Chicago Cubs: Pitching could be the difference in NLDS

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 30: Jon Lester /

With strong pitching on both sides, the upcoming NLDS featuring the Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals has the makings of a tremendous series.

The upcoming NLDS between Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals is an early-round playoff matchup. However, it will pit two teams elite enough to win it all perhaps.

Ultimately, both teams had strong seasons in the grand picture, no matter how they got there. However, the stardom among both team’s pitching staff’s could be the main story in the upcoming series.

Both teams have multiple top-of-the-line starting pitchers, including a pair of former-Cy Young Award winners. Max Scherzer (2.51 ERA), Stephen Strasburg (2.52 ERA) and Gio Gonzalez (2.75 ERA) spearhead what has been a dominant Nationals’ rotation.

Strong starting rotations leading the way

More from Cubbies Crib

Each member of the Nationals’ trio has made at least 28 starts, winning 16, 15 and 15 games, respectively. Realistically, the Nationals might have the best starting rotation entering the postseason.

At the same time, the Cubs have an impressive starting rotation in their own right. However, their pitchers have had much better second-halves than first-halves (excluding Jon Lester). Jake Arrieta has posted a 2.28 ERA in the second half compared to his 4.35 first-half ERA.

Similarly, Kyle Hendricks has improved tremendously in the second half, posting 2.09 ERA compared to his 4.09 ERA in the first half. José Quintana posted a 4.49 ERA in the first half with the Chicago White Sox. Since joining the Cubs during the All-Star break, though, he has posted a 3.74 ERA.

Lester has a 4.33 ERA in 32 starts this season, but his postseason track record speaks for itself. If Lester can perform as well as or close to his 2.63 career postseason ERA, the Cubs have to like their rotation’s chances.

Runs to come at a premium late in games?

In addition to their rotations, both the Cubs and Nationals have bullpens full of powerful relievers. In recent past, the Nationals’ bullpen has been the team’s Achilles heel. This changed over the summer, though.

The Nationals bullpen has trended upwards since acquiring Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson from the Oakland Athletics. Since the trade, Doolittle has a 2.40 ERA and has converted 20 of his 21 save chances.

Meanwhile, Madson has a 1.37 ERA in 20 games since the trade. Acquiring Brandon Kintzler from the Minnesota Twins only helped strengthen the Nationals’ bullpen, as he has a 2.13 ERA in 26 games with the team.

The Cubs’ bullpen has struggled in the second-half, though it still is full of many capable arms. Wade Davis has a 2.30 ERA and has blown just one save this season in 33 chances. Pedro Strop has a sub-3.00 ERA for the fourth-consecutive season, while Mike Montgomery has a 2.49 ERA in 30 appearances as a reliever.

Next: Arrieta to miss first two games of NLDS

Brian Duensing (2.74 ERA in 68 appearances) and Carl Edwards Jr. (2.98 ERA in 73 appearances) have been pleasant surprises for the Cubs as well. All-in-all, both squads could be tough to score on in the later innings, assuming these relievers pitch like they are capable of.

Ultimately, the Cubs and Nationals both have prolific offenses, but pitching tends to matter most in the postseason. As things currently stand, a pitching duel could be ready to commence when this series kicks off next Friday.