Tag Archives: NLDS

A look at the 10 dramatic Philadelphia Phillies postseason extra-innings games

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Maddox was in the middle of the action during  the decisive1980 NLCS Game Five

The Los Angeles Dodgers season was on the brink as Game 3 of the 2018 World Series staggered into the bottom of the 18th inning at Dodgers Stadium. The Boston Red Sox had a 2-0 lead and would take a nearly insurmountable 3-0 stranglehold on the series with a victory.

The Dodgers were rescued when Max Muncy lofted a lead-off, walk-off, opposite-field home run to give Los Angeles a 3-2 win, pulling them back from the precipice and cutting Boston’s lead in the Fall Classic to a 2-1 margin.
In the 136-year history of the Philadelphia Phillies franchise the club has reached postseason play on 13 occasions. They have been involved in 103 games across 22 different series during those playoff appearances.
Just ten of those games reached extra-innings. The Phillies have an even 5-5 split result. While none lasted nearly as long as last night’s marathon, each held its own drama and importance, and revealed its own heroes and scapegoats.
Let’s take a quick look back at each of those five Philadelphia Phillies extra-inning postseason victories and defeats.

1950 WORLD SERIES – GAME TWO

The Phillies were swept by the powerful New York Yankees in four straight games in this Fall Classic. But the young ‘Whiz Kids’ didn’t go down without a fight. They battled the Bronx Bombers evenly during the first three games, losing each by a single run.
After the Yankees had taken the opener by a 1-0 score, Game 2 of the 1950 World Series would again be held at what was still in those days known as Shibe Park. The Yanks went up early when Gene Woodling‘s ground single off Robin Roberts scored Jerry Coleman in the top of the second inning.
Mike Goliat left off the home 5th with a single off Yankees pitcher Allie Reynolds. He rolled around to third base on a one-out base hit by Eddie Waitkus, and then raced home with the tying run on a sac fly to left from Richie Ashburn.
Roberts and Reynolds would battle into the 10th inning, both pitchers going the distance in what is a complete antithesis to today’s game. In the top of the 10th, Joe DiMaggio crushed a lead-off home run out deep to left field for what would prove to be the game-winner.

1978 NLCS – GAME FOUR

The Phillies had tied the franchise record by winning 101 regular season games for a second straight season. And for a second straight year they would meet the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series.
The Dodgers had taken the series the previous year by breaking the hearts of Phillies fans on what has become known as ‘Black Friday’ in team lore. Now a year later, LA appeared on the verge of doing it again, taking the first two games.
The Phillies fought back to win Game 3 on the road. And now Game 4 of the 1978 NLCS went to extra-innings with the Phillies looking to tie it up, and the Dodgers looking to advance to a second-straight World Series.
Trailing 3-2 with two outs in the top of the 7th, Bake McBride had blasted a home run off Rick Rhoden to tie it up and force extras. In the bottom of the 10th, Tug McGraw retired the first to Dodger batters, but then walked Ron Cey.
The next batter, Dusty Baker, reached on an extremely rare error by Phillies center fielder Garry Maddox. Dodgers light-hitting shortstop Bill Russell then looped a first-pitch single cleanly to center, with Cey racing around to score the series-winning run.

