MLB Playoffs 2017: Chicago Cubs vs. Washington Nationals series preview

October baseball is giving fans a heavyweight battle in the NLDS as the defending World Series Champions, the Chicago Cubs, take on the Washington Nationals. The Cubbies finished the 2017 regular season 92-70, while the Nats posted a record of 97-65. Take a look at key points for each team’s first MLB Playoffs series this year.

Star sluggers collide

Bryce Harper had 29 homers and 87 RBIs on the season. Daniel Murphy was stellar again as he launched 23 dingers and 93 RBIs. Ryan Zimmerman was on a tear in 2017, leading the Nats in RBIs with 108.

For Chicago, Anthony Rizzo was fantastic with 32 home runs and 109 ribbies. Kris Bryant hit .295 on the year. Javier Baez notched 23 homers and 75 RBIs for the defending World Series champs.

Veteran starters on a mission

Max Scherzer won’t pitch in Game 1 of this series and he may miss Game 2. The flamethrower is dealing with a hamstring tweak he suffered in Saturday’s loss to Pittsburgh.

However, Mad Max, Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg are trying to get on a roll in the postseason and get some past experiences behind them.

In Strasburg’s last playoff appearance he only pitched five innings against the San Francisco Giants in the 2014 NLDS. He allowed one earned run, one walk and struck out two batters. He will take the ball in Game 1 versus Chicago.

Gonzalez pitched in last year’s NLDS versus LA and gave up three runs in 4.1 innings.

Scherzer allowed five runs in 12 innings pitched in last year’s NLDS meeting with the Dodgers, but LA took the series 3-2.

The Cubs will send Kyle Hendricks to the mound in the first game of this series. He was sensational in the World Series and NLCS. He combined to throw 21.2 innings and only surrendered two runs in those series.

However, Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Jake Arrieta have adjustments to make heading into this year’s playoffs.

Lester had an ERA of 3.68 in the 2016 postseason and this year he had his highest ERA in five years (4.33).

John Lackey gave up 36 long balls and posted an ERA of 4.59 this season. Arrieta allowed the highest number of home runs he has ever given up in a season (23). He also had a 3.53 ERA during his 2017 campaign (contract year).

X-Factor for each team

The Cubs must have a strong performance from their bullpen. Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Wade Davis, and Brian Duensing have ERAs under 3.00. They have to show up, because not only are the Nats excellent offensively, but the Cubs starters haven’t provided much hope this season. The younger bullpen arms for Chicago have to slow down the right-handed hitters for D.C. If they can’t it will be a quick series.

For the Nationals, their bats have to light up the scoreboard. Anthony Rendon has been terrific in 2017 and that must continue on the October stage. The Nats have no easy outs from 1 through 9 and that will present a problem for the Cubs.

Washington has plenty of veterans with playoff experience and I would not be shocked if Jayson Werth made some big plays in this series and throughout the postseason. Werth will be a free agent at season’s end.

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