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National League Wild Card Game Preview

Our less-than-48-hour National Nightmare (i.e. not having any baseball games) is over. The postseason starts tonight when the Milwaukee Brewers take on the Washington Nationals at Nats park in D.C. Winner flies to Los Angeles. Loser goes home.

The Game: Milwaukee Brewers @ Washington Nationals, National League Wild Card
The Time: 8:08 PM EDT
The Place: Nationals Park, Washington, D.C.
The Channel: TBS
The Starters: Brandon Woodruff (Brewers) vs Max Scherzer (Nats)

The Upshot:

The Nationals started the season slowly -- everything that could’ve gone wrong did -- but after hitting rock bottom in a series sweep at the hands of the Mets in late May they went on a tear. In the first 50 games of the year their record was 19-31. In the final 112 games of the season they were 74-38. For perspective, that’s two games better than the Astros were during their first 112 games of the season, which staked them to an eight-game divisional lead at the time. Washington’s early hole was too big to make up, but they are certainly way better than their overall record might indicate. And for those of you who believe in momentum, you should note that the Nats closed the regular season with an eight-game winning streak, outscoring opponents 54-24 during that span.

The Brewers, despite a final weekend stumble in Colorado, have ended hot as well. You know the story by now: once MVP Christian Yelich went down they rattled off 18 wins in 20 games to come from way back in the Wild Card race to nearly claim the NL Central title. That they’re in this game means that final surge fell just short, obviously, but it was a nice surge all the same.

The Brewers offense finished the season in the middle of the pack of the National League, but they are probably better than that at this moment in time. Mike Moustakas, Yasmani Grandal, Eric Thames, Ryan Braun and rookie Keston Hiura are a formidable bunch. They do strike out a lot, which is probably not a good thing when you’re facing strikeout artist Max Scherzer. Especially since Scherzer will be working on six-days’ rest. As it is, Scherzer’s season was still excellent, despite being interrupted by injury. He finished 11-7 with a 2.92 ERA and sturck out 243 dudes in 172.1 innings. He’s been less reliable in the postseason, posting a 4-5 record with a 3.73 ERA in 16 career playoff games, 13 of which have come as a starter. He, like the Nationals as a team, have something to prove in the postseason. If Scherzer falters, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin would be available to pitch out of the bullpen. It’s an all-hands-on-deck affair, obviously.

The Nats have some big guns too, starting with MVP-candidate Anthony Rendon and supplemented very nicely by Juan Soto, but there are holes here, particularly at the bottom of the order. They’ll likely be facing the Milwaukee bullpen for the most part. Brandon Woodruff will get the start, but he missed a lot of time in the second half with an oblique injury and has not ramped up to his full starter stamina. Which will make his postseason run, for as long as it lasts, familiar to people who haven’t watched him since last postseason. Last October he served as a reliever in three of the four games in which he pitched and pitched only three innings in his Game 1 NLDS start against the Rockies. Figure that’s the most he has tonight as well, after which Craig Counsell will do his damndest to get Josh Hader to close out the game, even if he needs multiple innings to do it.

Of course, it’s one single game and anything can happen in one single game. For all the fancy analysis, this could be a slugfest or a pitchers duel. It could be a straightforward affair or turn on a bad call or some crazy incident. There is inherent wildness in any single game sample.

Which is appropriate, I suppose, given that this is literally called the Wild Card Game. Duh.

Follow @craigcalcaterra