NL Wild Card: Brewers at Nationals Pick
Milwaukee Brewers (89-73) at Washington Nationals (93-69)
When: 8 p.m., Tuesday, October 1
Where: Nationals Park, Washington
Moneyline: MIL +155/WAS -175
Runline: Brewers +1.5/Nationals -1.5
Old Sports At This
Milwaukee’s been here before, and it set itself up like a team that’s been here before on Saturday. The Brewers knew that they needed to win and have St. Louis lose to the Cubs in order to force a one-game playoff for the NL Central, but when the Cardinals jumped on the Cubs early and had Jack Flaherty on the mound, Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell quickly decided it wasn’t going to happen Sunday and scratched starter Brandon Woodruff against the Rockies. The move proved a prescient one, as the Cardinals blitzed the Cubs to clinch the Central and the Brewers’ finale proved completely meaningless, leaving Woodruff available for the Wild Card Game.
Now the question is, can Milwaukee repeat what it did last year when it won a one-game playoff with the Cubs? To do it, the Brewers will need to get around three or four solid innings out of Woodruff, who’s unable to go deep into the game because he’s still getting back to 100 percent after an oblique injury. Milwaukee has used a modified version of the opener strategy to great success this year, opting to have the starter pitch no more than twice through the order and then letting the bullpen take over. With Woodruff on the mound, that will likely be altered to just over one turn through the lineup.
Elimination games have not been kind to the Nationals, even in their Montreal Expos days. The only playoff series the franchise has ever won wasn’t really a playoff series, as it was a manufactured division series made necessary by the 1981 strike rather than a genuine part of the playoffs. Since then, the Expos/Nationals fran-chise has played in the postseason five times and lost all five series. Even more frustrating for Washington is that four of those five-game series went to a decisive fifth game, and in all four of those, the Nationals were the home team and lost the series anyway.
To try to reverse 50 years of futility, the Nats will turn to Max Scherzer, who hasn’t had his greatest season but has been nothing short of dominant when he’s been at his best. Scherzer’s September has been a mixed bag, as he’s dialed up the strikeouts but hasn’t been so great at keeping runs off the scoreboard. Over his final five starts of the year, he gave up more than three runs on three occasions and allowed six home runs. That’s a terrifying thought against Milwaukee, which does most of its damage with the long ball. The Brewers’ offense was a bit middling, especially since losing Christian Yelich, but Milwaukee ranked seventh in home runs across both leagues with 248.
Avoid the Pen
While Milwaukee is willing to trust its bullpen, Washington wants to avoid all bullpen pitchers not named Sean Doolittle or Daniel Hudson at all costs. Hudson has been dominant out of the pen since being acquired from Toronto and hasn’t given up an earned run in September (and hasn’t given up a run at all in his past eight ap-pearances), while Doolittle has been a solid if unspectacular, closer. But the rest of the bullpen is so full of questions that the Nationals’ Plan B, if Scherzer can’t get the job done, is Stephen Strasburg, and if necessary, Patrick Corbin. Both are starters and would have to make a considerable adjustment coming out of the bull-pen, but for the Nats, it’s worth the risk. Of course, there’s the chance Washington could damage its chances against the Dodgers if it has to use more than one pitcher, but if the Nationals don’t beat the Brewers, they won’t have to worry about the Dodgers anyway.
The Brewers won the season series 4-2, sweeping the Nationals at Miller Park and taking one game out of three in Washington. In the Milwaukee series, the Brewers beat both Scherzer and Strasburg and rode Woodruff to the other victory, so they’ve seen success with their man and against their foes. They’ve also seen success in the playoffs before, having beaten Colorado in the NLDS last year before falling to the Dodg-ers in a classic seven-game NLCS. The Nationals, as addressed, have never won a legitimate postseason se-ries.
- The Nationals have won their past eight games.
- The Nationals are 14-4 in their past 18 against the NL Central.
- The Nationals are 2-7 in their past nine playoff home games.
- The Brewers are 3-8 in their past 11 playoff road games.
- The over is 4-1 in the teams’ past five meetings in Washington.
- The under is 4-1-1 in the Brewers’ past six playoff games.
It’s going to feel more like summer in Washington, with the temperature reaching 85 degrees Tuesday.
On paper, this shouldn’t be all that tight of a game. Washington is the healthier club. Washington is the better club. The Nationals have the offense needed to succeed in the postseason; the Brewers are missing one of their top offensive threats. The Nationals have their ace on the mound; the Brewers have a patchwork pitch-ing staff hoping to squeeze nine outs out of their starter.
But we’ve seen Washington blow this so many times before in the postseason. The Nationals have had things set up beautifully for them time and time again, and each time, they’ve found a way to lose.
There’s no way that I’m going to lay a favorite’s price with the Nationals’ playoff history, and I certainly don’t trust the Nats’ bullpen enough to take Washington on the run line. The best value here is to take a chance with the Brewers.
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