1980 NLCS – GAMES TWO thru FIVE

For my money, the 1980 National League Championship Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros remains the greatest NLCS in baseball history. After the Phillies won the opener 3-1, each of the final four games went to extra-innings.
In Game 2 of the 1980 NLCS at Veteran’s Stadium, Maddox’ single scored Lonnie Smith in the bottom of the 8th inning to send it to extras. The Phillies then had the bases loaded with one out in the bottom of the 9th, but the Astros Frank LaCorte wriggled out of the jam. Houston then scored four times in the top of the 10th and evened the series with a 7-4 victory.
In Game 3 of the 1980 NLCS at the Astrodome in Houston, Larry Christenson of the Phillies and Joe Niekro of the Astros dueled through shutout starts. In fact, Niekro lasted 10 innings. Joe Morgan led off the bottom of the 11th with a triple off McGraw.
After Phillies skipper Dallas Green ordered two intentional walks to load the bases, Denny Walling lifted a sac fly to score the game’s only run. The walkoff victory gave the host Astros a 2-1 lead and put them within one game of the first World Series appearance in franchise history. This remains the longest postseason game by innings in Phillies history.
Game 4 of the 1980 NLCS saw the Phillies trailing 2-0 with their season on the brink into the top of the 8th inning. But Verne Ruhle surrendered four straight singles to start the frame, and then a Manny Trillo double scored Pete Rose with the go-ahead run.
Houston battled back to tie it in the home 9th inning. Then in the top of the 10th, back-to-back two-out RBI doubles from Greg Luzinski and Trillo gave the Phillies a 5-3 win, tying the series at two games apiece and setting up the dramatic finale.
Game 5 of the 1980 NLCS is perhaps the most dramatic postseason game in Phillies history. It easily includes their greatest playoff comeback. For a second straight game, the Phillies season appeared to be ending as the game entered the top of the 8th inning, but this time it looked even more bleak.
Entering that top of the 8th, the Astros lead 5-2. Not only that, they had future Hall of Fame ace Nolan Ryan on the mound. But the Phillies somehow scratched out a pair of runs without hitting a ball out of the infield. Then huge hit from Del Unser tied it, and Trillo ripped a triple to left to put the Phillies incredibly ahead by 7-5.
This dramatic game and series were both far from over. Houston rallied back to score twice in the bottom of the 8th off McGraw to again tie it up, and the teams rolled into extra innings for a fourth straight game.
In the top of the 10th, Unser doubled with one out. Then with two outs, Maddox dropped an RBI hit to center field. Usually a starting pitcher, Dick Ruthven retired Houston in order for a second straight inning to finish it off and send the Phillies on to the World Series.

1980 WORLD SERIES – GAME THREE

The Phillies followed up that dramatic series with Houston by rallying for a pair of victories at The Vet in the World Series against the Kansas City Royals. As the Fall Classic moved out to Royals Stadium for the first time ever, George Brett and the home squad were desperate for a victory.
Trailing 3-2 into the top of the 8th in Game 3 of the 1980 World Series, the Phillies once again showed their late-inning comeback resilience when Rose laced a two-out single to score Larry Bowa with the tying run.
The teams moved to the bottom of the 10th, and McGraw allowed the first two runners to reach base. He then battled back to retire the next two hitters, but following a steal and intentional walk, Willie Aikens base hit scored Willie Wilson with the walkoff game-winner.
The Royals would tie the series the next day, but the Phillies would ultimately capture their first-ever World Series crown in six games.

1981 NLDS – GAME FOUR

During a time when there was no such thing as a ‘Division Series’, a lengthy mid-season player’s strike resulted in Major League Baseball deciding to work under a split-season format with two half-seasons separated by the strike date.
The Phillies had the best record in the NL East at that point and were declared first-half division champs. The Montreal Expos took the second-half, and so the two teams would meet in a National League Division Series. The Dodgers and Astros were meeting in another such series, with the two winners slated for the NLCS.
The Expos shut the Phillies down in the first two games at Montreal, taking both by 3-1 scores. The Phillies offense finally awoke for a big 6-2 win in Game 3 back at Veteran’s Stadium. The Phillies needed to win to tie it up, while the Expos were looking to advance into the NLCS against the Dodgers.
The Phillies rushed to an early 4-0 lead in Game 4 of the 1981 NLDS, but Montreal scored in each inning from the 4th through the 7th, and the two teams battled into extra-innings tied at 5-5.
In the bottom of the 10th, Green sent young George Vukovich up to lead-off as a pinch-hitter for McGraw. Vukovich wasted no time becoming a postseason hero, ripping a walk-off homer over the right field wall. The Phillies had tied the series at 2-2, but Montreal would win it the following day when Steve Rogers out-dueled Steve Carlton.

