In Potential Playoff Preview, Back Nationals in Series Opener Vs. Cubs

ryan zimmerman

Matthew Jordan

Sunday, June 25, 2017 11:49 PM GMT

One of the most anticipated series in the National League this season begins Monday in D.C. as the Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals meet in what could be an NLDS or NLCS preview.

MLB Season Record: 24-17 (one game pending)

Chicago Cubs At Washington Nationals (-147, 9.5)

With Major League Baseball’s schedule being so long, it’s hard to get too fired up about any individual series in the regular season. However, certainly one that many MLB fans had circled on their calendars is this week’s Cubs at Nationals four-game set, which begins Monday from D.C. (7:05 p.m. ET) and will be shown nationally on the MLB Network.

It would surprise few if these clubs met in the playoffs. They almost did in last year’s NLCS. The Cubs got there be knocking off the Giants in four games. Washington had a 2-1 series lead in the NLDS against the Dodgers but lost the final two games each by one run. Washington has a huge lead in the NL East and is given a 98.7 percent chance of making the playoffs at FanGraphs. This despite a bullpen that has been one of the worst in the majors.

The Nats’ bullpen has an ERA of 4.95 with a whopping 12 blown saves. They have cycled through a few closers and are expected to trade for an established one by the July 31 trade deadline. Washington reportedly is targeting one of ex-National Mark Melancon (Giants), Tony Watson (Pirates), Kelvin Herrera (Royals) and David Robertson (White Sox). The Nats are still winning thanks to the majors’ No. 1 offense led by MVP candidates in Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy. Zimmerman, not Harper, leads the team in hitting (NL-leading .350), homers (19) and RBIs (59).

The Cubs are underperforming at one game over .500 but are only 1.5 games behind first-place Milwaukee in the NL Central. Chicago is given an 81.3 percent chance of winning the division, and I believe will eventually start to put things together – perhaps after Theo Epstein trades for a starting pitcher.

Chicago is without three every-day players in outfielders Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist. The struggling Schwarber was sent to Triple-A last week to work out his struggles, while Heyward and Zobrist are on the DL. The Cubs were supposed to be an offensive juggernaut this year like the Nats but are batting just .231 with runners in scoring position, which is 26th in the majors. Reigning NL MVP Kris Bryant, who grew up playing some baseball with fellow Las Vegas native Harper, ranks 70th out of 77 qualified hitters in the NL with a .204 batting average with RISP.

 

Monday’s Probable Pitchers

The Cubbies go with Eddie Butler, who probably would be the guy booted from the rotation if/when the team does trade for a pitcher. Butler (3-2, 4.19) generally has a very short leash from Manager Joe Maddon as Butler has pitched six innings just once. Maddon pulled him after four last time out against the Padres even though Butler allowed only one run. He’s among the worst pitchers in baseball in strikeout percentage (15.1), walks percentage (12.7) and ground-ball percentage (42.9).

Butler hasn’t faced Washington since 2015 when he was with the Rockies. Harper is 1-for-2 career off him with a walk. Zimmerman is 1-for-3 with a double and RBI.

Washington lefty Gio Gonzalez (7-1, 2.96) is off to one of the best starts of his career and leads the NL in winning percentage while ranking sixth in ERA. Like Butler, control can be a problem, though, as Gonzalez ranks fourth in the NL with 40 free passes. Still, he has had five straight quality starts and given up three earned runs or fewer in 13 of his 15 starts. Gonzalez is one strikeout short of 1,500 career. He is among the NL leaders in run support at 5.60 per game.

Gonzalez didn’t get a decision in two starts last year vs. the Cubs with a 6.00 ERA. Anthony Rizzo struggles off him career, going 2-for-20 with six strikeouts. Bryant is 2-for-7 with a homer.

 

Reasoning For Pick

Butler is 1-1 with a 5.63 ERA in three road starts so far. Gonzalez, meanwhile, is 1-0 with a 1.66 ERA in seven home starts. The Nats have won eight of their past 11 series openers, while the Cubs have lost five straight road games vs. teams with a winning record. Washington is the MLB pick.

Free MLB Pick: Nationals -147Best Line Offered: Heritage

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