ST. LOUIS (BaseballStL) -- As the Cardinals prepare to face the Nats in a best-of-five division series, let's take a look at how these two clubs match up with each other in all facets of the game. From starting pitching to the bullpen to offense.
Obviously, this would look a lot different on the Nationals side of things if Stephen Strasburg hadn't been shut down for the rest of the season. He's as dominant of a starter as you're going to find (197 strikeouts in just 159 innings this year) and the fact Washington shut him down completely changes the complexion of their rotation. Now don't get me wrong, the cupboard isn't bare at all. Lefty Gio Gonzalez is a terrific talent who possesses a versatile repertoire that he can command consistently. The Cards struggled mightily against him this season when Gonzalez threw a 5-hit complete game shutout on August 31st in Washington. It was pure dominance. The rest of the rotation, however, is good...yet has struggled against the Redbirds bats this season. Edwin Jackson (7.71 ERA in just over 9 innings), Jordan Zimmerman (9.90 ERA in 10 innings) and Ross Detwiler (7 runs in 2.1 innings) clearly have not had success against the Cardinals recently. Those are numbers that, while signifiant, can easily be meaningless when it comes to the playoffs. Pitchers learn from mistakes. Pitchers make adjustments. The Nationals pitchers are good. They've carried this club all year.
This is one area where the Nationals don't have a star who is simply overwhelming. Tyler Clippard and Sean Burnett form a very quality 1-2 punch in the back end of that bullpen. However, no one would ever confuse Clippard with, say, Aroldis Chapman who is absolutely impossible to hit for Cincinnati. Clippard converted 32 out of the 37 save opportunities that were given to him while posting a respectable 3.72 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. Burnett, meanwhile, had 31 holds - the setup guy equivalent of a save - and a dominant 2.38 ERA. He's been around the block a few times (30 years old) but has never seen the postseason much like the majority of the Nationals. This is a bunch that the Cardinals can get to. They're very good and have had much success, but they're far from unbeatable. If the Redbirds advance and play the Reds, well, that's a different story. But this bullpen certainly isn't something to be frightened about.
I view the Nats offense in a similar way to the bullpen. Quite good...but not something that frightens you. There's no Joey Votto in this lineup. There's no Josh Hamilton - okay bad example. There's no Miguel Cabrera. Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse are their best hitters and those guys can be retired in big situations. When you see a Votto or Cabrera at the plate with runners on base, that's bad news. They're almost always going to come through. Zimmerman and Morse? Eh. Zimmerman hit .282 with a .346 OBP this season. Good? Yes. Scary. Not in the slightest. Morse hit .291 with a .321 OBP. Same thing. Pretty good but far from frightening.
The Nationals finished with the best record in MLB with 98 wins. They are as balanced as any team in the league. However, with the loss of Strasburg and their lack of experience in the playoffs, this is a team the Cardinals can absolutely beat. It's almost so obvious that Washington might even look at this series as being the underdogs.