The Chicago Cubs won an MLB-best 103 games last season and entered the playoffs as the overwhelming favorite in Vegas to win the World Series. The franchise’s 108-year championship drought made it a sentimental favorite in the hearts of many non-Cubs fans, too. Flash forward one year and the defending World Series champions, who entered spring training as the consensus favorite to win a second consecutive title, had to scratch and claw just to qualify for the postseason. Now the Cubs, who open the National League Division Series against the Nationals in D.C. on Friday, are playing up their underdog role.

“Last year, we had all these expectations and we were supposed to win the World Series,” Cubs pitcher Jon Lester, who is slated to pitch Game 2 against the Nationals, said Wednesday. “That, to me, is harder than defending the World Series. Going forward, we have nothing to lose. We’re still a really good team and we should win the World Series. … I think we’re in a good place. I like this team being underdogs. We have some very prideful guys on this team.”

The Nationals, who are still looking for their first playoff series victory, won five more games during the regular season than the Cubs, and Washington had a 4-3 edge in head-to-head meetings. Their NLDS matchup is considered a toss-up, with’s projections giving Washington a 52 percent chance of advancing to the NLCS.

Here’s what the pundits from various outlets are predicting for the series:

Nineteen of 29 experts predict the Nationals will defeat the Cubs. With 11 votes, the Nationals are also the most common pick to represent the National League in the World Series, followed by the Dodgers (10), Cubs (5) and Diamondbacks (3). Four ESPN experts like the Nationals to win the World Series, making them the third-most common pick behind the Indians (16) and Astros (6).

Seven of nine experts have the Nationals advancing to the NLCS, but only two have them in the World Series. Connor Grossman picks the Nationals to beat the Astros in six games.

USA Today
Five out of six experts predict Washington will beat Chicago, and four predict the Nationals will make the World Series. None picks Washington to win the title. and MLB Network
Nine out of 15 experts pick the Nationals to beat the Cubs. Four experts predict Washington will reach the World Series, but no one picks the Nats to win it all.

SB Nation
“We’ve got seven of nine for the Nationals over the Cubs, not necessarily because we think they’ll win an NLDS (can you imagine lol) but because if the Nats actually do win a playoff series sometime, we’d like to be able to say we called it,” Marc Normandin, who compiled SB Nation’s picks, writes. Two people predict the Nationals will reach the World Series and one has them winning the title.

Bleacher Report
Zach Rymer likes the Cubs to advance in four games. He explains that while Washington has a better bullpen, “this hinges on questions looming over Washington’s offense and starting pitching. The former needs Bryce Harper to be at full strength. The latter needs Max Scherzer to be at full strength. Harper’s knee and Scherzer’s hamstring cast clouds over both. Similar clouds don’t appear over Chicago.”

Washington Post
Dave Sheinin likes the Cubs in five, while Adam Kilgore and Barry Svrluga predict the Nationals will advance in four and five games, respectively. Tom Boswell is also picking the Nats. “So clooooooose,” he writes. “The winner of this series will beat the D’backs and go to the World Series. Washington needs to flip it’s ’12-’14-’16 memories fast. If they do, this could be a replay of ’05 when Red Sox, after reversing ‘the Curse’ in ’04 were swept in first round by White Sox.” It should be noted that Boswell also picked the Cubs.

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