1993 NLCS – GAMES ONE & FIVE

The 1993 ‘Macho Row’ squad went worst-to-first to win the NL East crown in an almost wire-to-wire performance that remains the single most fun Phillies season that I have witnessed in my 48 years following the team.
Waiting for them in the NLCS were the Atlanta Braves, who were then in the NL West Division. Atlanta had won 104 games that year and were seen by most as one of baseball’s up-and-coming teams. Despite winning their division, the Phillies were seen by many as a flaky fluke.
The Phillies sent a message in Game 1 of the 1993 NLCS at Veteran’s Stadium that they were no pushovers. After the Braves tied it by scoring an unearned run off Mitch Williams in the top of the 9th, the Phillies walked off to victory in the bottom of the 10th of the opener.
With one out in that 10th, John Kruk drilled a line drive double to right field off Greg McMichael. Next up was Kim Batiste, who had entered the game as a late defensive replacement for Dave Hollins at third base. Batiste ripped a two-strike, walk-off hit down the left field line to score Kruk with the game winner.
In Game 5 of the 1993 NLCS with the two teams tied at 2-2 in the series, the pivotal game entered extra-innings with someone looking to take the series lead.
With one out in the top of the 10th, Lenny Dykstra stepped in against Braves fireballer Mark Wohlers. On a 3-2 pitch, ‘The Dude’ blasted a go-ahead solo home run to put the Phillies on top. Larry Andersen came on to set Atlanta down in the bottom, and the Phillies had a 3-2 series lead headed back to The Vet. They would win the NL Pennant in the next game.
That blast from Dykstra highlighted what would prove to be the last Phillies extra-innings postseason game to this point. Despite reaching the playoffs in ever year from 2007 through 2011 and playing in more games during that stretch than all previous playoffs combined, the Phillies would not need extra frames again.
Losing the first four times, the Phillies have battled back to even their all-time franchise record at 5-5 in extra-innings playoff contests. When will we see the club back in the postseason? Hopefully it’s only a matter of time before we see bonus Phillies playoff baseball for the first time at Citizens Bank Park.

The Phillies have been involved in three winner-take-all postseason games

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Garry Maddox delivered the winning hit and recorded final out in 1980 NLCS

The Milwaukee Brewers defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers by a 7-2 score on Friday night. The victory by the Brew Crew forces an ultimate Game 7 in the National League Championship Series tonight at Miller Park in Milwaukee.

