After 162 games, it all comes down to one. The Milwaukee Brewers had one of the best end-of-season stretches ever to secure a spot in the one-game National League Wild Card Game. The Washington Nationals got out of an early-season hole and will host the win or go home contest on Tuesday October 1 at Nationals Park. The Nationals are priced between -175 and -185 and the total is 7.5 for Tuesday night’s 8:08 p.m. first pitch.
Nationals fans are no strangers to postseason disappointment. The franchise, which moved from Montreal in 2004, has made the playoffs four times since 2012 and has not won a round yet. Technically speaking, the Wild Card Game is a round, but advancing to the NLDS to face the Los Angeles Dodgers won’t be enough for a fan base dying for October success. After all, the Nationals haven’t had a losing season since 2011 and have seven playoff wins to show for it.
The Brewers are back in the playoffs after last season’s run to Game 7 of the NLCS. It took one hell of a September run without perennial MVP candidate Christian Yelich to get there. Milwaukee lost on September 5 to fall to 71-68. Milwaukee went 18-2 over the next 20 games to win the second Wild Card spot. With that sewn up, the team took the last three games off to rest and energize. So, the final record will say 89-73, but it doesn’t tell the full story, considering the Brewers spent 53 days in first place and then also spent a fair amount of time wondering if they would even make the playoffs.
There’s your backstory to the one-game Wild Card Round. As for the game itself, Brandon Woodruff will start for the Brewers, but he won’t work deep into the game. Woodruff, who wound up working 121.2 innings over 22 starts, was utilized as more of a multi-inning opener in his last two starts after coming back from injury. He missed nearly two months from July 21 to September 17 with an oblique injury. He faced 13 batters and struck out seven with one walk. He didn’t allow a hit, but also faced the Padres and Pirates.
What happens after Woodruff is anybody’s guess. The Brewers could use midseason acquisition Jordan Lyles. They could use Brent Suter. They could use Freddy Peralta. All hands will be on deck. About the only guarantees are that Josh Hader and Drew Pomeranz will pitch at some point after Woodruff. Craig Counsell could be very aggressive in the middle innings of this game from a matchup standpoint, as none of his most important guys pitched on Sunday, so they are all well-rested.
The Nationals will go with Max Scherzer to start, but skipper Dave Martinez has already said that Patrick Corbin, Stephen Strasburg, and Anibal Sanchez are all available if necessary. With a guy like Scherzer, who knows how many of those guys will be necessary, but this has been a patchwork bullpen most of the season. Daniel Hudson and Sean Doolittle have shared closer duties. Fernando Rodney has pitched in leverage and so have Hunter Strickland and Wander Suero.
If your playoff life is on the line, you’d rather tap into that rotation depth and then figure out the NLDS as you go along, so Martinez is on the right track there. You wonder how guys used to starting the game will do coming into a high-leverage relief situation, but you expect the talent to win out.
That is the problem with these one-game playoff scenarios. They are really tough handicaps because the pitcher usage for each team is a massive question mark. In theory, we would expect only the best for each team to pitch, so the under is a starting point. On the other hand, usually playoff-caliber teams have good offensive squads and we all know about the well-documented juiced balls this season. Plus, the total of 7.5 is certainly on the low end.
Offensively, the Brewers are banged up. Christian Yelich is still out. Lorenzo Cain is battling a bum knee. Mike Moustakas and Ryan Braun both missed time in the final week. Structuring the lineup is a challenge for managers in these games as well because the opposition can go in so many different directions on the pitching side.
The Brewers are certainly at a disadvantage offensively without Yelich, but that is already priced into the line. The Scherzer factor is priced into the line as well.
Offensively, Washington is in tact. A lot of key guys got Sunday off and those that didn’t had days off throughout the week. There are no big injury concerns for Washington going into this game.
In looking purely at the odds for the game, the line is around -180, which implies a 64.29% likelihood that the Nationals win. I would expect it to be a little bit lower than that, though the absence of Yelich really is a big deal for the Brewers. In a normal game, the fact that the Brewers are not going to let any hitter see the same pitcher twice, in all likelihood, would really help. Facing Scherzer lowers the value of that because opposing batters posted a .255 wOBA the first time through, a .291 wOBA the second time through, and a .266 wOBA the third time through.
In that respect, Scherzer is likely to be as good or better from a split standpoint the second and third time through that any Brewers reliever is going to be, at least in a simplified sense. That wouldn’t take into account L/L matchups or whatnot, but Mad Max is a special kind of pitcher.
Solely based on price, I would lean with the Brewers here. In these one-game playoff scenarios, fluky things can happen. This isn’t the best team over five games. It is the best team over one game. When you consider the aggressive managing and the relative equality of the teams, a team at +165 or thereabouts is as live as it gets.
Strasburg has never made a relief appearance in the Major Leagues. Corbin actually has 18. He has never pitched in the postseason, which doesn’t matter to me and has been proven not to matter, but some like the experience factor.
Ultimately, I think the Nationals win and advance, but by no means would I have this game in the 65/35 range. It’s more of a 55/45 or so proposition to me. I fully accept that Scherzer has more upside than the Brewers’ collection of Woodruff and the relievers and that he could outright dominate the Milwaukee lineup. It’s just not as cut and dry as the line would indicate.
Based on the price, Milwaukee is the pick for me.