MLB playoffs 2019: NLDS preview - Will Keuchel be key? Can the Nationals hit consistently?
The National League Division Series are set.
The Washington Nationals will take on the Los Angeles Dodgers after winning a dramatic wild-card game against the Milwaukee Brewers 4-3.
The St Louis Cardinals will battle the Atlanta Braves for a place in the Championship Series, and we have previewed both match-ups for you.
Will Dallas Keuchel be the key to the Braves taking the next step?
This is why the Braves went out and signed Keuchel in the middle of the season. The lefty got World Series experience with the Astros and made multiple appearances in the postseason with Houston. He gives the Braves a veteran for their rotation to send out in Game 1 of the NLDS and possibly for a second time in Game 4 or 5. But will he be what they need to advance to the next round? Or will he struggle as he did in his final few outings in the playoffs for Houston (4.43 ERA last four appearances)?
Can the Nationals hit consistently in their match-up with the Dodgers?
While Max Scherzer can catch some flak for lacklustre postseason performances with the Nationals, it has truly been the line-up that has let Washington down in the playoffs over the last few years. Since 2014, Washington have averaged 3.8 runs per game in the playoffs, scoring three runs or fewer in seven of their 15 games. The Dodgers have a solid pitching staff. Will the line-up do enough to support a rotation that will likely keep the Nationals in all of their games?
Players to watch
Jack Flaherty, SP, Cardinals
The 23-year-old righty might have been the best pitcher in MLB down the stretch in 2019. In the second half, Flaherty put up a 0.91 ERA and 0.71 WHIP in 99 1/3 innings. He will not get to start Game 1 on Thursday, but he will likely pitch Game 2 on Friday and will either have a chance to send the Cardinals back to St Louis tied 1-1 or up 2-0.
Kenley Jansen, CP, Dodgers
The Dodgers decided to stand pat at the deadline and did not go out and get either an additional closer in the market or at least a man who could step in and take over in case Jansen struggled. Los Angeles' closer posted a career-worst 3.71 ERA this year while blowing a career-high eight saves. This could easily be seen as an anomaly with hope that he will get over it in the playoffs, but in the last two years he has had some serious postseason breakdowns. He has posted a 3.55 ERA with four home runs allowed in nine appearances in the World Series over the last two years. Jansen struggled again during the regular season. The Nationals showed in the wild-card game they can get to good closers in the late innings. Will that factor into the series?
Braves over the Cardinals in five games
The Braves have an odd advantage in this one: the Cardinals haven't faced Keuchel or Max Fried yet this season. The one pitcher they will definitely face in the playoffs is Mike Soroka and he dominated them to a tune of a 0.69 ERA in 13 innings (two starts) this season. But the Cardinals have had success with their pitching as well, so this will come down to the two line-ups. The Braves' line-up is better. They tasted the postseason last year and their young hitters have more experience under their belt. That will be the difference.
Nationals over the Dodgers in five games
The Nationals' starting rotation looks to strong to think they will lose with the way they are set up. The Dodgers have to face Patrick Corbin in Game 1. He shut out Los Angeles over seven innings in his lone start against them this season and the Dodgers showed massive vulnerability in match-ups against lefties in the playoffs last year. They addressed that by playing Cody Bellinger every day but this year the Dodgers were not as good against lefties as they were righties. But beyond that Los Angeles will have to face Stephen Strasburg in Game 2 and he is an absolute beast in the postseason. The Dodgers could easily be down 2-0 going back to Washington. But the Nationals still have to hit in this series. That is the x-factor. If they do not the Dodgers will win. But it is undeniable how well the Nationals' pitching sets up for the NLDS against the Dodgers.