CHICAGO CUBS (92-70)
at WASHINGTON NATIONALS (97-65)
NLDS Ė Game 1 - Nationals Park Ė Washington, D.C.
First pitch: Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET
Line: N/A, Total: N/A
The Cubsí quest for a repeat begins with a road Game 1 against the Nationals in the NLDS on Friday.
Chicago did not have the regular season that people were expecting, but itís very possible that this team was just coasting until the playoffs. The Cubs got a taste of what it is like to win the World Series a year ago, so itís hard to find the motivation to get up for all 162 games over the course of the season. While thatís a pretty lame excuse, itís a possibility that must be considered. But at the same time, the Cubs also regressed in quite a few categories. One of those was pitching, which will obviously be of the upmost importance in this series. The Nationals, meanwhile, had a good regular season, but theyíre definitely going to be hurting a bit with Max Scherzer (Hamstring) on the shelf for now. Scherzer would normally be the guy that starts this game, but he was injured late in the year. The word is that he is targeting Game 3, so the Nationals will be hoping that they can win one of these first two now. And itís not like theyíll be throwing some slouch on the hill in his place. Washingtonís starter in Game 1 will be RHP Stephen Strasburg (15-4, 2.52 ERA, 204 K), who would be an ace on most of the other teams in this league. For Chicago, RHP Kyle Hendricks (7-5, 3.03 ERA, 123 K) will be on the mound here. Hendricks rebounded from a slow start to the season by posting a 2.19 ERA after the All-Star Break. The Cubs will be confident with him out there in this one.
Kyle Hendricks was one of the best pitchers in the league in 2016 and the righty regained his form in the second half of the season for Chicago. There is actually no better time for Hendricks, as the team would have easily signed up for him to be hot heading into the playoffs if it was an option before the season. Hendricks had allowed two or fewer earned runs in eight of his final 12 starts before the playoffs, and he actually pitched seven innings and allowed just two earned runs in a start against this same Nationals team on Aug. 4. The Cubs would certainly be happy with another outing like that, but itís also possible that they get even better from him. Hendricks raised his game to another level in the postseason last year, as he was 1-1 with a 1.42 ERA in five starts. Some guys are just better in October and it seems like Hendricks is one of them. On offense, the Cubs will be counting on both 1B Anthony Rizzo and 3B Kris Bryant here. Both of them are some of the better hitters in the league, so they are dangerous whenever they get up. But the rest of this lineup can also do some damage, and the experience they picked up last year will be absolutely huge here.
The Nationals are not going to have Scherzer on the mound in this one, but Strasburg will do just fine. Strasburg is coming off of a great start, as he allowed only two hits in 7.2 shutout innings against the Pirates. He struck out eight batters in that game, so he should be feeling really good coming into this contest. Strasburg was also ridiculous the last time he faced the Cubs, as he allowed just two earned runs and struck out 13 batters when he faced Chicago on Jun. 28. The Nationals won that game 8-4 and will definitely be hoping that there is a similar result on Friday. On offense, itís obvious that the Nationals will be expecting some big things from OF Bryce Harper in this series. Harper is 4-for-13 with a homer in his career against Hendricks, so he should be feeling pretty good about the matchup. 2B Daniel Murphy should also like his chances to come through at the plate here, as he has homered off of Hendricks twice in his career. It would be a huge spark for this team if he were to go yard in this one, as the Nationals definitely donít want to see Hendricks get into a groove in their own ballpark.