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posted: 10/5/2017 1:00 AM

Keep an eye on these guys in the NLDS

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  • Chicago Cubs' Javier Baez, left, tags out Cincinnati Reds' Jose Peraza attempting to steal second base during the fifth inning of a baseball game Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, in Chicago.

    Chicago Cubs' Javier Baez, left, tags out Cincinnati Reds' Jose Peraza attempting to steal second base during the fifth inning of a baseball game Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, in Chicago.

 
 

Looking at the bigger picture, can the Chicago Cubs become the first team in 17 years to repeat as World Series champions?

In their fourth attempt, can the Washington Nationals win a division series for the first time?

While we wait to find out, here are three key players from both sides who should have big says in the final outcome:

Cubs

Javy Baez

The defensive wizard has been an offensive terror in the NLDS the past two years, batting a combined .476 (10-for-21) with 2 home runs and 5 RBI.

Baez is still strikeout prone, but he slashed .291/.340/.511 after the all-star break with 13 home runs and 42 RBI while thriving in clutch situations.

Mike Montgomery

Quality relief pitching is a must for teams looking to stay alive in the playoffs, and the Cubs are fortunate to have a good one in Montgomery.

The versatile left-hander made 14 starts this season, going 5-5 with a 4.15 ERA. Montgomery also made 30 relief appearances and was 2-3 with a 2.49 ERA.

Anthony Rizzo

The slugging first baseman was 1-for-15 in last year's NLDS against the San Francisco Giants, and the Cubs narrowly advanced to the next round.

Rizzo was back to his old self in the NLCS and World Series, batting a combined .340 with 3 home runs and 10 RBI. The Cubs need their leader to be good from the jump against Washington.

Nationals

Sean Doolittle

Acquired in a trade from Oakland on July 16 to plug a big hole in the bullpen, Doolittle proved to be a huge addition.

The 31-year-old lefty converted 21 of 22 save opportunities with the Nats while posting a 2.40 ERA. Doolittle's ERA was 1.86 before he allowed 2 runs in 1 inning during his final appearance.

Bryce Harper

One of the game's top hitters, Harper missed 42 games late in the season with a hyperextended left knee.

He returned to Washington's lineup on Sept. 26 and was 3-for-18 with no homers or RBI in five games. If Harper's still rusty, the Cubs catch a significant break.

Stephen Strasburg

With Max Scherzer unlikely to start Game 1 of the NLDS after "tweaking" his right hamstring, it looks like Strasburg is moving up a spot for the Nats.

That could be bad news for the Cubs. While Scherzer is a horse, Strasburg had the lowest ERA (0.86) in baseball after the all-star break, and the right-hander was the NL pitcher of the month in September (4-0, 0.83 ERA).

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