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NLCS stories to keep an eye on


Oct. 11, 2019

With thrilling NLDS wins by the Cardinals and Nationals, the 2019 NLCS is all set. Here's a look at some storylines to follow with the series opening on Friday.
Max Scherzer's homecoming
A three-time Cy Young Award winner, Scherzer is a native of the St. Louis area and an alum of the University of Missouri. He was also drafted by the Cardinals in the 43rd round out of high school and hoped to sign with his hometown team when he became a free agent following the 2014 season. Scherzer played a pivotal role in the NLDS and will likely slot in for Game 1 against the Cardinals.
Carlos Martinez's struggles
Martinez has been mostly effective since taking over for the injured Jordan Hicks as the Cardinals closer, but the playoffs were a major struggle. The former All-Star made three appearances, allowing six earned runs in 3.1 innings and taking one loss. St. Louis needs Martinez to pitch better to advance.
Washington's bullpen woes
No team's bullpen performed worse than the Nationals' this season, based on its 5.66 ERA. The team did make several moves at the trade deadline, and acquisition Daniel Hudson has pitched well as the closer during the playoffs. Still, the Nationals are counting on their starting rotation to give them length so they can avoid exposing the pen .
Jack Flaherty's availability
Flaherty started two games in the NLDS and threw 104 pitches in Game 5 despite St. Louis getting off to a 13-0 lead in the third inning. Many thought Mike Shildt should have pulled the Cardinals ace earlier in the game so that he'd be available sooner. As it stands now, he's unlikely to start before Game 3.
The Tommy Edman spark
Edman has been a difference maker as a rookie for the Cardinals since he was promoted, and that continued in the playoffs. He provides the versatility to play third, second or the outfield and hit .304-11-36 with 15 steals in 92 games during the regular season. He's capable of doing almost anything on the baseball field.
Anthony Rendon MVP?
Rendon heads into free agency after an MVP-caliber regular season, and the strong performance continued into the playoffs. He's certainly added to his future contract and can do even more with a strong NLCS performance.
One more shot for Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright Molina and Wainwright have won two World Series together in St. Louis, but their careers are getting closer to the end as they approach age 40. Both players are future Cardinals Hall of Famers, if not the MLB Hall of Fame in Molina's case. 2019 could be their final shot to win a World Series together.
Kurt Suzuki's availability
Suzuki took a pitch to the wrist and head during NLDS Game 5, which forced him out of the game. He's been a clear offensive advantage over Yan Gomes this season, so his availability could be critical for Washington.
Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna power surge
The Cardinals lineup lacks power relative to the other teams left in the playoffs, but Goldschmidt and Ozuna have started to get hot in the playoffs. The middle-of-the-order hitters combined for four home runs during the NLDS, and St. Louis needs the duo to keep raking.
Nationals' fourth starter
The top three in the Nats rotation is clear with Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin. From there Washington will likely count on veteran Anibal Sanchez, but that's a noticeable drop-off from the top three starters. Sanchez had a 3.85 ERA in 30 starts during the regular season and a fine outing in the NLDS, but his ERA metrics and declining strikeout rate didn't exactly support that performance. Game 4 will potentially give the Cardinals an advantage.
Related slideshow: Best of the 2019 MLB postseason (Provided by imagn)
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