The Washington Nationals are going to the National League Division Series. On Tuesday night, the Nationals beat the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Wild Card Game at Nationals Park (WAS 4, MIL 3). Washington will take on the Dodgers in the NLDS starting Thursday.
The Nationals fell behind one inning into the Wild Card Game and it wasn't until their final at-bat that they took the lead. Hey, it doesn't matter how long you hold the lead, only that you have the lead when the final out is recorded. Here are 10 things you need to know about Tuesday's thrilling winner-take-all affair.
1. Barrett threw out the first pitch
Once rosters expanded in September,. Injuries, including Tommy John surgery and a broken arm, sidelined him from 2016 through the middle of 2018.
Barrett did not make Washington's Wild Card Game roster, but he was in the ballpark on Tuesday night, and he threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Check it out:
What an awesome moment. Barrett threw the first pitch to former big leaguer Matt LeCroy, his manager in Double-A this season.
2. Grandal and Thames gave the Brewers an early lead
It did not take the Brewers long to jump on Max Scherzer. After rookie Trent Grisham worked a six-pitch walk to start the game, Yasmani Grandal jumped all over Scherzer's first pitch fastball for a two-run home run and a 2-0 lead.
Throughout his career Grandal has been know for his patience at the plate -- he walked 109 times during the regular season and saw more than 4.3 pitches per plate appearance -- but he jumped all over a hittable first pitch fastball there. Grandal hit a long fly ball on the first pitch of his second at-bat, so swinging early was probably in the game plan.
Grandal was 1 for 16 with nine strikeouts against Scherzer in his career going into the Wild Card Game. He set new career highs in home runs (28) and on-base percentage (.380) this season, and he's a top defensive catcher to boot. The Brewers gave Grandal a one-year deal worth $18.25 million this past winter and it was for games like Tuesday.
In the second inning first baseman Eric Thames swatted a solo home run against Scherzer to give the Brewers a 3-0 lead. Taking Scherzer deep twice in as many innings doesn't happen often.
This is only the second time in Max Scherzer's career that he has allowed a home run in each of the first 2 innings of a game.— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) October 2, 2019
The other was September 15, 2011 as a member of the Tigers. The second-inning homer that day was by Kurt Suzuki, who is catching Scherzer tonight.
Including the postseason, Tuesday night was the 370th start of Scherzer's career, and somehow he's allowed a home run in the first and second innings only twice. That stat qualifies as hard to believe.
3. The Brewers pushed Woodruff
An oblique strain sidelined Brewers starter Brandon Woodruff from July 21 to Sept. 17. He returned in time to make two two-inning starts, throwing 37 and 38 pitches. In the Wild Card Game, Woodruff threw four four innings and 52 pitches. He was great.
The only run Woodruff allowed came on a Trea Turner solo home run on his 42nd pitch. Those 52 pitches were his most since throwing 76 pitches on July 21, the start in which he got hurt. It was the first time he completed four innings since July 16.
If there was any fatigue, it wasn't evident. Woodruff averaged 98.5 mph with his fastball Tuesday and topped out at 99.8 mph. His slowest -- slowest -- fastball was 97.4 mph. Prior to the injury, his heater averaged 96.7 mph. Woodruff was well above that in the Wild Card Game. He was pumped up and very good in his four innings.
4. Scherzer's postseason winless streak came to an end
Going into the NL Wild Card Game, Max Scherzer's teams had lost his last six postseason starts dating back to his time with the Tigers. It was the third longest such streak in history. That streak is now over even though he didn't get the win Tuesday. Look at this list:
- David Price: 10 straight winless postseason starts
- Randy Johnson: 7
- Max Scherzer: 6
- Doyle Alexander, Vida Blue, Jaret Wright: 6 each
Four Cy Young award winners and a Hall of Famer! Scherzer was not good in the Wild Card Game -- it wasn't a disaster, but you need better than three runs in five innings from your ace in a winner-take-all game -- but he owned a 3.46 ERA in those six straight winless postseason starts, lowest among those players above. (Johnson is second lowest at 4.26 ERA.)
In four starts (and one relief appearance) with the Nationals in October, Scherzer has allowed 13 runs (11 earned) in 24 1/3 innings, or a 4.07 ERA. As good as he's been during the regular season -- and he's been great -- we're still waiting for Scherzer to have that big breakthrough moment in the postseason.
5. Strasburg kept the Nats in the game
There was a strong case to be made Stephen Strasburg should've started the Wild Card Game over Scherzer and that's not second guessing. Strasburg was great during the regular season, he finished stronger than Scherzer, and he has a great postseason track record (one earned run in 19 innings). It was a legitimate debate.
The Wild Card Game start went to Scherzer but Strasburg made an appearance anyway. He came out of the bullpen for the first time in his big league career and kept the Brewers quiet across three innings.
