Breaking down the Nats-Cardinals matchup


Breaking down the Nats-Cardinals matchup

ST. LOUIS -- One owns 11 World Series titles, including the most recent one, and features a roster loaded with postseason experience yet a rookie manager who has never been here before.

The other owns zero World Series titles -- at least, technically, as a franchise -- and features a roster with barely any postseason experience yet a veteran manager who has guided four different organizations into October.

You want contrasts? The National League Division Series between the Nationals and Cardinals is all about contrasts, pitting one of baseball's most-storied franchises against one of the game's historically least-successful towns.

But how do these two teams stack up on the field? Let's break down the matchup...

NATS: After boasting the majors' best rotation most of the season, the Nationals slipped a bit in September and wound up slightly behind the Rays while still posting a dominant 3.40 ERA. The best thing they've got going for them: All four of their playoff starters (Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson, Ross Detwiler) are capable of completely dominating an opposing lineup. The worst thing they have going for them: Any one of the four (but particularly Jackson and Detwiler) is capable of getting knocked out of a game early. What they lack in experience, they more than make up for in raw ability. Their two big guns also pitched extremely well down the stretch, with Gonzalez going 5-1 with a 1.35 ERA over his final six starts and Zimmermann going 3-0 with a 2.61 ERA over his final five starts.

CARDS: With a collective 3.62 ERA, the Cardinals rotation ranked fourth in the majors, behind only the Rays, Nationals and Dodgers. This is a unit loaded with big names who have performed on the big stage before, but the name recognition outpaces their actual performance this season. Game 1 starter Adam Wainwright posted the highest ERA of his career (3.94), though he did steadily improve during his first season back from Tommy John surgery. Game 2 starter Jaime Garcia's season was interrupted by injury, though he finished strong (4-1, 2.50 ERA in September). Former ace Chris Carpenter barely pitched at all this season due to a shoulder and neck injury and wound up making only three September starts. Their best starter this year, Kyle Lohse (16-3, 2.86 ERA) was burned up in the NL Wild Card Game and now won't be available until Game 4 of this series.


NATS: The Nationals finished with the seventh-best bullpen in the majors, based on a 3.23 ERA. But they've also got one of the deepest relief corps in the postseason, with all eight guys boasting ERAs under 3.73 (six of them under 3.00). Drew Storen returned to his top form late in the season and earned his closer's job back. Tyler Clippard, though, struggled big-time down the stretch and is a question mark entering this series. Sean Burnett had some struggles late but seemed to right himself just in time. Ryan Mattheus, Craig Stammen, Michael Gonzalez and Tom Gorzelanny quietly put together outstanding seasons. And the X-factor might well be rookie Christian Garcia, who made the postseason roster after only 13 big-league appearances.

CARDS: This was not one of the better units in the majors, ranking 20th with a 3.90 ERA. But the Cardinals do have a lights-out trio at the back end, with midseason acquisition Edward Mujica (1.03 ERA), setup man Mitchell Boggs (2.21 ERA) and closer Jason Motte (42 saves) lined up well for the seventh-through-ninth innings. Their biggest weakness: a lack of lefties. Marc Rzepczynski is the lone southpaw in the bullpen, and manager Mike Matheny will have to pick his spots to use him.


NATS: Beset by injuries for much of the season, the Nationals finally got healthy late and became quite productive because of it. They boast eight different regulars capable of hitting the ball out of the park and four players who mashed at least 22 homers. It all starts at the top, with Jayson Werth reaching base at a .387 clip and Bryce Harper causing all kinds of havoc as the No. 2 hitter. There are some lingering concerns about Michael Morse (dealing with a hand and hamstring issue) and Danny Espinosa (led the NL with 189 strikeouts) but these guys are capable of scoring runs in bunches when everyone gets going.

CARDS: Only the Brewers scored more runs in the NL than the Cardinals, who have thunder up and down the lineup. Five different guys hit at least 20 homers and three different guys drove in at least 90 runs. The 2-3-4 combo of Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and Allen Craig is particularly tough to hold in check, and Yadier Molina remains one of the best clutch hitters in the game. The Cardinals lineup is skewered toward the right side of the plate, and they lost a key piece in leadoff man and shortstop Rafael Furcal (though rookie Pete Kozma was fantastic down the stretch).


