WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Cubs and Nationals back and forth battle comes down to one final game.
Here are five keys to consider heading into Game 5:
1. Never trust Dusty Baker
After saying “We have full confidence in Tanner” Roark on two separate occasions for Wednesday’s pivotal Game 4, Baker gave the ball to Stephen Strasburg. Who could blame him? Strasburg went out and broke his own franchise record of ten strikeouts, fanning twelve Cubs – all while battling a cold brought on by what Baker believes was a mold problem.
The Nats Skipper says Gio Gonzalez will start Game 5 with the reigning N.L. Cy Young champ, Max Scherzer, available for an inning or two. That hook could come quick if Gonzalez gets in trouble early. Scherzer is awfully fresh considering he only threw 98 pitches in Game 3.
Gonzalez meantime, has allowed three runs in five innings of work in both of his postseason starts at home, including in Game 2 of this series.
2. Kyle Hendricks is really good at this whole postseason pitching thing, objectively speaking
The Cubs starting staff as a whole has been lights out in the playoffs, giving up just one earned run over 22 2/3 innings. Hendricks has led the way, building on what he started in 2016 while compiling a 0.63 ERA in his last five postseason starts.
The Professor now sports a 1.98 career postseason ERA – the lowest since Bob Gibson posted a 1.89 ERA from 1964-1968.
3. The Cubs bullpen has been a little shaky, again
Hopefully, Hendricks can go the distance or close to it because the Cubs bullpen issues have returned. They now have a 6.57 ERA compared to an ERA of just 0.40 by their starting counterparts. Hard to call it relief when the pen has surrendered nine earned runs in only 12 1/3 innings of work.
There should be an influx of non-traditional relievers coming from both sides in Game 5. Scherzer is all but guaranteed to toss at least an inning or two. John Lackey, who has yet to appear in the series, and Jose Quintana could come in to pitch for the Cubs. Quintana hasn’t done that since his rookie season in 2012.
The Cubs closer, Wade Davis, would most likely be brought in to hammer down a win despite his performance in Game 4. It was the first playoff home run Davis had ever given up as reliever in 24 career appearances.
4. Bats are ice cold on both sides
Most thought this series would be somewhat of a slug fest. The Nationals and Cubs ended the regular season #2 and #3 in runs scored respectively in all of the National League.
Four games in, the Cubs are hitting a paltry .159 with the Nationals even further behind, batting .130.
Aside from Anthony Rizzo, who has reached base safely in all four games, the Cubs need to start putting the ball in play. They did that just 11 times against Strasburg in Game 4.
5. Cubs are closers, Dusty Baker’s teams…not so much
The Nationals have not won a playoff series since moving to Washington in 2005, having lost in the NLDS four times – including last year.
Baker’s record in games his team could advance is even worse. In fact, he’s 0-9 in his last nine attempts.