CHICAGO CUBS (94-72)
at WASHINGTON NATIONALS (99-67)
NLDS – Game 5 - Nationals Park – Washington, D.C.
First pitch: Thursday, 8:08 p.m. ET
Line: Chicago -130, Washington +120, Total: 7.5
A spot in the NLCS will be on the line when the Nationals host the Cubs on Thursday.
Chicago had a chance to end this series at Wrigley Field on Game 4, but Washington had other plans. The Nationals took a 1-0 lead on an error by the Cubs early and Stephen Strasburg controlled the game from there. The righty pitched seven innings of shutout ball, striking out a ridiculous 12 batters in the process. The Cubs will now need to win this series on the road, which is obviously not going to be easy. Chicago is, however, going to have the edge on the mound in this one. The Cubs are sending their ace to the hill here, as RHP Kyle Hendricks (7-5, 3.03 ERA, 123 K) is going to be taking the ball. He’s exactly the guy that Chicago will want on the mound, and Washington’s situation is a bit more difficult. RHP Max Scherzer (16-6, 2.51 ERA, 268 K) is the guy that the Nats would ideally have starting here, but he started Game 3 and that is a tough turnaround for anybody. Still, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him start this one. It’s a do-or-die situation and he’s being paid handsomely for this situation. Either way, expect him out there at some point. At the very least, he can give them 50-70 pitches here. The other guys that the Nationals are considering are LHP Gio Gonzalez (15-9, 2.96 ERA, 188 K) and RHP Tanner Roark (13-11, 4.67 ERA, 166 K). Both are solid pitchers, but obviously lack the upside of somebody like Scherzer. If either of them go Thursday then expect a pretty short leash.
Kyle Hendricks is starting for the Cubs on Thursday and the righty has been as clutch as can be for Chicago over the past two years. Last year, Hendricks had a 1.42 ERA in five postseason starts for the Cubs. He then got this year’s playoffs off on the right foot, as he pitched seven innings of shutout ball against the Nationals in Game 1. Hendricks struck out six in that game and should be feeling really good coming into this one. He just needs to make sure that he doesn’t hang anything here, as the Nationals have plenty of guys that will be looking to take him yard. On offense, 1B Anthony Rizzo and 3B Kris Bryant will have to step their games up for the Cubs in this one. Rizzo has been extremely clutch throughout the course of this series, but he did fail to show up in Game 4. Chicago needs him to get back to being the same dangerous hitter he has always been on Thursday. Bryant, meanwhile, has really failed to show up in this series. He is 0-for-7 over the past two games and the Cubs need last year’s NL MVP to snap out of it in this game.
The Nationals are playing it close to the vest for Thursday, so it’s difficult to really figure out who they are going to start. One thing that’s definitely for sure is that the Cubs are probably dying to see Tanner Roark. Roark is the worst of the three guys under consideration here and Chicago would feel great about its chances if he is on the mound. And if Roark is on the mound then he’ll need to really be on point with his control for Washington. He can get very wild on occasion, which is why it makes a lot more sense to go with either Gonzalez or Scherzer. The one thing the Nationals will definitely need to do here is provide some run support. Even if Scherzer is able to go, there’s a good chance he won’t be pitching to his fullest capabilities. That means that the Washington lineup has to be prepared to have his back. The two guys that definitely need to produce at the plate here are OF Bryce Harper and 2B Daniel Murphy. Both were insane during the regular season, but that means nothing if they can’t drive in some runs in the biggest game of the year.