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Cubs/Giants

On Wednesday night, the Giants did what they have done in every even year of Barack Obama’s presidency: win a do-or-die game in the playoffs. Now, the Giants head to Wrigley Field with the unenviable task of trying to knock off the 103-win Cubs.

San Francisco Giants (Johnny Cueto) at Chicago Cubs (Jon Lester), 9:00 PM ET

PECOTA odds of winning: 61% Cubs, 39% Giants

Projected Starting Lineups

Giants vs. Lester (L)

Cubs vs. Cueto (R)

Gorkys Hernandez (R) CF

Dexter Fowler (S) CF

Brandon Belt (L) 1B

Kris Bryant (R) 3B

Buster Posey (R) C

Anthony Rizzo (L) 1B

Hunter Pence (L) RF

Ben Zobrist (S) 2B

Angel Pagan (S) LF

Addison Russell (R) SS

Brandon Crawford (L) SS

Jason Heyward (L) RF

Kelby Tomlinson (R) 2B

Jorge Soler (R) LF

Conor Gillaspie (L) 3B

David Ross (R) C

Johnny Cueto (R) P

Jon Lester (L) P

Injuries/Availability

Eduardo Nunez’s strained hamstring kept him out of the Wild Card game. The injury is considered minor, but hamstring injuries have a way of lingering. Expect the Giants to play it safe with Nunez, particularly at the beginning of the series. Crawford missed time in September with a dislocated finger, but has shown no lingering effects since his return.

For the Cubs, Soler has been dealing with tightness in his right side, likely due to an oblique injury, but an MRI came back clean and he played in the regular-season finale on Sunday. The Cubs' depth gives them the luxury of playing it safe with Soler if he can’t answer the bell tonight.

Outlook

Cueto faced the Cubs once this year, in a September start at Wrigley. He was masterful, allowing one run over seven innings in a game the Giants lost 3-2. With Bumgarner out of the picture, Cueto gets the call for the series opener. Cueto was at his best in September, posting a 1.78 ERA in his final five starts of the season. Cueto’s raw stuff is fine, but it is his pitch-command pedigree (a wonderful term coined by Doug Thorburn) and deceptive delivery that are extremely tough to make quality contact against when he is at his best.

The Cubs answer with Lester, a seasoned veteran making the 15th postseason start of his career. Lester faced the Giants twice this year. He struggled in his first outing, failing to get out of the third inning at San Francisco in May, but followed up with an efficient, 102-pitch complete game in September at Wrigley. Like Cueto, Lester ended the season on a roll, with a 1.46 ERA in his last 12 starts. When Lester did struggle in July, it was because he was having difficulty commanding his fastball. Lester moved away from his sinker in August, but in September he once again seemed comfortable with his four-seamer/cutter/sinker combination.

Anything can happen in a short series, but it’s easy to see why PECOTA likes the Cubs so much in Game 1. Because the Cubs are considered a team that relies on defense and pitching their offense sometimes gets overlooked, but Chicago’s TAv of .287 was first in the majors by a wide margin. Even if the Cubs can’t get to Cueto, they will try to wear him out with their patient approach at the plate and hope the game comes down to the bullpens, where the Giants are at a disadvantage. Bruce Bochy had the luxury of Cueto waiting in the wings in the Wild Card game. In a five-game series, he cannot go to a starting pitcher in relief without messing up his rotation for the rest of the series. The Giants will need their bullpen to step it up in this game–and this series–if they are going to have a fighting chance.

Nationals/Dodgers

Although there are question marks on both sides of the diamond because of injuries, you cannot ask for a better pitching matchup than Clayton Kershaw versus Max Scherzer for a Game 1 showdown. Add two of the stronger lineups in baseball to the mix and Game 1 of the NLDS has the potential to be an all-time classic.

Los Angeles Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw) at Washington Nationals (Max Scherzer), 5:30 PM ET

PECOTA odds of winning: 52% Dodgers, 48% Nationals

Projected Starting Lineups

Dodgers vs. Scherzer (R)

Nationals vs. Kershaw (L)

Chase Utley (L) 2B

Trea Turner (R) CF

Corey Seager (L) SS

Daniel Murphy (L) 2B

Justin Turner (R) 3B

Bryce Harper (L) RF

Adrian Gonzalez (L) 1B

Anthony Rendon (R) 3B

Yasmani Grandal (S) C

Ryan Zimmermann (R) 1B

Josh Reddick (L) RF

Jayson Werth (R) LF

Andrew Toles (L) LF

Danny Espinosa (S) SS

Joc Pederson (L) CF

Pedro Severino (R) C

Clayton Kershaw (L) P

Max Scherzer (R) P

Injuries/Availability

Toles missed the last few games of the regular season with a sore wrist, but after a batting practice session earlier this week he's been cleared to play. Adam Liberatore returned from an elbow injury in August, but was still reporting pain and will undergo a left elbow debridement on Tuesday and miss the playoffs.

There is never a good time for injuries, but the Nationals have run into the injury buzzsaw at the worst possible time. Stalwart catcher Wilson Ramos is out for the season and might miss part of 2017 with an ACL tear. Daniel Murphy (glute) is not quite 100 percent, but is expected to start Game 1. Stephen Strasburg (elbow) has been ruled out for the NLDS. Jayson Werth battled through back tightness in the waning days of the season. He should be good to go in Game 1, but it is something to watch. Jose Lobaton is also banged up with some minor injuries, but should make the roster.

Outlook

This is a series that is going to ride on the health of both squads, and it isn’t hyperbole to suggest that no one’s health is more important than Kershaw’s. The question isn’t whether Kersh will be effective or not (he posted a 1.69 ERA this year, and a 1.29 ERA in his five starts after returning from his back injury), but rather if he will be able to pitch deep into the game if needed. With a bullpen that was already taxed down the stretch due to all of the Dodgers’ rotation injuries, Los Angeles is going to need Kershaw at his best for as long as possible.

With the absence of Strasburg, Scherzer finds himself in a similar position for the Nationals. These are the kind of the games the Nationals were envisioning when they signed Scherzer to a $210 million, seven-year contract prior to the 2015 season. Scherzer’s game plan is to rely mostly on his dominant four-seamer the first time through the lineup and then mix in more breaking pitches as he goes along to give batters a different look. Scherzer is next-to-impossible to hit when his location is on, but tends to overcompensate when it isn’t and can be susceptible to the long ball.

There is much more narrative surrounding the other NLDS, but this matchup has the storyline of two teams that “can’t win in the postseason.” The Dodgers and Nationals are a combined 1-5 in playoff series since 2012. Both teams can’t be “playoff failures” here, so something is going to have to give. PECOTA slightly favors the Dodgers to take the first game, surely because of Kershaw’s potential to dominate any given game. The Nationals hit lefties very well this season, but will need full health from Werth and Murphy in order to capitalize. Besides Kershaw, the Dodgers' biggest advantage in this game may be a nearly all-lefty lineup against Scherzer. Scherzer ranked first in OPS against versus righties, but was only 60th out of 101 qualifiers against left-handed batters.