There have now been 136 seasons of baseball in the history of the Philadelphia Phillies franchise, 14 of which have resulted in a postseason appearance. None has ever resulted in the Phillies participating in a Game 7.
However, the Phillies and their fans have experienced the nervous energy and thrill of some winner-take-all drama on three occasions.
The first was Game 5 of the National League Championship Series back in 198o. The following year during the first-ever National League Division Series held because of the split-season due to a player strike, it happened again. Three decades would then pass before the next in Game 5 of the 2011 National League Division Series.
The Phillies have enjoyed the thrill of victory just once, in that 1980 NLCS. They went down in heart-breaking fashion in both 1981 and 2011. The two losses came as a result of similar circumstances.
The 1980 series between the Phillies and Houston Astros was perhaps the greatest NLCS in history. All three were close, dramatic games, with the last four all ending in extra-innings.
The Phillies won the opener at Veteran’s Stadium by a 3-1 score behind a Steve Carlton gem and a Greg Luzinski home run. Houston then scored four runs in the top of the 10th to even the series at Veteran’s Stadium in Game Two.
Back home at the Astrodome for Game Three, the Astros got a leadoff triple in the bottom of the 11th from Joe Morgan off Tug McGraw in a 0-0 game. Following two intentional walks, Denny Walling scored Morgan with the walkoff, putting Houston within a game of their first-ever World Series appearance.
The Phillies fought back, rallying from a 2-0 deficit in Game Four to score three times in the top of the 8th inning. After Houston tied it up in the last of the 9th, the Phillies scored twice in the top of the 10th to win it. That rally was highlighted by Pete Rose plowing into Bruce Bochy with the go-ahead run.
With the NLCS tied at two games apiece, the decisive Game Five would take place once again in Houston. This time the Astros had a literal ace-in-the-hole in Nolan Ryan, and the big right-hander rolled into the top of the 8th inning with a 5-2 lead.
The Phillies then scratched and clawed their way back, scoring five times in that 8th inning to take a 7-5 lead. Houston refused to die, scoring twice in the bottom of the frame to tie it up, and again the two teams headed to extras.
In the top of the 10th inning, Del Unser, whose pinch-hit RBI single had tied it up in that big Phillies 8th inning rally, once again played the hero by doubling to right field. Then with two outs, Garry Maddox dropped a ball into center field, driving in Unser with the go-ahead run.
Manager Dallas Green then brought his #2 starting pitcher, right-hander Dick Ruthven, in to pitch the bottom of the 10th inning. Ruthven retired the Astros in order, getting Enos Cabell to fly out to Maddox for the final out. The Phillies had won their first National League pennant in three decades en route to their first-ever World Series victory.
The following year of 1981 was marred by a strike from the players, one that resulted in Major League Baseball deciding to split the season into two halves. The Phillies were in first place at the time of the strike, and thus were awarded the first-half title.
In the second half, the Montreal Expos finished on top. This meant that the Phillies and Expos would face-off in the first-ever National League Division Series.
The whole split-season thing was all a bit frustrating for the Saint Louis Cardinals, who finished with a better overall record than both the Phillies and Expos in the NL East, and who finished just a half-game behind Montreal in the second half.
In fact, over in the NL West Division the Cincinnati Reds finished with the overall best record in baseball but were also shut out of the postseason. The Reds ended the first half at a half-game behind the Dodgers and finished the second half at 1.5 back of the Astros.
In the best-of-five NLDS, the Expos bolted out to a 2-0 lead by shutting the defending champion Phillies down in identical 3-1 victories at Olympic Stadium in Montreal. The series then returned to Veteran’s Stadium for the final three games. The Phillies bats finally awoke for a 6-2 win in Game Three.
With the Phillies now trailing 2-1 in the series and their backs still to the wall, Game Four moved into the bottom of the 10th inning tied at 5-5. Green sent up 25-year-old George Vukovich to leadoff as a pinch-hitter for McGraw.
With just a single home run in 91 plate appearances spread over his first two seasons to that point, Vukovich seemed an unlikely hero. But that is exactly what he became when he ripped the first pitch from Expos closer Jeff Reardon over the right field wall and into the Phillies bullpen for a walkoff homer.
The momentum now seemed in the Phillies favor for the decisive Game Five. They had won two straight, were at home in front of their roaring fans, and would have Carlton on the mound. The only problem? Someone forgot to tell Expos starting pitcher Steve Rogers that he didn’t stand a chance.
Rogers had bested Carlton in the opener by battling through 8.1 innings in which he surrendered 10 hits but allowed just a single run. He was even better this time.
In a complete game masterpiece, Rogers shut out the Phillies on six hits. And in the top of the 5th inning his bases-loaded single off Carlton scored two runs to break up a 0-0 showdown. The Expos won 3-0 and advanced on to the NLCS, and the Phillies were dethroned.
The last winner-take-all for the franchise in 2011 also ended in heartbreaking fashion with the opposition starting pitcher out-dueling a Phillies ace.
In 2011, the Phillies had set an all-time franchise record by winning 102 games during the regular season. That came largely thanks to a starting rotation featuring the ‘Four Aces’: Roy HalladayCliff LeeRoy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels.
The Cardinals had not even won their division. They finished in second place in the NL Central, six games behind the Milwaukee Brewers. But the Cards beat out the Atlanta Braves for the NL Wildcard berth on the final day of the season, earning an opportunity against the Phillies in the NLDS.
The Phillies took two of the first three games and very nearly got a sweep. Saint Louis stayed alive by rallying from an early 4-0 deficit against Lee to eke out a 5-4 win in Game Two. The Cards then won Game Four at Busch Stadium to force a decisive game back in Philadelphia.
For that dramatic Game Five at Citizens Bank Park, Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel sent his ace of aces Halladay to the mound. Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa countered with big right-hander Chris Carpenter, an off-season hunting and fishing buddy of Halladay’s.
The Phillies had battered Carpenter early in Game Two, driving him from the mound by scoring four times over the first three frames. But a parade of six Cardinals relievers then completely shut the Phillies bats down to keep Saint Louis in the series.
Halladay was strong, surrendering just a single run on six hits while walking one and striking out seven over eight innings. He yielded extra-base hits to the first two batters of the game to fall behind 1-0 but would scatter just four singles the rest of the way.
Carpenter, however, would not allow himself to be embarrassed again. The 36-year-old veteran delivered a true masterpiece, allowing the Phillies just three hits in a complete game shutout that was eerily reminiscent of Rogers’ elimination of the Phillies three decades earlier.
Carpenter was in trouble just once, getting Raul Ibanez to fly out with runners on the corners and two down in the bottom of the 4th inning. In the bottom of the 9th, he retired Ryan Howard on a weak grounder for the final out, ‘The Big Piece’ crumpling to the ground with what turned out to be a major Achilles injury while trying to run from the batter’s box.
Someday the Phillies and their fans may have to sit through the tense drama of a Game 7 during a National League Championship Series or a World Series. It would be a first for the franchise.
If it should come in one of those scenarios, or perhaps during an NL Wildcard Game or a decisive fifth game of a Division Series, the memories of those three previous winner-take-all Phillies October dramas are sure to be relived.
Originally published at Phillies Nation as “Phillies have never been to Game 7, but have been winner-take-all

Nationals can prove nothing today – they must win two straight

Dusty Baker’s Nationals need two wins (photo: Chicago Tribune)

The Washington Nationals are on the brink of postseason elimination. Stop me if you’ve heard this story before.

