NLDS Game 2 preview: Nationals at Cardinals
Nationals at Cardinals
Series: NLDS Game 2: Washington leads 1-0
Time: 4:30 p.m. EST
Starters: Jordan Zimmermann (12-8, 2.94 ERA) vs. Jaime Garcia (7-7, 3.92 ERA)
In my series preview, I highlighted Nationals manager Davey Johnson’s track record and postseason experience, suggesting it could be a factor, particularly in a series against a first-time postseason manager, namely the Cardinals’ Mike Matheny. In Sunday’s series opener, that advantage appeared to play out at what proved to be the decisive moment of the game. In the eighth inning, Johnson deployed lefty pinch-hitter Chad Tracy just long enough to make Matheny take out righty Mitchell Boggs for the less effective lefty Mark Rzepczynski. Johnson then countered with righthanded hitter Tyler Moore, who delivered the game-winning two-run single.
With that Game 1 win, Game 2 is now a must-win for the Cardinals, who face the possibility of heading to Washington down 2-games-to-0 if they lose. Johnson is calling upon Zimmermann, who at 7.0 strikeouts per nine doesn’t miss as many bats as Game 1 starter Gio Gonzalez. Zimmermann doesn’t walk nearly as many hitters as Gonzalez either; his 2.0 per nine ranked eighth in the NL. He was the team’s most consistent starter, with a 75 percent quality start rate; not until August 4, his 22nd start of the season, did he last less than six innings. He’s an efficient pitcher who works primarily with a fastball that averages 94.6 mph, a slider and a curve. He faced the Cardinals twice this season, getting rocked for eight runs in 3 2/3 innings on September 1 — his only outing of less than five innings or more than five runs all season — but rebounded to hold the Redbirds to three runs in 6 1/3 innings on September 29.
He’ll square off against Garcia, a 25-year-old who missed two and a half months of the season with labrum and rotator cuff tears. He was actually stronger after returning, posting a 3.25 ERA and a 47/11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his final nine turns, compared to a 4.48 ERA and a 51/19 ratio in his first 11; he didn’t get good defensive support in either stretch (.365 BABIP before the injury, .323 after). Garcia doesn’t have overwhelming velocity (average fastball 88.8 mph); he’s a sinkerballer who gets a ton of groundballs and steers clear of both homers (0.5 per nine this year) and walks (2.2 per nine) while missing a fair share of bats (7.2 strikeouts per nine). He uses a slider and changeup as his swing-and-miss pitches, with a rare-but-effective curve occasionally thrown into the mix. The lone lefty in the Cardinals’ rotation, he was 101 points of OPS better against lefties this year, albeit in a relatively small sample of 102 PA; his career mark is just 35 points better against lefties, and he’ll likely face only two of them in the Nats’ lineup in Adam LaRoche and Bryce Harper. That said, the latter went deep on him in his lone start against the Nats on August 30, as Washington roughed him up for six runs in 5 1/3 innings in D.C.
Garcia made five starts in the postseason last year but was hooked before completing five innings three times by Tony La Russa. Matheny showed no hesitation to hook Adam Wainwright at the 100-pitch mark in Game 1 despite his 10 strikeouts, and given that he let Garcia go over 100 just twice all season (once post-injury), he’s almost certain to be similarly conservative here. That will put him into the chess match with Johnson, with a bullpen that’s not ideally suited for the task. Advantage: Washington.