Winners and losers of Cubs NLDS victory over Nationals

After nearly five hours of baseball, the Chicago Cubs survived a winner-take-all Game 5 to defeat the Washington Nationals and move on to the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

It was a hard-fought series and while it was far from perfectly played, an absolutely classic deciding game. Naturally, it produced some winners and losers.

Many of the Nationals’ best players fall into the loser category. Despite losing the series, one of their best players is an unquestioned winner.

Of course, the Cubs have winners as well. Players like Addison Russell and Willson Contreras weren’t always great in the series, but were stellar in the brightest moments.

These are the biggest winners and losers from the Cubs’ thrilling five-game NLDS win over the Nationals.

Winner: Addison Russell

The quality over quantity idea doesn’t always work out well. But it sure worked in Russell’s favor in this series.

Over the five games, Russell hit .222/.300/.333. All in all, that looks pretty mediocre. But in a winner-take-all Game 5, Russell went 2-for-4 with a walk and four RBI. That included a two-run double that both tied the game and took the lead for the Cubs.

While that didn’t stand as the winning hit, the lead that it gave his team would not be relinquished.

Loser: Max Scherzer

Given how good Scherzer was in his one start, it almost seems nuts to include him here. We acknowledge that. But we’re not talking about his Game 3 start. No, Scherzer makes this list because of his Game 5 relief appearance.

Starters are often used in reliever’s roles in the playoffs. The conventional wisdom is that you give them a clean inning or at least, let them come in with nobody on base. Let the normal relievers get out of the jams and bring starters into situations that they’re used to. Dusty Baker and the Nationals did that with Scherzer, bringing him in to start the fifth inning.

Things were going well. He retired Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo to start the frame. Then, things went south. Scherzer allowed four runs (two earned) on three hits and one walk. The Cubs sent 10 hitters to the plate against him. Eight of which came after two were out.

Scherzer is normally great. But he was bad at the worst possible moment in this series.

Winner: Stephen Strasburg

While starting pitching was largely deemphasized during the each of the four division series, Strasburg went the other way. The Washington ace was absolutely sublime in his two outings.

The drama surrounding his Game 4 start was puzzling. After it initially (and quite stunningly) looked like Strasburg would not take the ball in the must-win game, Strasburg was given the ball on Thursday. Chicago’s offense certainly wished that he had been held in reserve.

Over the entire series, Strasburg went 14 innings without allowing earned run, posted a 0.64 WHIP, and struck out 22. His team didn’t win. But Strasburg could not have done more for the Nationals.

Loser: Ryan Zimmerman

While Zimmerman hit the winning home run in Game 2, the rest of the series didn’t go according to plan.

Zimmerman finished the series at .150/.227/.350. Now, he was far from the only hitter to struggle in this series. His overall performance was poor but in and of itself, not why we see Zimmerman here. We see Zimmerman here because in addition to his overall numbers, he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in the decisive Game 5.

That’s a bad combination.

Zimmerman was one of baseball’s best stories in 2017, coming back from a series of injuries to put up phenomenal numbers. But in the playoffs, his great season ended in less than savory fashion.

Winner: Los Angeles Dodgers

Early on, it was clear that this game was going the Dodgers’ way. Neither starter lasted more than four innings. Other than Wade Davis, no reliever really stepped up to save the rest of his bullpen.

And the advantages for Los Angeles don’t quite stop there, either.

Now, coming off of a near five-hour game that lasted into early Friday morning in Washington D.C., the Cubs have to travel across the country to take on the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLCS on Saturday night.

This game went so well for the Dodgers that it’s nearly impossible to think of something that could have gone their way but didn’t.

Loser: Jayson Werth

Werth struggled at the plate through the series, going .167/.318/.222. But to be fair, he did come through reasonably well in Game 5, going 2-for-4 with two walks.

But when a series is this close, players can be judged not just for a bad game, but for a bad play. Unfortunately for Werth, the Cubs scored one of their runs off of a critical misplay in the field.

A play like that just can’t be overlooked in a series that the Nationals lost 3-2 and in a game that they lost 9-8.

That one play very well could have made the difference between a win and a loss in this one.

Winner: Willson Contreras

We could call Jose Lobaton a loser for getting picked off to end a rally in the eighth inning. But we’re letting him off the hook for a few reasons.

One, Lobaton initially slid in safely. His right foot just came off of the base right before Anthony Rizzo pulled the glove off.

Two, it was only an issue because of an awesome throw from Contreras. It’s incredible enough that he even had the guts to make that throw with a runner on second. The fact that he made it so well makes him one of the heroes of this series.

Without that play, this game and series might have a different result. Davis (more on him later) was clearly leaking oil on the mound. Two runners were on and the Nationals had turned the lineup over. Contreras making that play allowed the Cubs to get into the dugout with the lead and Davis to catch his breath for the ninth inning.

Loser: Bryce Harper

Not unlike Werth, Harper came through reasonably well on Thursday (2-for-4 with a walk). But even with that and a dramatic game-tying home run in Game 2, his overall performance in the series just wasn’t good enough.

Harper finished the series at .211/.304/.421. If Harper was getting on base more, the .421 slugging percentage wouldn’t be bad. But as the .211 average and .304 OBP will tell you, that wasn’t the case. With that in mind, the slugging percentage would need to be about 50 points higher for us to give his overall performance a pass. Harper’s cause is certainly not aided by the fact that he struck out to end the series, either.

We don’t know how healthy Harper was. He missed the second half of August and most of September with a knee injury. In time, we may hear that he was hurt in this series. But while Harper had his moments, he just didn’t perform as well as one of baseball’s best players should.

Winner: Wade Davis

As we previously detailed, he had some help. But Davis was a magician on Thursday.

He entered the game in the seventh inning with men on base and escaped. In 2.1 innings, he allowed two hits and three walks. So, for the day, his WHIP was 2.14. Yet, not one of those runners scored.

In the ninth inning, Davis had to contend with the top three hitters in the Washington order. He got Trea Turner to fly out to center before striking out both Werth and Harper to close things out.

Davis’ stuff is unquestioned. But in Game 5, he showed pure guts in digging as deep as he could to  save the game and bring Chicago to its third straight NLCS.