Nationals vs. Cardinals: Five things to know about NLCS Game 1 as Howie Kendrick delivers again
Veterans Anibal Sanchez and Howie Kendrick were the stars for Washington on Friday night
1. Anibal's incredible effort
The Nationals have a clear Big Three in the rotation. But that trio worked so much in the divisional series that they went to No. 4 starter Anibal Sanchez for Game 1 duties. Not only can they not use starters in relief like they could in the Wild Card Game and NLDS, but the Nats were also without closer Daniel Hudson, who was away on paternity leave. It felt like an uphill battle for this one.
Instead, Sanchez flipped the script and put his team on his back. He Jose Martinez's line drive single.and got two outs before
Sanchez gave the Nationals 7 2/3 innings of sterling work, allowing just that single, one walk and two hit batsmen. He struck out five and kept the Cardinals off balance all night with his mix of six pitches, all of which were working beautifully. He only allowed one ball over 100 miles per hour in exit velocity. It was just weak contact all night.
Of note, back in Game 1 of the 2013 ALCS, Sanchez threw six no-hit innings against the eventual champion Red Sox. He's the first pitcher in history to get through six hitless innings twice in the postseason. What an achievement.
Kudos to the St. Louis fans for giving Sanchez an ovation for his effort after he departed. He acknowledged them, too.
2. Howie stays hot
Fresh off a career year at the plate where he hit .344 with a .572 slugging percentage, Howie Kendrick had an extra-innings grand slam in NLDS Game 5 to slay the beast that was the 106-win Dodgers. He kept things rolling in Game 1 of the NLCS. His leadoff double in the second inning led to the Nationals' first run of the game. He also came through in the clutch with a two-out RBI single in the seventh.
Adam Eaton started that rally with a triple and that was a good sign for the Nats. He'd been pretty bad so far in the postseason.
Kendrick settling in as a suitable five-hole hitter behind the Nationals' two most dangerous bats has really helped extend the lineup and can make opposition pay for walking Anthony Rendon and/or Juan Soto. This lineup is really dangerous and Kendrick is one of the main keys. He came through in a big way in Game 1.
3. Doolittle closes it out
The Nationals have a shaky bullpen. We know this. It's not belaboring the point because it's constantly going to be a storyline. Sean Doolittle has been an excellent reliever for a long time, but he faltered in August and it was likely that it was due to the knee ailment that landed him on the injured list. He still looked shaky upon his return in September, but things might be turning. He only allowed one run in 3 1/3 innings (2.70 ERA) in the NLDS and he didn't allow a baserunner in his latter two outings (seven up, seven down). He ran that string to 11 by getting all four batters he faced in Game 1. He closed things down with an impressive strikeout of Marcell Ozuna. Nothing was squared up against him and he only needed 15 pitches to get four outs.
It looks like Hudson is going to be back for Game 2. With the Nats having a 1-0 lead, having those two relievers behind three aces make things are look pretty good for the Nationals.
4. Cold weather, baseballs or both?
Temperature at first pitch was only 45 degrees, so we knew the ball wasn't going to carry nearly as much as it would in warm weather. Still, early shots from Marcell Ozuna and Anthony Rendon to center field certainly looked like they were going to end up over the fence and were instead flyouts. Rendon's didn't even get to the warning track.
We mention this because of the studies around the baseballs possibly getting their seams back, or being "unjuiced" after the biggest home run season in baseball history.
Shots like those landing in gloves will only intensify the discussion.
The Nationals were able to find success with three gappers that contributed to their two runs. The Cardinals had a lot of pop ups and grounders right at defenders. If the weather continues along this path while we continue to question the baseballs, we might be in for some low-scoring affairs this series.
5. Game 2 is Saturday afternoon
The Cardinals won't have much time to lick their wounds. They have to deal with Max Scherzer on Saturday afternoon (4 p.m. ET). The Cardinals counter with Adam Wainwright, who was amazing in Game 3 of the NLDS and has an excellent postseason resume.
Historically speaking, visiting teams with a 1-0 lead have gone 43-30 in MLB best-of-seven series. It really behooves the Cardinals to win Game 2, by the way, because visiting teams that have taken a 2-0 lead in best-of-seven series have gone 23-3 in the series.
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