This year’s version of the Nats will take the field on Wednesday afternoon at Wrigley Field in Chicago trailing the host Cubs by 2-1 in a best-of-five NLDS.

Whether they are willing to admit it or not, the Nationals will face another opponent today as well. That opponent lives inside their own heads and hearts.

This 2017 MLB postseason marks the fourth time in the last six years that Washington has participated in the National League Division Series. They have been eliminated in each of the previous three opportunities.

Winning today will not take the pressure off the Nats. Forcing a Game Five back at Nationals Park on Friday would not prove a thing. For the Nationals to show that this year’s team is different from those previous playoff clubs, they must win two straight.

At the start of this series against the defending World Series champions, Nationals manager Dusty Baker was quoted by Todd Dybas for The Washington Times on prior October failures.

“I don’t think about what you haven’t done. You think about what you can control, which is the power of now. We’re in it now. I’ve been through a number of these where there a lot of unlikely heroes. Guys that should be heroes aren’t and guys you don’t count on being heroes are. It’s hero time. Guys are born and made during this time.”

Baker has indeed “been through it”, as both a player and manager. This is his second year with the Nats, so the second time he has taken them this far. He skippered the Cincinnati Reds to the playoffs twice, the Cubs once, and the San Francisco Giants three times, including a tough seven-game loss in the 2002 World Series.

In last year’s NLDS, his Nationals team held a 2-1 lead on the Los Angeles Dodgers. In Game Four, the Dodgers tied things up with a 6-5 victory. The unlikely Joe Blanton entered to strike out Anthony Rendon with runners on 1st and 3rd and two outs after the Nats had rallied to tie at 5-5.

Then in the decisive Game Five, it was another 2008 Phillies World Series player who became the unlikely hero. This time it was Carlos Ruiz, whose pinch-hit RBI single put LA on top 2-1 in the top of the 7th inning. The Dodgers went on to a 4-3 victory, eliminating the Nationals.

This year, down 1-0 in games to the Cubs and facing a 3-1 deficit in Game Two with one out in the bottom of the 8th inning, Baker witnessed that “hero time” that he had been calling for at the start. It came in the form of lightening bolts from two more likely sources.

First, Bryce Harper delivered a mammoth game-tying two-run homer. Three batters later, Ryan Zimmerman crushed a go-ahead three-run home run to center field. Four outs from a 2-0 series deficit, the Nationals had their heroes, and had tied the series.

Unfortunately, those offensive heroics did not carry over to Game Three. Washington was held to just three hits by Jose Quintana and three Chicago relievers, eking out a 2-1 victory on Anthony Rizzo’s two-out RBI single in the bottom of the 8th inning.

The Cubs have not blown out the Nationals. What their pitching has done, aside from a four batter sequence in that Game Two 8th inning, is completely shut down the Washington lineup.

Trying to stay alive in Game Four, the Nationals will have to find a way to score against Cubs ace Jake Arrieta and a talented Cubs bullpen now rested thanks to Tuesday’s rainout. Baker will send Stephen Strasburg out to start, trying to keep his team’s season alive.

Strasburg was reported to be ill and unavailable had the game been played as originally scheduled. The one-day delay was apparently enough for him to recover sufficiently to at least give it the old college try for as long as he can remain effective, and then turn it over to the pen.

The franchise has played in Washington as the Nationals since 2005. Prior to that, there were 36 seasons as the Montreal Expos. In all that time north of the border, there was just one playoff series, a 3-2 loss to the Dodgers in the 1982 NLCS.

The Nationals still have the talent and firepower to win back-to-back games from the Cubs and capture this series. Now, that is exactly what they must do. Win two straight, or as with all four previous postseason teams over the franchise’ 48 previous years, they will fail to win a playoff series, and will go home disappointed.

