The wild cards meet in a play-in game. (We around here refer to it as the Infield Fly Game.) The only way the Nats wouldn't have the edge in starting pitching for that game would be if they met the Mets and Jacob deGrom, and then it'd be a push. The Nats — you probably know this already — have Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin. All rank in the top 10 of pitching WAR among National Leaguers.
The disadvantage of the play-in is that, even if you win, you’ve probably burned your No. 1 starter until Game 3 of the best-of-five NLDS. The Nats essentially have three No. 1s. They could deploy Strasburg and Corbin in Games 1 and 2 at Dodger Stadium and expect to split. Then they’d come home with Scherzer in Game 3 — this assumes he’s healthy; he’s scheduled to return from the injured list Thursday night — and they’d like that matchup, too. And then, if you’re the smooth-running Dodgers, you could be staring at consecutive elimination games.
Yes, the Dodgers can pitch, too. They’re first in ERA among NL starters. (The Nats are second.) The Dodgers also lead the league in runs and OPS. They’re a team that can destroy so-so pitching, which essentially describes the Braves. But what if a team with top-shelf starters spared the Braves from having to visit L.A. this fall?
I know, I know. This could be a big fat overthink. Washington’s postseason history doesn’t stamp it as spoiler material. Counting its time as the Montreal Expos, that franchise has never won a playoff series. It’s 0-for-4 in winner-takes-series Game 5s. And the Dodgers, who have graced consecutive World Series without winning, might be too big to fail this time.
And I’m not saying the Braves couldn’t up and beat L.A. themselves. With many hands not on deck, they just won two of three over Dodger Blue. But I’d rather take my chances in a best-of-seven NLCS against the Nats — for one thing, the Braves would have the home-field edge — than against Bellinger and Muncy and Ryu and Seager and Kershaw. And here we table the October talk until … oh, maybe tomorrow.