Chicago Cubs vs. Washington Nationals: Division Series Preview

(Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Cubs will take on the Washington Nationals in the National League Division Series. Here’s all you need to know about the series.

It might not have been as pretty as some hoped, but we are finally here.

For the third straight season, the Chicago Cubs will be playing baseball in October as their quest to repeat as World Series Champions will continue on Friday.

The Cubs will take on the NL East champion Washington Nationals, who had a fairly easy path to the playoffs. They rolled through the NL East, winning 97 games en route to a whopping 20-game lead over the second-place Miami Marlins.

The Nationals are one of the league’s deepest teams, winning 97 games while fighting through significant injuries all season.

All-Star slugger Bryce Harper has played in just five games since August 12th with a knee injury. Even more important is the health of ace Max Scherzer, who injured his hamstring last Saturday. While Scherzer will likely play in the series, it is as yet unclear when Scherzer will return.

All injury concerns aside, the Cubs and Nationals are two very evenly matched teams.

Both teams flaunt stacked lineups as well as deep pitching staffs. Also, both clubs made key acquisitions at the trade deadline to benefit their staffs that have worked out. Overall, both teams were expected to be competing in the playoffs prior to the season and should provide a competitive, tightly-contested series.

What to Watch for the Cubs

Jake ArrietaThe health and impact of Jake Arrieta will almost certainly be a defining aspect of the series. Like Scherzer, Arrieta is plagued by a hamstring injury, leaving his status for the series in the air. Arrieta is slated to start Game 4 but has not pitched since September 26th.

Arrieta’s contributions over the past two postseasons have been a driving force of the Chicago Cubs success, as Arrieta has a career 4-2 record and 3.64 ERA in 42 innings, including two wins over the Indians in the World Series. If healthy, Arrieta’s success will be crucial in order for the Cubs to advance to the NCLS.

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Javy Baez and Albert AlmoraThe key to last seasons success in the regular season and postseason was the contributions from veterans such as Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. With Fowler gone and Zobrist’s production down, the Cubs will need to see quality performances from both Baez and Almora.

Baez’s spectacular glove and timely hitting have been big for the Cubs this season, but Baez’s consistency will be the key. Almora has been a breakout star in 2017 but will need his success to translate to the big stage in his first opportunity to shine in the postseason.

Bullpen: The Chicago Cubs bullpen ultimately was the deciding factor in last year’s World Series. With Aroldis Chapman now gone, the Cubs will need guys like Justin Wilson and Wade Davis to carry the load and get big outs when needed.

Davis has postseason experience, playing in the 2014 World Series and winning the 2015 World Series with the Royals. Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Koji Uehara (2013 ALCS MVP) and Carl Edwards Jr will all need to repeat past postseason success in order for the Cubs to move on.

What to Watch for the Nationals

Bryce Harper: One of the leagues best players, Bryce Harper will need to perform as such in order for the Nationals to win their first-ever postseason series. As before mentioned, Harper missed most of the season’s second half with a knee injury.

Presumably healthy and ready-to-go, Harper’s production will be crucial. With a .319 average to go along with 29 home runs, Harper’s success has carried the Nats to this point. Now, Harper will need to come through in big situations in order for the Nationals to move on.

Max Scherzer: Max Scherzer is the clear front-runner for the National League Cy Young award. Scherzer has had a spectacular season, going 16-6 with a 2.51 ERA and 7.6 WAR. Due to his before mentioned hamstring injury, Scherzer’s usage and productivity level is in question.

Scherzer is reportedly targeting either Game 3 or 4 for his return. With both games potentially being an elimination game, Scherzer’s performance, healthy or not, can make or break the series for the Nationals.

Back end of the Bullpen: Going into the All-Star break, the Nationals had the worst bullpen in baseball. The unit had a 5.20 ERA, with 14 blown saves. The Nationals went out in July and acquired Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle from the Athletics, as well as Twins closer Brandon Kintzler.

The moves proved crucial for the Nats, as all three have had sub-3.50 ERAs during their tenure. The Nats improved bullpen will need to come through in close, late-inning situations to close out games in the series. The quality of the play of all through will be vital in order for the Nationals to have a shot at the World Series.

Next: Thoughts on the Chicago Cubs' playoff rotation

Where to Watch:

Game 1 (Cubs @ Nationals): October 6th, 6:30 PM, TBS.

Game 2 (Cubs @ Nationals): October 7th, 4:30 PM, TBS

Game 3 (Nationals @ Cubs): October 9th, TBD

Game 4 (Nationals @ Cubs): October 10th, TBD (If Necessary)

Game 5 (Cubs @ Nationals): October 12th, TBD (If Necessary)