Strasburg gave the Nationals a chance to get back into the game and get back into the game they did. That's all you can ask from your bullpen when you hand them a deficit -- keep the game close. I reckon Washington D.C. area sports radio will field way fewer calls about starting Scherzer over Strasburg given the way the game played out, but, for a few innings, it was a legitimate question.
6. Pomeranz was lights out ...
As he's been all season since moving to the bullpen. Starting did not agree with Drew Pomeranz this season -- he had a 6.10 ERA in 17 starts with the Giants -- so San Francisco moved him to the bullpen in July, and moved him to the Brewers in a deadline trade.
In 29 regular season relief appearances, Pomeranz pitched to a 1.99 ERA with 53 strikeouts in 31 2/3 innings, and he held hitters to a .160/.224/.292 batting line. His fastball velocity also ticked up noticeably in relief. Brewers manager Craig Counsell asked Pomeranz for two innings in the Wild Card Game and wow did he deliver. Six up, six down, two strikeouts, three ground balls.
The Brewers surely hoped to get more than one innings from Brent Suter, but he threw 27 high-intensity pitches in his one inning of work, so Counsell had to improvise. Pomeranz threw two full innings for only the third time in 30 relief appearances this season, and he was dominant. He was some kind of pickup for the Brewers.
7. ... but Hader was not
We're used to seeing big time meltdowns in Nationals postseason games, but usually the Nationals are on the wrong end. Not on Tuesday night. The Brewers asked Josh Hader to get six outs with a two-run lead and it didn't happen. Hader was out of sorts from the get-go -- he left a lot of pitches way up and out of the strike zone -- and Washington loaded the bases in the eighth inning:
- Michael Taylor was hit by a pitch that might've hit the bat first. Replay determined it was a hit-by-pitch.
- Ryan Zimmerman punched a broken bat blooper to center field.
- Anthony Rendon worked a six-pitch walk to load the bases.
That set it up for young phenom Juan Soto. Hader held left-handed batters to a .143 batting average this season -- Soto hit .285 against southpaws -- but he was 27 pitches into his outing, and he wasn't locating at all. He left a fastball out over the plate and Soto yanked it to right field. It should -- should -- have been a two-run game-tying single. Then Trent Grisham did this:
Brutal. Absolutely brutal. Two runs were definitely scoring on that play with two outs. Grisham letting that ball get under his glove allowed the third run -- the game-winning run -- to cross the plate. The poor kid is going to get the blame for that loss, but it all started with Hader being out of sorts and giving the Nationals two free baserunners (Taylor hit-by-pitch and Rendon walk).
Prior to that eighth inning the Nationals had four baserunners in the game. Turner hit the homer, Howie Kendrick and Victor Robles had singles, and Brian Dozier reached on an error. That's it. They then put four runners on base in the eighth inning, and they had not had a runner make it as far as third base until that inning (other than the Turner homer).
Tuesday's game had a weird feeling throughout. The Brewers took an early lead on the Grandal and Thames homers and it felt like they were in control of the game, but the score was only 3-1 going into the late innings, so it was far from over. Hader melted down, Grisham made an error for the ages, and the Brewers are going home.
8. The win probability graph is crazy
According to FanGraphs, the Brewers entered the ninth inning with an 83.7 percent chance to win the Wild Card Game, and it jumped to 88.1 percent when Hader struck out Robles to begin the inning. It all went downhill from there, or uphill if you're the Nationals:
That graph shows each team's chances of winning Tuesday's game based on the score and the game situation. Win probably graphs do lack context -- Hader trying to protect a two-run lead is much different than most relievers trying to protect a two-run lead -- but it works as a ballpark estimate. Soto's single increased Washington's win probability 61 percent, which is a huge number.
9. The home team got a rare Wild Card Game win
This is Year 8 of the current wild-card format, and in the previous 14 Wild Card Games, the home team went 6-8, including 2-5 in the National League. Generally speaking, home field has been a disadvantage in the Wild Card Game. That was not the case Tuesday. With Washington's win the home team is now 7-8 all-time in the Wild Card Game. They joined the 2013 Pirates and 2017 Diamondbacks are the only National League clubs to win the Wild Card Game at home.
10. The Nationals are moving on
For the first time ever, the Nationals have won a postseason round. I mean, winning the Wild Card Game is not the same as winning the NLDS, but it is a postseason round (round, not series), and the Nationals won. That's something. Washington won NL East titles from 2012-17 and was eliminated in the NLDS each year, so they'll take the victories where they can get them.
The Nationals now move on to face a powerhouse Dodgers team in the NLDS. That series begins Thursday night at Dodger Stadium. As for the Brewers, their season is now over, and they'll soon begin preparing for the upcoming offseason. Re-signing or replacing Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas, and adding pitching depth, figure to be the top priorities.
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