The National League Wild Card Game pits the Brewers against the Nationals, teams with contrasting approaches to starting pitching who took divergent paths to this point during the final weekend of the regular season.
The Nationals surged to the finish line with eight straight wins, which were capped by a three-game sweep of Cleveland. The Brewers had won seven games in a row and 18 of 20 before going into the weekend with the aim of forcing a tiebreaker for the NL Central; instead, they got swept by the Rockies and will meet Max Scherzer at Nationals Park.
What do the starting lineups look like?
A left calf strain sidelined Ryan Braun on Saturday and Sunday and Lorenzo Cain was out Sunday with a sprained left ankle, but both players are in the starting lineup against Scherzer. Tonight’s lineup is the same one the Brewers used against a right-hander in Wednesday’s postseason clincher against the Reds.
1) Trent Grisham, RF
2) Yasmani Grandal, C
3) Mike Moustakas, 3B
4) Keston Hiura, 2B
5) Ryan Braun, LF
6) Eric Thames, 1B
7) Lorenzo Cain, CF
8) Orlando Arcia, SS
9) Brandon Woodruff, P
Key bench bats: Cory Spangenberg’s statistics don’t jump off the page, but he impressed all over the field during September with his versatility and figures to get in the game somewhere tonight. If Cain is unable to play, then either Spangenberg or left-handed-hitting outfielder Ben Gamel would start.
Washington had options on the right side of the infield, but Cabrera and Kendrick have been two of the Nats’ hottest and most consistent hitters and have found their way into tonight’s starting lineup.
1) Trea Turner, SS
2) Adam Eaton, RF
3) Anthony Rendon, 3B
4) Juan Soto, LF
5) Howie Kendrick, 1B
6) Asdrúbal Cabrera, 2B
7) Kurt Suzuki, C
8) Victor Robles, CF
9) Max Scherzer, P
Key bench bats: Washington should have a formidable bench ready, as well, with Parra coming alive at the end of the regular season, finishing the year on an 8-for-12 hot streak at the plate. Ryan Zimmerman and Brian Dozier will be key bats to plug in against left-handed pitchers, while Matt Adams looms as a left-handed-hitting power option against tough right-handers or if the Nationals need some instant pop.
What do the rosters look like?
The Nationals opted to carry nine pitchers for the game, including each of their top four starters, to pitch behind starter Max Scherzer. Missing from the postseason roster was right-hander Wander Suero, who had become one of Martinez’s most trusted relievers, but who struggled down the stretch. Instead, the Nats opted to carry a third catcher, Raudy Read, and two extra outfielders, Andrew Stevenson and Michael A. Taylor.
Infielders (8): Matt Adams, Asdrúbal Cabrera, Brian Dozier, Howie Kendrick, Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, Ryan Zimmerman
Outfielders (6): Adam Eaton, Gerardo Parra, Victor Robles, Juan Soto, Andrew Stevenson, Michael A. Taylor
Catchers (3): Yan Gomes, Raudy Read, Kurt Suzuki
Pitchers (9): Patrick Corbin, Sean Doolittle, Daniel Hudson, Tanner Rainey, Fernando Rodney, AnÍbal Sánchez, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Hunter Strickland
The Brewers’ 25-man roster is set, and center fielder Lorenzo Cain is in.
So are 10 pitchers, including scheduled starter Brandon Woodruff, and 15 position players.
Cain, whose availability was not assured until he tested his sprained left ankle in the Brewers’ optional workout at Nationals Park on Monday, is among a number of Brewers regulars fighting through physical matters that qualify as more than the usual aches and pains.
Pitchers (10): Chase Anderson, Alex Claudio, Junior Guerra, Josh Hader, Jay Jackson, Jordan Lyles, Freddy Peralta, Drew Pomeranz, Brent Suter, Brandon Woodruff.
Catchers (2): Yasmani Grandal, Manny Pina.
Infielders (8): Orlando Arcia, Tyler Austin, Keston Hiura, Mike Moustakas, Hernan Perez, Travis Shaw, Cory Spangenberg, Eric Thames.
Outfielders (5): Ryan Braun, Lorenzo Cain, Ben Gamel, Trent Grisham, Tyrone Taylor.
Who are the starting pitchers?
Brewers: Especially at this time of year, the Brewers prefer the term “initial out-getter.” Their starter for this game, Brandon Woodruff is a pair of two-inning starts removed from spending two months on the injured list with a left oblique strain, so he is not stretched out to pitch deep into the game. Milwaukee didn’t approach last year’s postseason — or this September for that matter — with that mindset anyway. Rather, it uses the starter once or twice through the opponents’ lineup and then uses the bullpen the rest of the way. When he is on the mound, however, Woodruff is tough. He was 11-3 with a 3.63 ERA in 22 regular-season starts with 143 strikeouts in 121 2/3 innings, and the Brewers were 18-4 in the games he pitched.
Nationals: Max Scherzer (11-7, 2.92 ERA) called the second half of this season one of the most frustrating of his career, having spent more than six weeks battling nagging injuries in his upper back and shoulder. Scherzer feels like he has turned a corner with his most recent outings, however, and is feeling more like his usual self. In his final seven starts of the regular season after coming off the injured list for good, he posted a 4.74 ERA with 54 strikeouts and eight walks over 38 innings. Scherzer will have gone seven days between starts, and although he said he feels well enough to go well past the 100-pitch mark, the Nats will have a few members of their starting rotation in the bullpen lined up behind him.
How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
Brewers: Milwaukee’s best relievers down the stretch were left-handers Brent Suter (0.60 WHIP in September), Drew Pomeranz (0.60) and Josh Hader (0.70), all of whom can pitch multiple innings. Expect right-hander Jordan Lyles to make an appearance, as well, after the Brewers went 10-1 in his starts and he delivered a 2.45 ERA following a trade to Milwaukee from Pittsburgh. The bullpen-heavy strategy served the Brewers well in September, when their pitchers combined to lead Major League Baseball with a 3.01 ERA.
Nationals: For one night, at least, the group that finished the season dead last in ERA in the National League will be getting a massive boost. Both Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin are available to pitch in relief for Tuesday’s win-or-go-home contest. Behind the Nationals’ top three starters, Sean Doolittle, Daniel Hudson and Fernando Rodney will be manager Dave Martinez’s most trusted arms out of the bullpen. If everything goes according to plan for Washington, these five pitchers will be the only ones beyond Scherzer who appear in Tuesday’s game.
Any injuries of note?
Brewers: Lots. Beyond Braun (calf) and Cain (ankle), third baseman Mike Moustakas has been bothered lately by a sore throwing elbow, and he missed back-to-back games last week. Second baseman Keston Hiura missed two weeks at the start of September with a strained left hamstring, but he was able to play all 13 innings at Colorado on Sunday. And, of course, the Brewers are missing the reigning National League Most Valuable Player Award winner, Christian Yelich, who is out for the year with a fractured right kneecap.
Nationals: Kurt Suzuki (right elbow inflammation) started twice over the weekend and homered on Sunday, so he’s a good bet to catch Scherzer behind the plate, even if his arm has not been fully tested to throw down to second base. Roenis Elías will not be ready to pitch early in the postseason, but he could be a candidate to get activated should the Nationals progress deep into October.