal all.