In 1969, it looked like the Chicago Cubs long postseason drought was over, with an eight-game lead in the division on August 8th and maybe that 61 years of no World Series title would end.
That was one of three focal points Cubs fans and historians always talked about until they finally became baseball's best last season.
That same year the Montreal Expos joined the National League as an expansion team. Their luck has not always been the best, like in 1994 when they were easily the best team in baseball at 74-40, when the sport went on strike and cancelled everything the rest of the season. Montreal fans never forgave baseball, stopped coming to games, leading to transfer to Washington, where the Nationals have not won postseason series in three tries.
There series does not have the feel of this guys numbers or that players numbers, it will be about other elements. We will give a numbers to think about, but it will be the other stuff that will matter.
A Few Numbers to Chew On and Head to Head Matchup
The Cubs were 43-45 at the All-Star break and closed like champions with a 49-25 record, with only Cleveland having better record in that span. Chicago had to fight to win their division and finished on a 15-6 run.
Washington had basically wrapped up the NL East at the All-Star break, thus, their mission became to stay consistent and largely the Nationals did with a 34-24 record the final two months.
The Nationals took the season series 4-3, splitting four at home and winning series in the Windy City.
Pitching Matters In Postseason
Washington arguably has the best three starting pitchers any postseason team can run to the mound in Max Scherzer (2.51 ERA), Stephen Strasburg (2.52) and Gio Gonzalez (2.98). Here is where it gets tricky, as Scherzer did something to his hamstring in last start and there has been no official word if he starts Game 1 or any game in the series. That is a real big deal.
Jake Arrieta was Chicago's best starter once they got rolling, but he too has hamstring problem and the earliest we will start is Game 3 at Wrigley Field. Kyle Hendricks ended up having the lowest ERA among the starting pitchers with Jose Quintana coming on strong and Jon Lester baffling.
The Cubs bullpen looks better on paper, however, when Washington made trade with Oakland, that settled everything down and now they are essentially equal.
Who Will Hit Their Stride?
Both teams have deep lineups, which is why they finished 1 and 2 in scoring in the league at 5.1 runs per game. The Nationals have another worry spot in Bryce Harper and only he knows how truly good his knee is. Washington could possibly overcome his presence in a five-game series, but that places added pressure on Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy.
Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have been rolling for awhile and there has been contributions from almost everyone else. If Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell hit in the clutch, this is as dangerous a team as there is in baseball.
Dusty Baker has a long history of winning in the regular season and not getting the job done in the playoffs. He has to make smart decisions at the right time for the Nationals to advance.
There is more than one Cubs fan will tell you Chicago won the World Series in spite of Joe Maddon, not because of him. Both in Tampa Bay and Chicago, he's made some crazy decisions and not all have worked out.
The Moment of Truth for Wagering
For MLB picks, my head says Washington in 5. What I cannot not shake is the Cubs have been grinding and are in good flow, while the Nationals have been playing well and seemingly coasting. Chicago feels no pressure to repeat, since the BIG accomplishment was last year and no NL team has done so since the Reds in 1975-76.
Washington, on the other hand, is like their hockey team, always really good but never quite scales the walls of success. With questions about Scherzer and Harper, I will take the Cubs in 5.