Tonight's the night. Postseason officially gets underway with the first Wild Card game of the year; this one has the Washington Nationals hosting the Milwaukee Brewers. Both teams come into this game in a bit of a different situation. One team has been sitting atop of the wild card race for a while now. The other had to fight through the past month, putting up one of the best records in baseball over that span, just to be where they are today.
In any one game playoff format, it's nearly impossible to know for certain who is going to come away with the victory. This game is definitely no exception. What I'll try to do is break down the matchup on both sides of the ball to determine who I think has the edge in this winner take all tilt.
The Washington Nationals haven't missed a beat since losing Bryce Harper this offseason. When healthy this season, they have relied on the dynamic ability of Trea Turner at the top of their lineup, with NL MVP candidate Anthony Rendon batting third, and 20 year old sophomore Juan Soto continuing his success in the four spot, they possess a deadly top of the lineup.
Where this team lacks a little bit, is the high talent depth in the rest of their lineup. They have some names such as Brian Dozier and Howie Kendrick, but neither of them are even close to what they used to be, and don't strike as much fear into opposing pitchers as they used to.
They still have a little bit of pop with those two, Victor Robles and with Matt Adams coming off the bench. Anything can happen and those depth guys could easily help contribute to a win.
It's very clear that this team doesn't appear the same on paper without 2018 NL MVP Christian Yellich. The lineup is now centred around the bats of Mike Moustakas and rookie Keston Hiura in the three and four hole of the lineup. While both have been really good for the team, it's tough to give them the edge in this one.
They do have a couple of good veterans on the roster with Ryan Braun and Lorenzo Cain. It's always a plus to have guys that have been here before to try and keep the team grounded.
The Nats are sending ace Max Scherzer to the mound. It's hard to say that Mad Max has regressed a bit this season after posting a 2.92 ERA, a 1.02 WHIP, and 243 strikeouts in 172.1 innings. But after three straight seasons in which he finished first, first, and second respectively in Cy Young voting, he did have a bit of a down year for his standards.
Regardless, Max Scherzer is one of the most dominant pitchers of the past decade and still has the ability to take over a game at any point in time. He had 11 games this year where he reached double digits strikeouts including two in which he struck out 14 or more. In his only start against the Brewers this season, Max went six innings, giving up just one earned run, while striking out 10.
The Brewers will counter with their own ace in Brandon Woodruff. It was a breakout season for the 2019 all star. He went from being a bullpen arm last season to being a guy the Brewers could count on every fifth day, something they have seriously lacked the past few years.
His season was shortened by an injury, but Woodruff still posted a respectable 3.62 ERA, a 1.14 WHIP, and 143 strikeouts in 121.2 innings. He was a nice surprise for a Brewers fanbase that desperately needed something out of their starting rotation. In his one start against the Nationals this season, Woodruff went six innings, allowing one earned run, while striking out nine.
The Nats bullpen has been their Achilles heel for many years now. Unfortunately for them, not much has changed.
The team is a little more solidified at the closer position when Sean Doolittle is on his game and mowing batters down. When he's not however, the bullpen is a mess. The staff as a whole finished eighth in the NL in ERA despite having four sub-four ERA starters. It's a good thing they have dominant starting pitching, because they're gonna need it.
I could probably sum this whole section up by just saying Josh Hader's name. If you watched the Cinderella run that the Brewers went on last year, you would've seen Hader out there eating up innings every single game, and dominating while doing it. He's very clearly the best reliever in baseball and is a huge piece of this Brewers bullpen.
Follow Hader with names like Junior Guerra and Jeremy Jeffress and this team may not have what it had last year, but it's still a pretty lethal force.
Both teams have some similar issues in my eyes. Lineups that aren't that deep after losing a star and a bullpen that doesn't have a ton of depth. The one benefit for the Nats is the fact that they can run out a top five starter in all of the major leagues. If the Brewers are going to win this game, they'll have to hope Max has an off night, and that Woodruff and Hader can throw a combined shutout.
Winner: Washington Nationals