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Nationals vs. Cardinals: 5 Biggest Matchups in Game 3 of NLDS

Chris SchadContributor IIISeptember 1, 2016

Nationals vs. Cardinals: 5 Biggest Matchups in Game 3 of NLDS

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    The National League Divisional Series between the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals will turn one way or the other when the two teams meet for Game 3 Wednesday evening at Nationals Park.

    The two games at Busch Stadium couldn't have been more different. Game 1 produced a pitching duel that gave the Nationals the early advantage.

    However, Game 2 was all Cardinals, as Carlos Beltran battered Nationals pitching en route to a 12-5 St. Louis victory.

    Obviously, the team that can break the 1-1 tie will have a huge advantage and could close out the series in Game 4 Thursday night.

    Here is a look at what matchups will decide Game 3 between the Cardinals and the Nationals.

No. 5: The Cardinals vs. Baseball's NLDS Format

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    To put it kindly, nobody has been a big fan of Major League Baseball's one-year decision for a 2-3 divisional-round format.

    After taking Game 2, the Cardinals have to be in that group. Under the regular 2-2-1 format, the Cardinals would have been rewarded for winning one of the first two games because they would have taken home-field advantage away from Washington with a win on the road.

    Instead, the Cardinals had to hold serve in the first two games of the series to hold a true home-field advantage, as the Nationals will host the final three games of the series at home.

    For a team that tied for the best home record in the National League at 50-31 (along with the Nationals and Cincinnati Reds), it's a big deal that the home games in the series have already passed along with the opportunity to close out the Nationals at home.

    The Cardinals may never say anything about this, but it's a disadvantage as they try to win two games on the road to advance to the National League Championship Series.

No. 4: Cardinals' Experience vs. Nationals' Youth

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    It's usually a moot point to bring up the past, but it's not moot to mention that the Cardinals have been in this situation before and the Nationals have not.

    That's because in both the 2011 NLDS and NLCS, the Cardinals dropped the first game before going on to win both series en route to a World Series championship.

    With 19 of 25 players on the active roster remaining from the Cardinals' World Series team, it's easy to look across the dugout and wonder in comparison if the Nationals have what it takes in October.

    What the Nationals do have is youth, and that could lead to a fearless situation where they simply close their eyes and take a swing at taking the series lead.

    Playing at home will help the Nats, but the Cards' experience could put the Nationals in a crucial hole heading into Game 4.

No. 3: Bryce Harper vs. Cardinal Pitching

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    Wondering if a 19-year-old rookie phenom would struggle in his first postseason is hardly a clown question, especially when Harper's first two postseason games have provoked laughter from the opposing dugout.

    There are the typical theories as to why Harper has gone 1-for-10 thus far in the series, but with Harper hitting second in the lineup, he will need to figure things out quickly if the Nationals want to win Game 3.

    There is the possibility that manager Davey Johnson will decide to drop Harper in the order, but his speed and quick bat makes him a great table-setter for the middle of the lineup.

    If Harper continues to struggle, it will put more pressure on the rest of the young Nationals lineup to produce. Washington needs Harper to contribute, and it has to start Wednesday night.

No. 2: Carlos Beltran vs. National Pitching

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    Carlos Beltran has only played in three postseasons in his 15-year career, but in that short time span, it can be said that he's one of the greatest postseason hitters of all time.

    Beltran is hitting .362 with 12 home runs and 23 runs batted in over just 25 career postseason games, and on Monday, he became the first player in Major League Baseball history to have three multi-homer games in the postseason (Beltran also did it with Houston in 2004 and the New York Mets in 2006).

    If Beltran can keep his hot October hitting up, the Cardinals will have an excellent chance to not only win Game 3 but close out the Nationals to advance to the NLCS.

No .1: Chris Carpenter vs. Edwin Jackson

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    There's a reason why the pitching matchup is always shown in your local paper. The two pitchers that are listed will most likely be the reason why a team wins or why a team loses.

    That theory is amplified in October, where strong starting pitching could carry a team to a World Series championship and weak starting pitching could send the entire team golfing earlier than they expected.

    In Game 3, the Cardinals will send out their ace for the past decade in Chris Carpenter. Carpenter hasn't seen much action in 2012 due to a shoulder injury, but he was able to get three starts under his belt at the end of the season, going 0-2 with a 3.71 earned run average.

    Meanwhile, the Nationals will send Edwin Jackson to the mound. Jackson went 10-11 with a 4.03 ERA in 31 starts this season after signing a one-year deal last winter. Jackson's numbers have been inflated by a woeful stretch in September, where he's posted a 6.54 ERA in 31.2 innings.

    Whichever pitcher can give their team the better start should be able to help give an advantage in the series.

Prediction

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    I believe the momentum has now shifted toward the Cardinals, even though they could wind up playing three straight games at Nationals Park.

    With Carlos Beltran's playoff history and the struggles of Edwin Jackson, all signs would point to a Cardinals Game 3 victory and a 2-1 series lead.

    The Nationals could prove me wrong if they get a solid effort from Jackson and some key hits, but heading into the game the Cardinals have too much going for them for the Nationals to overcome.

    Prediction: St. Louis Cardinals 5, Washington Nationals 2

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