The St. Louis rotation will be Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse and Wainwright again, all good pitchers. Except against the Nats’ hitters. That’s why the Nats scored 43 runs in seven games against St. Louis this year, winning four of them. The career batting averages of the Nationals’ normal eight-man lineup against these pitchers are: .293, .333, .436, .326 and .293. If you just look at Wainwright over the last three seasons against the Nats hitters, the average goes up from .293 to .328.
I’ve never seen a postseason matchup where almost every hitter in one lineup has crushed, or at least hit decently, against every single starting pitcher in the other rotation. This extends to the Nats’ bench players, too. That pattern doesn’t have to continue. But a lot of Nats don’t feel overmatched by Cardinals pitchers.
The Nationals have another quirk. They have two exceptional road pitchers: Gonzalez, 12-4, and Jordan Zimmermann with a 2.36 ERA. Zimmermann faced the Cardinals in St. Louis last week and had a shutout into the seventh inning.
The Nats also have two starting pitchers, both shaky recently, who fare much better at home than they do on the road — Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler. If you could have one strategic wish for the Nats, it would be that, for one goofy season, the team with home-field advantage in the NLDS would actually begin with two games on the road. Then, Gonzalez and Zimmermann could start Games 1 and 2 in St. Louis while Jackson and Detwiler could start Games 3 and 4 at home where their ERAs were 3.35 and 2.59. Detwiler is 8-2 at home.
But baseball would never do anything so crazy, except this year — one time only — they did. On paper, at least, it couldn’t suit the Nats better.
This figures to be a high-scoring series with a coming-down-to-earth Nats staff facing the NL’s best offense while the Nats’ healthy slugging attack faces few pitchers it fears.
The deciding factor may be the most obvious. Only one starting pitcher on either staff has any history of stellar results against the other: Gonzalez. It was only one shutout and he had an early lead. He’s never started in postseason. And the Cardinals generally enjoy hitting against lefties. But, this year, nobody has enjoyed facing Gonzalez. As for experience, Gonzalez is a postseason novice, but he’s been a standout for three years. Central casting thinks he looks the part. We’ll see what reality has to say.
In a five-game series, Game 1 has historically had enormous momentum impact. Even if the Nats still had Stephen Strasburg available, Gonzalez would still probably be their Game 1, and potentially, Game 5 starter. In an otherwise even battle, that’s a potentially significant edge.
Pick: Nationals in five games.
For Thomas Boswell’s previous columns go to washingtonpost.com/boswell.