When it comes to the Wild Card game, in its short existence, home field advantage has not been quite as important as you’d think.
In the history of the game since its inception in 2013, the road team actually has the record advantage of 8-6. The American League has shown more valuable for home field, as the host has won three straight. On the opposite side, the visitors have won four of the last five on the National League side.
With this in mind, how vital is it to sell out to play on your home field?
With just a week left in the season, the National League teams are all but wrapped up, with three teams vying for two spots in the American League. Since the Brewers and Nationals are all but locks to play in the one-game playoff, the purpose here is to see how they might be able to manipulate their pitching schedules to put themselves in the best position possible for the Wild Card game.
The Nationals already have Max Scherzer lined up to pitch Sunday, just in case they have anything to play for. An argument could easily be made the Stephen Strasburg could be the better option, over Scherzer, to start the Wild Card game. However, Scherzer has been Washington’s ace and horse. He likely has to start the game unless there is something to play for on the last day of the season. If something goes wrong, Washington also has Patrick Corbin, who has been great in 2019, but also overshadowed by the aforementioned.
While the Nationals have a wealth of options, Milwaukee has been piecing together its rotation for the past month. Setting things up better appears more important on that side of the table. The Brewers have several options, and most are not household names. However, all have been pretty spectacular during this amazing run into the Wild Card game since the Christian Yelich injury.
It appears that the Brewers are setting up for Jordan Lyles to throw in the Wild Card game. He is set to go on Wednesday and would line up for the next game after the season ends. It is hard to argue with this, as Lyles has dominated in his last five starts, and really been good overall since the pre-deadline deal that brought him to the Brewers.
In his ten overall starts with the Brewers, he has posted a 2.35 ERA and a 1.118 WHIP. In his last five starts, that drops to a 2.03 ERA, with a very similar 1.200 WHIP. In his 27 overall starts in 2019, Lyles has been better at home, with an ERA nearly a half run lower.
One possible downside with Lyles is that he has not worked tremendously deep into games. He has thrown into the seventh inning only twice since the trade and has failed to make it past the fifth in half of his starts. He also pitched against the Nationals in Washington just over a month again and allowed seven hits and five runs over just four innings. This was easily his worst outing since the trade.
The Brewers did win the season series against the Nationals 4-2. This featured a May sweep at home and dropping two of three in the Nation’s Capital in August.
Sunday’s scheduled starter, Adrian Houser, has been the worst option for the Brewers lately. He has a 5.51 ERA over his last four starts and takes the ball on Tuesday night as well. All of the other pitching options have an ERA under 2.50 in their last five appearances. However, Houser tossed the only non-football score game in Washington in August, as he worked seven strong inning, allowing just two hits and one run. In that series, Chase Anderson was the other starter and allowed nine hits and 10 earned runs in 2.1 innings. Houser also worked two scoreless innings as the opener in the May series, with four strikeouts. This was a game that the Brewers defeated Strasburg.
While it appears that the Nationals have a limited option of throwing Scherzer on Sunday or in the Wild Card game, it will be an interesting decision how they value home field if only a game up on Sunday. For the Brewers, they appear to be lined up for Lyles regardless and will just roll with what they have. Their most effective pitcher against the Nationals could also be pushed on Sunday for some availability if there is nothing to play for. There are still lots of cards to fall between now and the end of the week, but allow the chess game to begin.