The two-time defending National League Central champion Cubs, who beat the Cardinals, 5-1, on Wednesday to win the division, will face the Nationals in the best-of-five NL Division Series presented by T-Mobile, scheduled to begin Oct. 6. Washington has clinched home-field advantage in the NLDS, so Games 1 and 2 will be played at Nationals Park on Oct. 6-7 and broadcast on TBS. Game 3 will be played at Wrigley Field on Oct. 9 on TBS, with Game 4 (if necessary) on Oct. 10, also on TBS.
Last year, the Cubs beat the Giants, 3-1, in the NLDS to advance. Jon Lester opened that series and was followed by Kyle Hendricks. At that time, the Cubs wanted to take advantage of Hendricks' dominant record at Wrigley (9-2, 1.32 ERA). On Monday, Lester tuned up for the postseason with his 18th quality start in a 10-2 win over the Cardinals and is 12-3 in September with the Cubs.
The Nationals, though, rank second in the NL with a collective .273 batting average against left-handers (they're hitting .263 vs. right-handers). Will manager Joe Maddon go with Jake Arrieta in the opener and then Lester? Or could Hendricks be moved up? Hendricks, who led the Major Leagues in ERA last season, has a 2.34 ERA in the second half this year.
The Nationals edged the Cubs, 4-3, in the season series, splitting four games in Washington from June 26-29 and taking a three-game set at Wrigley Field from Aug. 4-6.
Maddon will do whatever it takes to nullify Harper, even if the right fielder is coming back from a left knee injury suffered Aug. 12. On May 8, 2016, the Cubs walked the right fielder six times, including three intentional passes, and won, 4-3, in 13 innings on Javier Baez's walk-off home run. Harper has a career .282 batting average against the Cubs.
But the player who gives Cubs fans nightmares is Murphy, who batted .529 against them in the 2015 NL Championship Series as a member of the Mets, hitting four home runs and driving in six in New York's sweep. In seven games this year, Murphy batted .360 against the Cubs.
Chicago's Willson Contreras made things difficult for Washington, batting .375 with five home runs and nine RBIs in seven games.
Expect to see plenty of flashbacks to Nationals manager Dusty Baker's time in Chicago. He was the Cubs' skipper from 2003-06, leading the team to an 88-74 record in his first season and the NLCS. Cue the replays from Game 6 of that series against the Marlins.
Baker, 68, compiled a 322-326 record with Chicago and was replaced by Lou Piniella, who guided the Cubs to back-to-back playoff appearances in 2007-08, but couldn't get to the World Series.
Maddon and Co. ended the Cubs' long drought without a World Series championship last season with a dramatic seven-game win over the Indians. They are now in the playoffs for the third straight year for the first time since 1906-08.