Do You Know Your Enemy?

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There was much speculation as to who the Nationals would be better off facing in the National League Division Series heading into last night’s Cardinals-Braves Wild Card game. With the dust now settled and the team in St. Louis, we’re here to provide an objective analysis of the three National League teams that Washington has the possibility of encountering this postseason and how well the Nats match up against each. First, though, let’s take a look at what the Nationals have working in their favor, regardless of their opponent.

SERIES BUSINESS

For the Nationals to be successful in the postseason, they will need to stick to the same approach they have had all season long: win the series. That has been the mantra since day one, and while a five or seven-game series differs from a two, three, or four-gamer, the principle remains the same. In that vein, the Nationals finished the 2012 regular season with a 32-12-8 series record. In other words, they won 32 of their 52 series outright (61.5%), and earned at least a split in 40 of them (76.9%). Washington was swept only four times all season long, while returning the favor on nine occasions, including three-game sets at Atlanta in late May and at home against San Francisco in early July.

SHOW ON THE ROAD

While Washington’s 50-31 home record was tied for the top mark in the National League, it is their nearly equal 48-33 road mark that stands out. Not only is that the best away tally in all of baseball, but it includes 2-1 records in both Cincinnati and San Francisco and a 5-4 mark in Atlanta. The Nats ability to win away from D.C. will be a crucial factor in how far their October ride will take them.

OPPONENTS

St. Louis Cardinals

88-74 overall, 11.0 GB in NL Central (Second Wild Card)

Nationals record vs. St. Louis in 2012: 4-3

World Champions until they are eliminated, the Cardinals are a dangerous opponent that features the highest scoring offense of any postseason club in the National League. Combined with their veteran rotation and playoff experience, the Cards will not be an easy out, but it’s hard to say how Washington will match up, with both teams winning their home series convincingly during the regular season. The good news: the Cardinals rotation (Garcia: 0-1, 10.13; Lohse: 0-0, 6.94; Lynn: 1-1, 9.82; Wainwright: 1-1, 7.27) has not fared well against the Nats bats. We’ll have more on the Cardinals in a full NLDS preview tomorrow.

Cincinnati Reds

97-65 overall, NL Central Champions

Nationals record vs. Cincinnati in 2012: 5-2

Reds fans will point out that all of the seven matchups between these two teams occurred very early in the season, when ace Johnny Cueto was on the Disabled List. However, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman both missed the second series, while Bryce Harper was still in Syracuse for the first matchup and Michael Morse was absent for both. It could be very reasonably argued that the Nationals team the Reds could face in October is significantly better offensively (perhaps defensively as well, with Zimmerman and Harper) than the one that took five-of-seven from Cincinnati in April and May.

San Francisco Giants

94-68 overall, NL West Champions

Nationals record vs. San Francisco in 2012: 5-1

The Giants have improved offensively down the stretch, despite the loss of Melky Cabrera, but will rely on their formidable starting rotation to try to replicate their 2010 World Series run. However, the Nationals have fared particularly well against the San Francisco starters as well, with Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong’s worst individual starts of the year ALL coming against the Nats. In fact, add in top starter Matt Cain and the quartet that went a combined 55-36 with a 3.42 ERA (294 ER/772.2 IP) against the rest of baseball managed just a 1-4 record with an 8.80 ERA (30 ER/30.2 IP) against Washington this year.

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