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Nationals take on the Cardinals in Game 1 of the NLCS tonight

Divisional Series - St Louis Cardinals v Atlanta Braves - Game One

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - OCTOBER 03: Miles Mikolas #39 of the St. Louis Cardinals delivers the pitch during the first inning against the Atlanta Braves in game one of the National League Division Series at SunTrust Park on October 03, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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That best-of-five nonsense is behind us. Not it’s best-of-seven time. The League Championship Series are upon us and we get started tonight with the National League.

The Game: Washington Nationals vs. St. Louis Cardinals
The Time: 8:08 PM Eastern
The Ballpark: Busch Stadium, St. Louis, Missouri
The Channel: TBS
The Starters: Aníbal Sánchez vs. Miles Mikolas

The Upshot:

The Nationals finally progressed past the Division Series round, beating the heavily favored Dodgers in dramatic fashion in their Game 5 matchup on Wednesday and the Cardinals dispatched with the Braves, trouncing them in resounding fashion in their Game 5. Now each team has to reset and gird themselves for a longer battle, each starting with someone other than their ace thanks to their first series going the distance.

Sánchez started Game 3 against the Dodgers, holding them to one run and four hits in five innings while posting nine strikeouts while getting a no-decision in the Nats loss. He faced the Cardinals once this season but it was way back in April. In that one he allowed three runs in five innings, taking the loss.

Mikolas started Game 1 against the Braves in the NLDS, allowing one run in five innings. He also pitched an inning of scoreless relief to earn the victory in Game 4. While that nominally puts him on less than full rest, he only threw ten pitches plus his bullpen warmup in that game, which amounts to nothing more than a between-starts side session, so don’t figure he’ll have any issues, at least when it comes to stamina or freshness. Mikolas made two starts against the Nationals this year. His last one wasn’t too long ago: on September 17 he allowed three runs in six innings and took the loss. He faced them back on May 1 and allowed one run in six and got the win.

That was a very different Nationals team, of course. Back then they were on their way to -- and stop me if you’ve heard this one -- starting the season with a record of 19-31 by the end of May, with everyone preparing to write their season off and calling for Dave Martinez’s head. As they showed the rest of the way -- and truly illustrated against the Dodgers -- they are a far better team than that overall. Even a mediocre start could’ve given them the NL East this year. All that matters about that poor start now is that, as the Wild Card team, they don’t have home field advantage even though they had a better record than the Cards.

St. Louis was not all that dominant in 2019 either. They were a game under .500 just after the All-Star break before turning it on and, it should be noted, benefitting from the Cubs’ collapse and the Brewers’ mid-season swoon. They would not be in the NLCS, however, if they hadn’t pulled things together late and then taken it up a notch against a Braves team that, on paper anyway, should have been favored. The paper we tend to look at, though, doesn’t always show the things these Cardinals are really good at. At least not prominently. The defense is solid. Their hitting has proven timely (and scary in the first inning of Game 5). We’re not big fans of the concept of “intangibles” around here, but the 2019 St. Louis Cardinals have proven to be greater than the sum of their parts. Which, as anyone familiar with that franchise’s work over the past couple of decades, is nothing new.

All of which means this should shape up to be a pretty evenly-matched and, hopefully, entertaining series. The winner of which will have to take on a 100-win behemoth in the World Series. But we’ll save that for, oh, ten days from now, shall we?

Follow @craigcalcaterra