NATS: Davey Johnson made it a priority last winter to upgrade his bench, and the Nationals went out and did just that. Chad Tracy is one of the best pinch-hitters in the game. After years of teasing everyone with his ability, Roger Bernadina blossomed into a fantastic fourth outfielder and triple-threat at the plate, in the field and on the bases. Rookies Tyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzi showed maturity beyond their years. Backup catcher Jesus Flores often struggled when called upon, but he's not likely to see much (if any) action in this series, unless starter Kurt Suzuki gets hurt.

CARDS: Manager Mike Matheny has some versatile pieces at his disposal, with just about everyone having the ability to play multiple positions. Corner infielder Matt Carpenter and utilityman Skip Schumaker are the best of the bunch. What the Cardinals don't have is a ton of speed off the bench or a true pinch-hitting specialist in the mold of Tracy.


(By Chase Hughes,
These teams met seven times during the regular season, all late, with the Nationals winning four of those games. Most of the contests, surprisingly, were blowouts, but overall the head-to-head stats are close...

Games won: Nats 4, Cardinals 3
Runs: Nats 43, Cardinals 40
Hits: Nats 74, Cardinals 64
Home runs: Nats 10, Cardinals 8
Batting average: Nats .294, Cardinals .268
Strikeouts: Nats 59, Cardinals 53

Here is a look at how those seven games played out...

Aug. 30 at Nationals Park
Nats 8, Cardinals 1
The Nationals began the season series with a blowout of the Cardinals thanks to some early offense and one of Edwin Jackson's best starts of the season. Facing his former team, Jackson struck out 10 and allowed just four hits with zero earned runs in eight innings of work. His 123 pitches that day were a season high. Bryce Harper got things started early with a two-run homer in the first. The Nationals continued to pile on runs and gave Jaime Garcia one of his worst starts of the season.
Original game story

Aug. 31 at Nationals Park
Nats 10, Cardinals 0
In the second game the Nationals saw a similar result, this time with Gio Gonzalez pitching the gem. Gonzalez threw a shutout, the first of his career, with just five hits allowed in his 17th win of the year. The Nationals got out to a first-inning lead once again as Adam LaRoche hit a two-run single off Adam Wainwright. The Nats ended up scoring six earned runs off the NLDS Game 1 starter in just 2 23 innings.
Original game story

Sept. 1 at Nationals Park
Cardinals 10, Nats 9
The Nationals again got off to an early lead, scoring four off Kyle Lohse in the first inning. Jordan Zimmermann gave it all back, though, and the Nats entered the eighth inning up 9-8. St. Louis tied it at 9 when Carlos Beltran hit an RBI single off Sean Burnett. Drew Storen entered for the ninth and allowed a leadoff single to Allen Craig, who then stole second and scored the winning run off a deep line drive by David Freese.
Original game story

Sept. 2 at Nationals Park
Nats 4, Cardinals 3
The fourth game of the series didn't feature the kind of high scoring that the previous three did, with Stephen Strasburg pitching six scoreless innings and striking out nine. Strasburg, though, didn't earn the win after Sean Burnett allowed a two-run homer to Daniel Descalso in the seventh. The Nats were able to earn the victory by getting to reliever Lance Lynn. Lynn allowed RBI singles to Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa in the bottom of the seventh and gave up a lead the Nats would hold. Tyler Clippard came in to pitch the ninth and earned his 29th save.
Original game story

Sept. 28 at Busch Stadium
Cardinals 12, Nats 2
Edwin Jackson could not recreate the magic from his first start against the Cardinals and put in his worst outing of the season. Jackson allowed eight earned runs in 1 13 innings and left the game completely out of hand. St. Louis had won eight of its previous 10 games and was showing no signs of slowing down. Adam Wainwright, on the other hand, was able to redeem himself in his second start against the Nats. He pitched six innings of one-run ball and allowed just five hits and one walk. Despite the loss, the Nats' magic number to win the division was lowered to 2 after the Braves blew a late lead to the Mets.
Original game story

