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October 8, 2012

Playoff Prospectus

NLDS Game Two Preview: Nationals at Cardinals

by Daniel Rathman

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An eighth-inning rally, catalyzed by Pete Kozma’s fielding error and capped by pinch-hitter Tyler Moore’s two-run single, pushed the Nationals past the Cardinals in Sunday’s series opener. Can Davey Johnson’s team take a commanding 2-0 lead to the nation’s capital, or will Mike Matheny’s bunch bounce back and pull even? To try to answer those questions, here are the PECOTA odds and projected starting lineups for Game Two:

Nationals (Jordan Zimmermann) at Cardinals (Jaime Garcia) – 4:30 p.m. ET

PECOTA Odds of Winning: Cardinals 54.1 percent, Nationals 45.9 percent

Projected Starting Lineups:

Nationals vs. Garcia (L)

Cardinals vs. Zimmermann (R)

Jayson Werth (R)

Jon Jay (L)

Bryce Harper (L)

Carlos Beltran (S)

Ryan Zimmerman (R)

Matt Holliday (R)

Adam LaRoche (L)

Allen Craig (R)

Michael Morse (R)

Yadier Molina (R)

Ian Desmond (R)

David Freese (R)

Danny Espinosa (S)

Daniel Descalso (L)

Kurt Suzuki (R)

Pete Kozma (R)

Jordan Zimmermann (R)

Jaime Garcia (L)

Though the Nationals appear to have a more reliable starting pitcher, PECOTA expects the Cardinals to even the series, perhaps giving a nod to their home-field advantage. And through 81 career starts, Garcia has fared nearly two full runs-per-game better in St. Louis (2.48 ERA) than on the road (4.47 ERA).

If you venture to the Cardinals official website, you’ll find a story with the headline, “Garcia a different pitcher since Nats saw him last”. The Cards had better hope so, because the lefty’s results on Aug. 30 at Nationals Park were dismal. Making his third start after spending 74 days on the disabled list with a partially torn rotator cuff, Garcia spotted the home team a two-run lead, and by the time he hit the showers in the sixth, he had been tagged for six runs. That 8-1 defeat marked the only time in 20 starts that Garcia served up two homers—one each by Harper and Werth—and he also matched a season-low by recording only two strikeouts.

The pitch chart from that outing, pasted above from Brooks Baseball, shows two culprits that may be interrelated. A sinkerballer, Garcia is at his best when he is pounding the knees and inducing ground balls. In this outing, though, he made a plethora of middle-middle pitches, enabling a power-packed Nats lineup to tee off for nine hits in his 5 1/3 innings of work.

Of course, while it’s easy to pin the blame entirely on Garcia’s poor in-zone control, home-plate umpire Mark Wegner’s tight strike zone certainly did not help. All of those green squares in the bottom quartile are offerings that Garcia, as a ground-ball pitcher, must establish as strikes in order to succeed. Wegner’s stinginess compounded Garcia’s inability to paint the corners in a start where, as the southpaw said, “I made a couple mistakes and paid the consequences.” Hence, Garcia will hope for more generous assessments from Marvin Hudson, who was at first base in Game One and thus is in line to work the plate tonight.

The Nationals will counter with Zimmermann, who did little to inspire confidence in his two outings against the Cardinals last month. The 26-year-old righty was shelled for a career-high eight runs in a season-low 3 2/3 innings at Busch Stadium on Sept. 1, and while he fared much better in an encore at Nationals Park four weeks later, the Cardinals still tallied three runs in 6 1/3 frames.

That brings us to the Matchup of the Game: Zimmermann vs. Freese. Last year’s World Series hero went 2-for-2 with a double, a home run, and a walk in his three plate appearances against Zimmermann in September. Perhaps most importantly, he was unfazed by anything Zimmermann threw his way, going deep off a curveball, doubling on a sinker, and drawing the base on balls by laying off of sliders.

Freese isn’t the only Redbird with a promising résumé against Zimmermann—Beltran is 4-for-12 with two doubles, Holliday is 3-for-8 with a homer, and Molina is 5-for-11—but his early success against virtually all of the pitches in the northpaw’s arsenal calls for a new game plan. Zimmermann’s ability to adjust and pull one step ahead of the Cardinals’ power threats will determine his fate this afternoon.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

Related Content:  Playoffs,  Nationals,  Cardinals

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