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Cubs/Nationals

Last night’s NLDS Game 4 was a compelling affair, from the last-minute change to Stephen Strasburg—and, well, Strasburg’s stellar last-minute change(up)—to the improbable Michael Taylor dinger to the even-more-improbable Jon Lester pickoff of Ryan Zimmerman. Tonight we’ll get our second Game 5 of the playoffs, as the Nationals seek to slough off the indignity of another early exit while the Cubs seek to prevent 2017 from turning into something of a disappointment.

The winner gets the “prize” of taking on the dominant-then-bad-then-dominant-again Dodgers in a few days.

Chicago Cubs (Kyle Hendricks) at Washington Nationals (Gio Gonzalez), 8:08 PM ET

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

Projected Starting Lineups

Nationals vs. Hendricks (R)

Cubs vs. Gonzalez (L)

Trea Turner (R), SS

Jon Jay (L), LF

Jayson Werth (R), LF

Kris Bryant (R), 3B

Bryce Harper (L), RF

Anthony Rizzo (L), 1B

Ryan Zimmerman (R), 1B

Willson Contreras (R), C

Daniel Murphy (L), 2B

Albert Almora (R), CF

Anthony Rendon (R), 3B

Addison Russell (R), SS

Matt Wieters (S), C

Jason Heyward (L), RF

Michael Taylor (R), CF

Javier Baez (R), 2B

Gio Gonzalez (R), P

Kyle Hendricks (R), P

Injuries/Availability

Never before have flu-like symptoms and hotel mold had such an effect on NLDS prognostications. As an elimination game for both teams, expect it to be all hands on deck, with only last night’s starting pitchers—Strasburg, Jake Arrieta, and (sorta) Jon Lester—decidedly out of the mix. The Nats are likely to have Tanner Roark raring (Roark-ing?) to go as a caddy for Gio, which would cause the Cubs to have to flip their lineup. Washington’s two best relievers—the Bay Area Boys of Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle—are probably good to return tonight, especially Doolittle, who just threw 12 pitches when closing yesterday’s game.

On the Cubs’ side, things look a bit darker. No, none of their top relievers (Wade Davis, Justin Wilson, and Carl Edwards Jr.) threw many pitches in Game 4, but Davis and Edwards got spanked. Perhaps Jose Quintana could ride in late to save the Cubs’ season, but how weird is it to say that the Washington Nationals might have a small bullpen advantage? Baseball is so weird!

Outlook

I’m incredibly pumped for the elimination game, and you should be too. Not only are we in a winner-take-all scenario, but between Hendricks and Gonzalez we should see some balls in play, and a (relatively) quick game. (Hendricks’ first outing of the playoffs was the shortest game of the postseason.) The Cubs are one of the few teams in MLB that can hit left-handed pitching effectively (.264/.349/.428 this season), but they’re also at a likely disadvantage with the game on Washington’s home turf.

If you want to call it a coin-flip, a toss-up, or find any other way of saying that this one’s too close to call, I won’t argue with you. (PECOTA certainly agrees.) Unless you’re a highly-stressed Cubs or Nats fan, this is one of the best kinds of elimination games, one where the teams are matched up evenly enough to make it a nail-biter.