Sept. 29 at Busch Stadium
Nats 6, Cardinals 4 (10)
After taking a beating the day before, the Nationals earned a big win in extra innings off an RBI double by Kurt Suzuki. Jordan Zimmermann pitched masterfully against a hot Cardinals lineup by beginning the game with six scoreless innings. He ended up surrendering three in the seventh before getting pulled. Michael Morse got Washington started with a phantom grand slam in the first off Kyle Lohse, told by umpires to recreate his swing following a video review. It was the second time the Nats dropped four on Lohse in the first inning of a game this season. The Nats' magic number for the N.L. East was lowered to 1 as the Braves won to prevent the champagne celebration.
Original game story

Sept. 30 at Busch Stadium
Cardinals 10, Nats 4
Ross Detwiler took the mound in his home state with a chance to help the Nationals clinch the N.L. East. But St. Louis regained its hitting stroke and quickly made sure there would be no celebration for the Nats at Busch Stadium. Detwiler allowed five runs in the second before being yanked, and his replacement, Chien-Ming Wang, couldn't stop the bleeding with two runs allowed in the third. The Nationals did make it interesting in the fourth by getting to Lance Lynn once again for three runs, but Wang immediately served up a homer to Carlos Beltran and the Cardinals ran away with it.
Original game story

Every matchup in October is a tough one, and this certainly qualifies for the Nationals. The Cardinals obviously have the experience and talent up and down the roster to win this series and make a deep run at their second straight World Series title. The Nationals, though, won 98 games for a reason. They had one of the best pitching staffs in the majors, one of the most productive lineups, one of the deepest bullpens and have one of the best managers around.

They must win at least one of these first two games in St. Louis, though, because the prospect of returning home down 0-2 and needing both Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler to keep their season alive is not one they want to experience. If either Gio Gonzalez or Jordan Zimmermann (or both) can churn out quality performances in Games 1 and 2, and if someone can produce a big late hit against a potentially shaky St. Louis bullpen, the Nats should be able to steal at least one game here.

Then it becomes a matter of whether they can beat veterans Chris Carpenter and Kyle Lohse in Games 3 and 4 at home. If they manage to win only one of those, this thing goes to a decisive Game 5. In that potential showdown, look for Gonzalez to step up big and pitch the Nationals into the NLCS.


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The 2018 salaries of five Redskins become fully guaranteed today

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The 2018 salaries of five Redskins become fully guaranteed today

It may be the 18th of March but today could be like Christmas for five Redskins players.

The Redskins decided to use today, four days after the start of the league year, for some contract triggers. In this case, the triggers are all 2018 salary guarantees (some teams will pay out roster bonuses on trigger dates, but the Redskins rarely use that type of structure).

Here are the players whose have guarantees that kick in today 4 p.m. All data is via Over the Cap.


CB Josh Norman, base salary of $13.5 million becomes fully guaranteed—This was a window for the Redskins to move on from Norman if they were not happy with his performance after two seasons. He is 31 and he had no interceptions last season, leaving some to wonder if the Redskins might think about releasing him. But it never was a consideration.

TE Jordan Reed, $8 million of his $8.25 million salary becomes fully guaranteed—No, I’m not sure why they are leaving that $250,000 out there non-guaranteed. Fans thought that the Redskins might move on from Reed due to his injury issues. But, as with Norman, it never was a consideration.

S D.J. Swearinger, $3 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed—This is a mere technicality, Swearinger wasn’t going anywhere after helping to solidify the safety position.


RB Chris Thompson, $1.996 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed—His rehab is going well and after last year Thompson’s two-year, $7 million contract extension signed last September looks like a good deal for the team.

DE Terrell McClain, $3.25 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed—If the Redskins sign a top free agent D-lineman or draft on early in the draft they could be in a numbers crunch. That new acquisition would be guaranteed a roster spot along with Jonathan Allen, Matt Ioannidis, Stacy McGee, and Anthony Lanier. That makes five and the Redskins kept six last year. Ziggy Hood is a favorite of the coaching staff but he has no guaranteed money left on his contract. That could tip the sixth spot in favor of McClain if he is on the roster at the close of business today. If they release McClain after today, they would take a cap charge of over $2 million. It seems unlikely that anything will happen but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.


