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Cubs at Nationals NL Division Series Predictions
With the first pitch of Game 1 set to be thrown at 7:31 ET Friday, October 6, it's finally time to see if the Cubs can recapture their playoff magic of a year ago against a Washington organization that has had its share of playoff woes in recent years despite being the class of the NL East.
As a bettor, historical trends might make for quality banter at the workplace water cooler, but they are of little value in the game of picking winners.
Despite the same core ingredients, these two teams are different than they were a year ago. The Cubbies won a weak NL Central with 92 regular season victories and the nationals have their own set of issues such as the health of star slugger Bryce Harper.
Cubs (+145) @ Nationals (-155) O/U: 7/5
It's no secret that playoff baseball games - even moreso than the regular season - are won on the mound. On paper, this looks like a pretty evenly-matched battle of aces with Kyle Hendricks (7-5, 3.03) taking the ball for the Cubs and the Nats countering with Stephen Strasburg (15-4, 2.52).
Hendricks is a big-game pitcher, but does not have the dominating stuff Strasburg possesses. In a playoff situation, I prefer to lean on pitchers who can take over a game, as opposed to ones who pitch to contact. Strasburg is a power pitcher and enters this contest on 7 days of rest - ideal for a guy who the only real knock against is durability.
The Nats will follow Strasburg in Game 1 with another power guy in Max Scherzer in Game 2 where the Cubs will counter with an aging and mediocre Jon Lester. For my money, the National win this series with dominating pitching performances from its top two in the first two games.
Of course, there's always an argument to be made to the contrary, but let's take a further look at what else the Nationals have working in their favor.
As we've already seen this postseason, home field advantage is huge with New York and Arizona sweeping the Wild Card games at home, and Cleveland and Houston winning game one of the divisonal series at home.
The Cubs Joe Maddon is widely regarded as one of the best postseason managers in the game, but Dusty Baker is no slouch. Baker, one of the game's most respected and well-traveled managers, has never won a World Series and is much like the Nationals themselves - due for a breakthrough. I'm thinking he gets over in this series.
If everyone was so willing to bring up the Cubs well-documented curse last season, why can't I use it this season? It took this franchise 108 years to win its first World Series, so bettors still have every right to be leery about siding with the Cubs even if all that historical trend stuff is just superstition.
The Pick: Take the Nationals -155
No getting around it, the Nats are the better team here. We haven't spoken much about their lineup, but guys like Daniel Murphy, Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper will provide plenty of quality at-bats against a Cubs pitching staff that I think is just a bit above average. It would be no surpirse to see Washington sweep this series.
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