NLDS Prediction: Washington Nationals over Chicago Cubs

Nationals fans believe that this will be their year – so do I

This isn’t necessarily a now-or-never situation for the Washington Nationals, as some pundits have claimed.

The Nats are likely to again be favorites to win the NL East crown in 2018, and will have the talent again to be a serious championship contender.

However, it is getting to be time for the Nationals to prove that they can actually win a postseason series, let alone make a deep October run.

This is the sixth consecutive season of contention in our nation’s capital. Washington captured the NL East crown in four of those six seasons, and finished second in the other two. This is their fourth shot at postseason play.

In their three previous October series, the Nationals dropped a hard-fought NLDS. In 2012 it was a 3-2 series defeat at the hands of the Saint Louis Cardinals.

The Nats won the opener of that series, and held a 7-5 lead with two outs in the top of the 9th in the decisive Game Five before a Cardinals rally killed their dreams.

In 2014, the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants took out the Nats in four games. Each of the three defeats came by a single run: 3-2 and 2-1 in the first two games, and then a 3-2 defeat in Game Four where the Giants clinching run scored via a wild pitch.

Last season, Washington was a clear favorite against the LA Dodgers. A 3-2 loss to Clayton Kershaw in the opener was nothing to be ashamed of, and the Nats bounced back to capture the next two games.

Then in Game Four, the Dodgers tied the series with a two-out, nobody on rally in the bottom of the 8th in which a Chase Utley RBI single drove in the winning run of a 6-5 game.

In Game Five, Max Scherzer was tossing a gem, shutting out the Dodgers for six innings. But in the 7th, LA erupted for four runs, ultimately holding on for a 4-3 victory that again eliminated the Nationals.

This history matters, because if the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs get out to a series lead, or even take it to a decisive game, that history of playoff losing could work on the Nationals collective heads.

The two teams battled fairly even in the regular season, with the Nats capturing four of the seven games. In late June, they split a four-game set at Nationals Park. Then in early August, Washington took two of three at Wrigley Field.

This series should prove to be a fantastic managerial matchup between two of the game’s best and most experienced field generals.

Washington skipper Dusty Baker has guided the Nationals to the NL East title in each of his first two seasons with the club. Baker was a 2x NL All-Star and Silver Slugger winner during a 19-year playing career that stretched all the way back to 1968. He was a key player on the 1981 Dodgers team that won the World Series.

As a manager, Baker has guided four different teams over a total of 22 seasons. He has a cumulative 1,863-1,636 regular season record, won division titles with each of his four teams, and took the 2002 San Francisco Giants to the World Series.

The Cubs have gone 292-193 in three seasons under Joe Maddon, who skippered them to the franchise’ first World Series championship since 1908 a year ago.

Maddon previously won a pair of division crowns and an AL Pennant with the Tampa Bay Rays over nine seasons. He was also a member of Mike Scioscia’s staff when the Anaheim Angels beat Baker’s Giants in that 2002 Fall Classic.

Baker will send 3x NL All-Star Stephen Strasburg to the hill in Friday’s opener at Nationals Park, but has yet to announce his rotation beyond the opener. The likelihood is that it will be Scherzer and lefty Gio Gonzalez in some order for Game Two in Washington, and then Game Three in Chicago.

Maddon has already announced Kyle Hendricks for the opener, followed by Jon Lester in Game Two, and then trade deadline acquisition Jose Quintana in Game Three.

These are two star-studded lineups. The Nationals key could be the readiness of right fielder Bryce Harper, one of the most dynamic players in the game today. A nearly devastating leg injury limited the soon-to-be 25-year old to just 111 games. He was able to return for the final five games, and he should be ready to go.

Also featured in the Nationals lineup is second baseman Daniel Murphy, a 3x NL All-Star, the 2016 NL MVP runner-up, and the 2015 NLCS MVP while with the New York Mets.

Third baseman Anthony Rendon is going to receive NL MVP votes this time around. Shortstop Trea Turner is one of the game’s biggest stolen base threats. Veterans Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, and Matt Wieters bring not just their talents, but also a wealth of big game experience.

The champion Cubs come with perhaps the deepest collection of talented youngsters in the game today in third baseman Kris Bryant (25), first baseman Anthony Rizzo (28), catcher Willson Contreras (25), left fielder Kyle Schwarber (24), right fielder Jason Heyward (28), center fielder Albert Almora (23) and a pair of super utility guys in Javier Baez (24) and 23-year old rookie Ian Happ.

