MLB Power Rankings: Cubs and Nationals destined for October showdown

TIM BROWN: The question is coming from out over four more weeks of baseball. And that is, can anyone beat the Cubs in October? Does anyone have the front-end pitching, the relentless lineup, the back-end bullpen, the rolling downhill momentum, the been-there veterans to stand up to what many days appears to be the inevitable? Maybe not. And maybe, the Washington Nationals. It’s why they play the games, of course– so we can all find out. The Nationals have not been the regular season juggernaut that the Cubs have been. But they have scored with the Cubs, they have pitched with the Cubs, and they have defended with the Cubs. What they haven’t done is win with the Cubs, who are again this week’s number one in the Yahoo Sports Power Rankings, followed again by the Nationals. Looking ahead, and perhaps into the NLCS, think of Max Scherzer at his best, followed by Stephen Strasburg at his healthiest. The Nationals are waiting on Strasburg and his previously tender right elbow. He’ll be critical. They have four– Daniel Murphy, Bryce Harper, Danny Espinosa, and Wilson Ramos– with 20 or more home runs, with Jayson Werth to join them any day. They have a true unshakable closer in Mark Melancon and enough good arms in front of him to pull the second-best ERA in the National League. And they seem to have rallied behind Dusty Baker, the old soul who has let them be them and apparently put the Nationals back on top in the NL East and back in the postseason with a chance to bury the recent disappointments of first-round outs. What remains is for the Nationals and the Cubs to find each other some time in mid-October, when the air gets cool and thick. If that comes to pass, the Cubs almost surely will be favored. They have been the team to beat since April. Few have. But the Nationals could have a shot.

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