Race for a Red October: Nats get postseason test vs. Cubs

Brian Tinsman
August 23, 2019 - 9:31 am
Nationals get postseason test vs. Cubs

Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

** This installment of Race For A Red October is presented by PVI Office Furniture

No team in baseball was hotter than the Washington Nationals over the last 10 games. Unfortunately, they had go 8-2 just to keep pace with the division-leading Atlanta Braves.

That included taking three-of-four from the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates to open up a road trip that has tested their focus and endurance. So far, so good.

In the three games that they won, the Nationals’ offense stayed red hot, outscoring the Bucs 31-2. They also welcomed back ace Max Scherzer from the IL and avoided any need for a closer while Sean Doolittle is on the mend.

In Chicago, they will face a Cubs team that is also flying high, winners of five-straight and in first place in the NL Central. Sweep the three-game weekend series and the Nats could pull to within three games of the Braves in the NL East. Get swept by the Cubbies, and the Nats would still hang on to a Wild Card spot by the thinnest of margins.

Here’s how the Nationals can help their Race for Red October in Chicago:

Playoff chances (via fivethirtyeight.com): 86 percent

Playoff clinching magic number: 38

National to watch: During the recent hot streak, Washington has looked like the 1927 Yankees at the plate. Super-utility player Howie Kendrick is producing with the best of the regulars, but playing just a fraction of the time. In just the last week, he had five hits, five RBI, two home runs, two doubles and scored two runs. He did all of that in just nine at-bats. You may not see him much in Chicago, but his plate appearances have been must-see TV.

Cub worth pondering: The Cubs have been a model of consistency on the mound this season. They are the only NL team to have five starters with at least 115 innings each in 2019. They have also had 15 starts with at least seven strikeouts and zero walks. The hottest hand could be lefty Jose Quintana, Saturday’s starter, who is 3-0 in his last four starts, with a 1.38 ERA, 33 strikeouts and just one walk.

By the numbers: Anthony Rendon mashed his way to 100 RBIs on the season earlier this week, for just the second time in his career. Unlike 2017, when he finished at the century mark, Rendon hit 100 in 35 fewer games, putting him on pace to finish the season with 145. Not bad for a contract year performance.

Notable quote: “Write a book on it. You’ll become a millionaire.” That was Adam Eaton’s response to how the Nats scored 62 runs in a five-game stretch that ended earlier this week. They accomplished that by scoring 13 or more runs in three-straight games, the first NL team since the 1996 Colorado Rockies to accomplish the feat.

Series prediction: The Cubs are a good matchup and a great test for the Nationals at this point in the season. Both teams need to win games to keep their playoff standing, and the Nats bats vs. the Cubs arms will match strength against strength. If Washington can stay focused, they should take two-of-three at Wrigley. Even if they lose the series, they remain in the playoffs and have their MASN mates, the hapless Baltimore Orioles, at home to look forward to next week.

Brian Tinsman has covered D.C. sports since 2011, both from the team marketing and skeptical fan perspectives. Tweet your criticisms @Brian_Tinsman.