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It's hard to tell after three games how the Wizards and Pacers would match up in the playoffs

It's hard to tell after three games how the Wizards and Pacers would match up in the playoffs

The Wizards crossed off an important goal on Saturday night by beating the Indiana Pacers and therefore securing the season series. If the teams tie with the same regular season record, the Wizards will get the higher playoff seed. As of today, that would mean home court advantage in the first round.

Though the Wizards have beaten the Pacers in two of their three matchups this season, we only know so much about how they would match up in the playoffs. The first game between them didn't feature Pacers All-Star Victor Oladipo and John Wall didn't play in any of the three games. The Pacers were without both Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis on Saturday night.

Given the Pacers underwent so much change over the summer, there is no real data to go off of from before this season. They are a completely different team with Oladipo leading the way and Paul George now in Oklahoma City.


There are reasons to believe, however, that the Wizards would fare well against the Pacers over the course of a seven-game series. For one, they figured out how to slow Oladipo and his teammate Bojan Bogdanovic on Saturday night. Both had killed the Wizards in previous matchups.

Oladipo was held to 18 points, over five points below his season average of 23.5. He had four turnovers, shot 7-for-16 (43.7%) and finished a -18 in a game the Pacers lost by seven.

The Wizards had some success with Tomas Satoransky guarding Oladipo. Satoransky is 6-foot-7 with long arms. He was able to recover on several occasions to alter Oladipo's shots.

Satoransky and Bradley Beal also did a good job keeping pace with Oladipo on the fastbreak. The Pacers had only four fastbreak points in the game. Oladipo is especially dangerous in the open court.

“We just made sure that we were aggressive with him and made sure he saw a lot of bodies in the paint," Beal said. "The last game, he got a lot of easy ones in transition. We just made sure that we got back on the shot, loaded to the ball and forced the other guys to attack.”

For Bogdanovic, it was about limiting open shots from the perimeter. Bogdanovic had 11 points, three below his season average and had four turnovers. Beal and Otto Porter stripped Bogdanovic for steals and Marcin Gortat took a charge on one play in the third quarter.


But it was all about taking away the outside shot. Bogdanovic only hit one shot in the first half and it was a three. The only reason he got it off is because Kelly Oubre, Jr. lost his balance backing up. That gave Bogdanovic the window he needed. Otherwise, Oubre helped frustrate the former Wizards small forward. So did Gortat and Ian Mahinmi, who did a good job covering their teammates off screens.

The Pacers are an average offensive team, ranking 16th in points per game and 14th in offensive rating. They are better defensively, ranking ninth-best in opponents points per game and 12th in defensive efficiency.

If the Wizards can limit Oladipo and Bogdanovic, the Pacers' two leading scorers, they should have a good shot at beating the Pacers in the playoffs. Beyond them, the Pacers are thin in the scoring department. Turner only averages 13.6 points and no one else beyond him can consistently make an opposing defense pay for mistakes. Conversely, several Wizards players have given the Pacers major trouble through three games this season.

Gortat, who had 18 points and eight rebounds on Saturday, has averaged 13 points and eight rebounds on 57.7 percent shooting against Indiana. Kelly Oubre, Jr., who had 16 points in 18 minutes, has averaged 15.5 points and is shooting 50 percent from the field.


In addition to those guys, Markieff Morris, Porter, Mike Scott, Mahinmi and Satoransky are all shooting over 50 percent against the Pacers. Satoransky is shooting 71.4 percent through three games.

The Wizards have the pieces to counter what the Pacers do best. Indiana is seventh in three-point percentage, but the Wizards are the best team in basketball in opponents three-point percentage. The Pacers are built around an All-Star guard, but the Wizards have two All-Star guards. The Pacers have a collection of talented wing players, but so do the Wizards.

"Hypothetically, I do like Indiana," Beal said. "I like how we match up with Indiana and I feel like there is a lot of stuff that we can take advantage of. In a lot of categories, I think we can win them."

Add it all up and the Wizards have every reason to feel confident if they see the Pacers in the posteason. Keep that in mind because they very well could meet up in the spring.

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