Playoff baseball has arrived! With the long regular season over, the first elimination game will take place on the first day of October. The Washington Nationals (93-69) will host the Milwaukee Brewers (89-73) in the all-or-nothing National League Wild Card Game, with the winner advancing to play the Dodgers in the Divisional Series next.
For this preview, we’ll break down each team’s performance coming into the game, the probable pitchers, as well as betting odds and the pick to win.
Nationals Down The Stretch
Early in the season, it seemed that the Nationals would have no business in the playoff hunt, getting off to a 19-31 start. But since then, they posted the best record in the NL during that span, going 74-38 en route to winning over 90 games and securing a Wild Card spot. They are just the ninth team in MLB history to reach the postseason after being 12 or more games below .500.
Washington is as good as any team in the playoff field, especially when you look at their second-half numbers. Since the All-Star break, they lead the National League in runs, OBP, and steals.
Their lineup, led by Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon, and Trea Turner, has been the catalyst of their success. That trio has been great in particular, combining for 45 home runs since the break.
Rendon, in particular, is the player to watch. As an impending free agent, the 29-year-old MVP candidate leads Washington with a .319 batting average, 34 home runs, and a league-leading 126 RBI.
Brewers Coming In
No team has been better the last two seasons at getting hot at the right time than the Brewers. One year after storming back to win the NL Central in Game 163, Milwaukee went 20-7 in September to secure the second Wild Card spot. They were actually in the running to win the division once again but fell two games short after getting swept by the Rockies to end the season.
What has been the biggest surprise of Milwaukee’s run in September is that it won games without the reigning MVP, Christian Yelich. Earlier this month, Yelich suffered a season-ending knee injury that seemingly crushed any playoff Milwaukee dreams. However, players like Mike Moustakas, Yasmani Grandal and Keston Hiura stepped up in Yelich’s absence and put Milwaukee back in the playoffs.
Milwaukee will enter the game a little banged up elsewhere as well though. In addition to Yelich, Lorenzo Cain re-injured his ankle in a home-plate collision, and Ryan Braun strained his calf over the weekend. The Brewers are hoping both of them will be able to play on Tuesday in a must-win game.
We’ll start with the road team, where Milwaukee will send out Brandon Woodruff to start on the mound. Woodruff had a solid year, going 11-3 with a 3.62 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 121 2/3 innings.
However, manager Craig Counsell has relied on his bullpen all season long to win games, perhaps more than any other team in baseball. Should Woodruff get into any trouble, don’t be surprised to see Counsell make a call to the bullpen early and attempt to win with a plethora of pitchers.
For Washington, ace Max Scherzer will get the ball. Scherzer has been his normal dominant self, going 11-7 with a 2.92 ERA and 243 strikeouts in 172 1/3 innings. But he has struggled a little bit in September, and the Nationals bullpen is among the worst in baseball.
Manager Dave Martinez has already said starters Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin would be available out of the pen, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Martinez use both of them.
In six games between these clubs in 2019, the Brewers took four of them. However, both of the Nationals’ wins came at home, where Tuesday’s game will be. Both Scherzer and Woodruff have pitched in the season series as well. Scherzer went six strong innings, giving up one run and striking out 10 Brewers. Woodruff was also effective, striking out nine and walking none in six innings.
Odds and Pick
The Nationals at home are the favorite to win, listed at -170. Oddsmakers are expecting a low-scoring matchup with Scherzer on the mound, listing the over/under at 8 with the under slightly favored at -120. Both teams are listed at +650 to win the NL Pennant.
Washington has not had a proven track record of success in postseason play, failing to make it past the divisional round every time they’ve made the postseason.
Meanwhile, Milwaukee has been to the NLCS twice in the last nine years, most recently last year when they took the Dodgers to seven games.
All that being said, I expect Martínez to rely on his All-Star trio of starting pitchers to win the game. I’ll take the Nationals to advance in a thrilling 6-5 win over the Brewers, moving on the next round to play Los Angeles.