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Looking Forward to the National League Championship Series

MLB: NLDS-St. Louis Cardinals at Atlanta Braves Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

It took all five games, but the Cardinals defeated the Braves in the National League Division Series and have moved on to compete for the pennant. In the best-of-seven National League Championship Series that starts on Friday, the Cardinals will take on the Nationals and have home-field advantage. The Nationals pulled off a thrilling victory in Game 5 of the NLDS against the Dodgers. Washington tied the game with back-to-back homers to tie the game off Clayton Kershaw in the eighth inning and won on a go-ahead grand slam in the 10th.

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This will be St. Louis and Washington’s first meeting in the Postseason since 2012, when Pete Kozma and the Cardinals defeated the Nationals in five games of the NLDS. (The Cardinals moved on to face the Giants in the NLCS that year... but we won’t talk about that.)

The Cardinals and Nationals will open the NLCS on Friday evening. Miles Mikolas and Anibal Sanchez will start Game 1, with Adam Wainwright and Max Scherzer set for the Game 2 assignment on Saturday. After a day of travel on Sunday, the series will shift out east to Washington for the third, fourth, and fifth games, followed by the sixth and seventh games back at Busch if necessary. The Cardinals announced that Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson will start, respectively, the first two games in Washington; the Nationals haven’t confirmed how they will stack up, but it will be Stephen Strasburg or Patrick Corbin for Game 3 - and the other in Game 4.

Yadier Molina and Jose Martinez have three hits apiece off Sanchez; Paul Goldschmidt is 4-for-13, and Paul DeJong has a double and a homer off the 35-year-old. Scherzer struck out 10 batters in his start against the Cardinals back in mid-September, but St. Louis put up five runs in the contest and knocked Mad Max out of the ballgame in the seventh inning. Dexter Fowler is 6-for-19 facing Corbin in his career, and Matt Carpenter has three doubles off this lefty. Marcell Ozuna, who hit .429 in the NLDS, is 14-for-44 (.318) with a double, a triple, and three home runs off Strasburg.

I reached out to the Federal Baseball (the SB Nation site for the Nationals) staff after the Nationals advanced to get a glimpse at how things have been going lately out in D.C.

Here’s what Patrick Reddington, Federal Baseball’s site manager said about the Nationals:

After starting the 2019 campaign 19-31, the Nationals went 74-38 the rest of the way, becoming the ninth team in MLB history, and just the third team since 1989, to go to the postseason after falling 12 games under .500, and after losing in the NLDS in their previous four trips to the postseason over the last seven seasons they finally made it past the Division Series.

The 2019 Nationals don’t quit, they fought back from 12 games under, battled back from a 3-0 deficit in the Wild Card Game, and did the same in Game 5 of the NLDS. The PR motto, “Stay in the Fight” is actually fairly apt.

Anthony Rendon (7 for 20, 3 2B, HR, 4 BB), Juan Soto (6 for 22, 2 HRs, 3 BB), and Trea Turner (7 for 25, 3 2B, HR, 2 BB), are the obvious ones for opposing teams to keep an eye on, but Howie Kendrick (who put up a .344/.395/.572 line in 121 G and 370 PAs in the regular season), just hit a grand slam to lift the Nationals to their 7-3 win over the LA Dodgers in the NLDS, so it will be interesting to see if he builds on that and continues what has been a surprisingly strong season for him coming off an abbreviated 2018 campaign in which he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon.

Kurt Suzuki, who injured his right elbow late this season, just took a pitch off the wrist that bounced into his face in Game 5 in LA, so he’s pretty banged up, and Victor Robles has an issue with his right hamstring, so Yan Gomes and Michael A. Taylor could be big factors in the series depending on how things work out.

The Nats’ starting staff is strong with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, and Aníbal Sánchez, who will start the opener, but the bullpen has been an issue all season, and that hasn’t changed in the postseason, with Davey Martinez trying to use his starters in the middle innings to get to Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson, but that doesn’t seem to be the sort of thing they can sustain, so the bullpen arms will have to step up at some point if they have any chance of advancing.

Audrey Stark, who has contributed to VEB in the past, also gave her view of the Washington club:

One of the players to watch is definitely Michael A. Taylor, the starting center fielder for as long as Victor Robles is out. Davey Martinez said, “There’s really not big of a difference between the way [Michael] plays center field and the way Victor plays center field.” They aren’t losing anything defensively, and Michael A has had clutch moments. He got hit in the Wild Card game, which played a key part in the Nationals’ rally. He made the final catch to rob Justin Turner and send the Nats to their first NLCS. Michael A. has come up big in the Postseason before, and he will take advantage of the starting opportunities he gets.

What are your predictions for the NLCS?