The Cubs also have one of the best and most experienced and versatile players in this postseason in 36-year old Ben Zobrist, who was with Maddon back in the Tampa Bay days and played a key role on last year’s title team.

Right-handed starting pitcher Jake Arrieta, perhaps the Cubs best, is battling a hamstring injury. He is expected to start Game Four. If he cannot go, Maddon may turn to lefty Mike Montgomery, depending on how much the veteran has been used out of the bullpen.

Out of the bullpens, both managers have an array of talented options. Maddon will turn to righties John Lackey, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards, and closer Wade Davis. From the left side he will bring Montgomery, Justin Wilson, and Brian Duensing.

When Baker calls to the bullpen he will be looking for righties Ryan Madson, Matt Albers, Brandon Kintzler, and possibly even usual starter Tanner Roark. From the southpaw side it will be Oliver Perez, Enny Romero, Sammy Solis, and closer Sean Doolittle.

This is a battle of the two teams that I see as the National League’s best. The winner of this series should be favored in the NLCS, and should they advance that far, will pose a major challenge to the American League champions in the World Series.

Much as with my prediction for the other NLDS, this is completely a gut call. Two evenly matched teams. Washington has home field advantage. I just think it’s their time. Don’t be surprised to see Harper take over this postseason, while Rendon shows his talent on a national stage. Nationals in a hard-fought five games.

Nationals Anthony Rendon is a Difference Maker

The visiting Washington Nationals had just taken a 2-1 lead over the host Los Angeles Dodgers in the top of the third inning in Monday’s third game of a tied National League Division Series game at Dodger Stadium.
With Bryce Harper at third base and one out, Nats third baseman Anthony Rendon stepped in against Dodgers’ 28-year-old quasi-rookie starting pitcher Kenta Maeda.
Maeda may be a “rookie” by Major League Baseball standards and qualifications, but he has eight years of experience in the Japanese Central League as the ace of the Hiroshima Carp.
Rendon worked Maeda to a 2-2 count over a half-dozen pitches, and then on the seventh pitch of the at-bat, ripped a 91 mph fastball deep into the left-center field stands for a two-run home run.

The blast would prove to supply the winning runs in what would ultimately become an 8-3 Nationals victory at Chavez Ravine, putting Washington up by two games to one in the NLDS.
In a lineup that includes high-profile 2015 NL MVP Harper, franchise icon Ryan Zimmerman, veteran postseason hero Jayson Werth, and 2015 postseason star Daniel Murphy, Rendon can often get lost, especially to the average baseball fan.
But ask any Nationals player and fan, and they will tell you that the 26-year-old Rendon is a key to any success that the team enjoys.
“We’ve batted him all around the order trying to find the right spot for this team, and he’s probably the one guy who can hit anywhere,” said manager Dusty Baker last month per Patrick Reddington at SB Nation.
“He’s hit second, he’s hit sixth, he’s hit fifth, when Murph was out he hits third sometimes, sometimes he hits fourth when Harp is out. He’s a very, very important cog in our lineup.”
As he already has shown twice in this NLDS, he is likely to prove a difference maker as the Nats try to shake off a reputation as a postseason letdown.

In Friday night’s series opener at Nationals Park, a 4-3 victory for the Dodgers, Rendon went 2-4 and drove in two of the Nats’ three runs.
After getting off to a slow start this season, Rendon hit for a .295/.359/.515 slash line with 11 homers and 52 RBI over the final 67 games as the Nationals won the NL East for the third time in five years.
“I think just trying to stay within myself, trying not to do too much, and just trying to put the barrel on the ball like I’ve been taught ever since I was younger. I guess just staying within myself,” said Rendon following Tuesday’s game per Chelsea Janes at The Washington Post.
Rendon had 21 homers and 83 RBI, scored 111 runs, and stole 17 bases back in the 2014 season when he finished fifth in National League MVP voting and won a Silver Slugger.
During the Nationals’ four-game defeat at the hands of the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants in the NLDS that season, Rendon hit .368, so he has shown that he can produce when the stakes go up in October baseball.

With power and speed offensively, and one of the best defensive gloves and arms in the game at the hot corner, Rendon is indeed a difference maker. He showed it on Tuesday, and if the Nationals advance, he is likely to keep on showing it.