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Scherzer can nullify Cubs' Wrigley advantage

MLB.com @feinsand

CHICAGO -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon has done his best to downplay the significance of home-field advantage, both before and after his team stole it away with its Game 1 victory at Nationals Park.

NLDS Game 3: Today, 4 p.m. ET on TBS 

CHICAGO -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon has done his best to downplay the significance of home-field advantage, both before and after his team stole it away with its Game 1 victory at Nationals Park.

NLDS Game 3: Today, 4 p.m. ET on TBS 

"I think it's overblown," Maddon said. "Cleveland took advantage of us last year at Wrigley. I honestly believe this time of year really comes down to the pitching component of it, regardless of where you're playing."

:: NLDS schedule and coverage ::

If that's the case, the Nationals may have the advantage as the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile shifts to the North Side of Chicago. That's because Max Scherzer will be on the mound in Game 3 this afternoon, his tender right hamstring pushing him back three days from what would ordinarily have been a Game 1 assignment.

The Cubs may have earned the all-important split in D.C., but the two-time Cy Young winner can steal home field right back for the Nats if he's his usual dominant self.

"Every time we have Max going, we feel like we have a chance to win," Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon said.

Why wouldn't they?

All Scherzer did this season was go 16-6 with a 2.51 ERA, pacing the NL in strikeouts, complete games, WHIP and strikeouts per nine innings. The last time the Cubs saw the right-hander, he held them to one run on two hits over six innings on June 27, sparking a 12-start stretch for Scherzer without a loss. The Nationals were 10-2 in those games.

Scherzer was admittedly "champing at the bit" watching the first two games, but he said the Nationals arrived at Wrigley Field feeling good after their stunning comeback win Saturday night.

"We got some good momentum on our side; guys had a little bounce in their step today," Scherzer said. "Momentum can swing in a heartbeat, in a pitch, in a series. That's why every game matters so much."

Nothing will matter as much for Scherzer todoay as his hamstring, which can be one of the trickiest injuries to manage -- especially for a power pitcher who relies so heavily on his legs. Hammy or no hammy, the Cubs are planning for the same old Scherzer, who reiterated his plan to throw 100 pitches.

"Adrenaline at Wrigley Field, he's going to be ready to go," Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "He's Max Scherzer."

Typically, a team that goes on the road and splits the first two games of a best-of-five series has already seen its opponent's top two starters. Game 3 rarely features an ace, let alone the reigning Cy Young winner, unless the team played in the Wild Card Game -- which Washington obviously did not.

"You can't be worried about the name on the back," Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber said. "You can't be worried about how hard he's throwing or whatever it is. You just want to get in the box, have a game plan and execute."

The Nationals were the only NL team to win 50 games on the road this season. Scherzer was a key component in that success, going 10-2 with a 1.82 ERA in 16 starts away from home.

Scherzer dismissed road success as a year-to-year proposition, but his manager suggested that road games can bring out a different type of energy.

Video: WSH@CHC Gm3: Scherzer discusses battling injuries

"I always used to like playing on the road because there are less distractions," manager Dusty Baker said. "You don't have to go to the bank. You don't have to go to the laundry. You don't have to do anything but just get up, eat and go to the ballpark. You don't have to take the kids to school. You don't have to do anything.

"You expect it to be a hostile environment and that kind of motivates you to a degree. Because sometimes the comforts of home are not really conducive to competitiveness as much as being on the road is."

A Game 3 win doesn't guarantee a ticket to the NL Championship Series, but in the 47 Division Series played in the current 2-2-1 format, the team winning Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead has gone on to win the series 35 times. In nearly 75 percent of those (26 of 35), that team has finished off the series in four games, including 14 of the 17 road teams that won Game 3.

In other words, Maddon may be right. Are we all overvaluing home-field advantage in October?

No matter where they play, the Cubs don't figure to be intimidated by Scherzer or anybody else. During last year's march to history, the Cubs faced Cy Young winners Corey Kluber and Clayton Kershaw five times over a 13-game stretch, not to mention a matchup with postseason stud Madison Bumgarner in the NLDS.

Scherzer is in the same class as that trio, so while it's hard to imagine Cubs hitters will be running to the bat rack today, they aren't shying away from the challenge.

"We don't have to feel any pressure facing Scherzer," Willson Contreras said. "He has to throw a strike. He has to throw the ball around the zone. I don't care who we're facing."

Overblown or not, if Scherzer can lead his team to a win, the Nationals will swipe that home-field advantage back. Then again, if they can follow that up with another win -- as many before them have done -- they won't need it.

Mark Feinsand, executive reporter for MLB.com, has covered the Yankees and MLB since 2001 for the New York Daily News and MLB.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Washington Nationals, Max Scherzer