There are no more games left to lose for either the St. Louis Cardinals or the Washington Nationals. With the NLDS Series tied at 2-2, both teams now trot out the respective ace of their staffs, and hope for a shutdown performance. If both hurlers pitch to their capability, fans may be treated to the same kind of performance seen by Chris Carpenter and Roy Halladay in Game 5 of the NLDS last year. Below is a preview of what the deciding Game 5 between the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals.
Washington Nationals (98-64), (50-31) at home
St. Louis Cardinals (88-74), (38-43) on the road
The Starting Pitchers
Adam Wainwright: 14-13, 198.2 IP, 184 K, 52 BB, 3.94 ERA
Analysis: In Game 1 Wainwright outpitched Gonzalez, but his team still suffered the loss when the bullpen blew the lead. Still, Wainwright was by no means dominant. Wainwright was not unhittable by any means in Game 1, yielding six hits and three walks, but he controlled the damage with ten strikeouts and dominant curveball. Both pitchers were aided by shadows cutting across the field in Game 1, which will not be there for tonight’s game.
Wainwright’s velocity has been a tick down all year after undergoing Tommy-John surgery last year. He still features what can be a dominant curveball and exceptional control. Wainwright’s improved command within the strike zone helped him to improve over the second half of the season. Wainwright has a slightly better ERA at home (3.73) compared to on the road. Wainwright also boasts a better xFIP (3.23) than his ERA (3.94), which suggests bad defense and bad luck have played into his higher ERA this year.
Gio Gonzalez: 21-8, 199.1 IP, 207 K, 79 BB, 2.89 ERA
Analysis: Gonzalez was one of the most dominant pitchers in the National League after being acquired by the Nationals this year. Like Wainwright, Gonzalez mostly works with a very good fastball and a exceptional curveball. Gonzalez’s velocity is a tick better than Wainwright’s, sitting anywhere from 92-94 MPH. Gonzalez ERA is worse on the road (3.31) than at home (2.38). Gonzalez was dominant toward the end of the season, posting a 1.74 ERA in 31 IP in September and October.
In Game 1 Gonzalez appeared a bit unnerved, walking seven batters and throwing two wild pitches. If Gonzalez is able to collect himself this time around, the Cardinals will have to earn more of their runs with hits.
Matchup Advantage: Gonzalez consistently has been the better pitcher throughout the year. However, Wainwright does pitch better at home and has proven himself as a big post-season pitcher in the past. The Nationals still win the starting pitching matchup, but it is not a big advantage by any means.
- Cardinals Typical Starters
- Jon Jay – CF
- Carlos Beltran – RF
- Matt Holliday – LF
- Allen Craig – 1B
- Yadier Molina – C
- David Freese – 3B
- Daniel Descalso – 2B
- Pete Kozma – SS
Analysis: The Cardinals’ offense has been all-or-nothing in the NLDS, just like it was in the regular season In Games 1 and 4 the offense scored a total of three runs and lost. In Games 2 and 3 the offense scored 20 runs and won. Which offense shows up today could be the key to victory.
The Cardinals’ offense has been second to only the Brewers during the regular year, scoring a total of 765 runs. The Cardinals’ on-base-percentage (.338) ranks first in Major League Baseball. Their slugging-percentage (.413) ranks fourth in the National League behind the Nationals, Rockies, and Brewers. The Cardinals’ offense struggled through much of the second half of the season, but has found a bit of resurgence recently, as the Nationals personally witnessed when the Cardinals scored 26 runs in a three-game series against them in late August.
- Nationals Typical Starters
- Jayson Werth – RF
- Bryce Harper – CF
- Ryan Zimmerman – 3B
- Adam LaRoche – 1B
- Michael Morse – LF
- Ian Desmond – SS
- Danny Espinosa – 2B
- Kurt Suzuki – C
Analysis: The Nationals’ offense still has not really produced up to their potential in the NLDS. When the Nationals have won, they did so scoring only three and two runs respectively. Overall, the Nationals have produced only nine runs over the four games of the series. The question now is whether the Nationals’ offense stays cold for the crucial Game 5.
Over the regular season, the Nationals scored slightly less runs (731) than the Cardinals, but their OBP (.322) ranks twelfth in the Majors. The strength of the offense comes in the form of power, with a team SLUG (.428) that ranks sixth in the Majors. The National offense was dominant against the Cardinals pitchers in a late-August/early-September matchup, scoring 31 runs in four games. In the most recent late-September matchup the offense fared worse, scoring 12 runs in three games.
Matchup Advantage: The Cardinals have a slight offensive advantage given their higher runs scored and OBP. However, like the pitching matchup, the Cardinals’ advantage on offense is not a large one.
Cardinals’ Analysis: The Cardinals’ bullpen has not performed poorly in the NLDS, but they have garnered the two Cardinals’ losses from the series. In Game 1 Marc Rzepczynksi yielded the key hit to Tyler Moore which gave the Nationals a 3-2 lead. IN Game 4, Lance Lynn gave up a home run to Jayson Werth in a long 14 pitch battle.
The Cardinals’ bullpen struggled in the first half of the season, and that is reflected in their bullpen ERA (3.90) that ranks 20th in Major League Baseball. Still, the bullpen improved greatly toward the end of the season with additions of Edward Mujica (3.03 ERA) and Trevor Rosenthal (2.78 ERA). Over the last 30 days of the season the Cardinals bullpen had a 3.26 ERA. In the eighth and ninth innings the Cardinals typically rely upon Mitchell Boggs (2.21) and Jason Motte (2.75 ERA, 42 Saves) who have both had outstanding seasons.
Nationals’ Analysis: As seen yesterday, the back end of the Nationals bullpen can be dominant. In Games 2 and 3, it was obvious that the weakness of the bullpen is in middle relief. Yesterday Manager Davey Johnson covered for the weakness by using starter Jordan Zimmerman in middle relief.
Over the regular season, the bullpen was a real strength of the Nationals with a 3.23 ERA that ranks seventh in Major League Baseball. The Nationals bullpen was even better over the last 30 days with a 2.85 ERA. In the eighth and ninth innings the Nationals typically rely upon Tyler Clippard (3.72 ERA, 32 Saves) and Drew Storen (2.37 ERA, 4 Saves). Both are very capable closers, but Storen was used as the closer towards the end of the season.
Matchup Advantage: The Nationals have the better bullpen, but as mentioned above the Cardinals’ bullpen has improved over the season.
Both teams are sub-par defensively. The Cardinals had an ultimate-zone-rating (UZR) of -29.8 throughout the season, which ranks 29th in Major League Baseball. The Nationals are slightly better with UZR of -14.3, which ranks 24th in the Majors.
Matchup Advantage: The defense can best be described as a tie. Ryan Zimmerman would normally put the Nationals on top defensively, but he has struggled with his throws recently due to a shoulder issue. The Nationals are better at a number of other positions, but the Cardinals have the best defensive player on both teams in Yadier Molina.
Overall Matchup Advantage: These two teams are very evenly matched, and the game could best be described as a pick-em. The Nationals were the better team in the regular season, and win the most matchups listed above. However, the Cardinals are playing at home and are coming into the series pitching and hitting well.
Prediction: Cardinals win 3-2
Ryan Witt is a freelance writer covering all things St. Louis Cardinals. His work can be found on Examiner.com.