The Washington Nationals are going to the World Series. They took Game 4 of the National League Championship Series in Nationals Park Tuesday night to sweep the Cardinals with a 7-4 count. This is the first pennant in franchise history. They did it on the strength of a huge first inning and then clinging to the lead for dear life late.
Why the Nationals won
The easy answer for the series as a whole is they are quite simply a much better team than the Cardinals. In this game, it's because of the seven-run first inning. A team is pretty much never going to cough that up, especially with Patrick Corbin on the mound with Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson in the bullpen.
Trea Turner singled before Adam Eaton doubled and Anthony Rendon came through with a sac fly for the game's first run. Juan Soto would follow with an RBI double to left and it was 2-0. Cardinals manager Mike Shildt elected to intentionally walk Howie Kendrick and it almost worked, but Kolten Wong could not handle Tommy Edman's throw at second in attempting to get an out. Victor Robles and Wong then had a miscommunication on a pop up that should have been an out, instead it fell and made it 3-0. Yan Gomes followed with at two RBI single to make it 5-0 and that was it for Dakota Hudson. Trea Turner later added a two-RBI single to pad the lead.
It's also worth noting that Cardinals manager Mike Shildt went to Adam Wainwright with runners on base instead of a reliever more used to stranding inherited runners and Wainwright coughed up a two-RBI single. Five runs probably would have felt a lot more workable than seven.
Why the Cardinals lost
Offense had been a problem all series and they didn't score here until the fourth inning, though they did mount rallies in the fifth and eighth. Of course, they left the bases loaded in the eighth and were 1 for 6 with runners in scoring position and left six men on base.
Still, I've got to go with the first inning pitching and defense costing them the game. There were two inexcusable mishaps in the field with Wong straight-up dropping a ball and then whatever happened in shallow right field with Wong and Martinez.
Things were already going to the Nationals' way, but I'm going with Wong dropping the ball at second and the miscommunication in right field in tandem. The Cardinals make those two plays and it's 2-0 through the first inning. That's far from a disaster. Instead, disaster it was.
Big play of the night
Hudson getting Matt Carpenter to ground out to end the eighth. Carpenter was pinch hitting as the go-ahead run. A double ties the game and a grand slam gives the Cardinals the lead. It sure felt like something bad was going to happen to the Nationals, but this put that out of everyone's minds.
Highlight of the night
It's gotta be the final out, right? Clincher highlights are outstanding.
Great shot of Ryan Zimmerman there, who has been through it all with this franchise.
The Nationals don't play until next Tuesday and that will be Game 1 of the World Series. Some might think the layoff is bad because it gets them out of rhythm, but let's consider a few examples where it wasn't:
- The Red Sox last year had four days off.
- The 2005 White Sox had five off. They won in a sweep.
- The 2001 Diamondbacks also had five days off.
- The 1995 Braves also had six days off and won it all.
There are examples of teams falling flat after a break, too. There isn't really any correlation to performance here.
Now, where this helps the Nationals is they get to rest the six pitchers they are going to try and ride to a World Series title.
- Stephen Strasburg led the league with 209 innings pitched this season. He threw three innings in relief in the Wild Card Game, came on short rest in Game 2 of the NLDS and then started Game 5 of the NLDS. He worked seven innings and threw 117 pitches in Game 3 of the NLCS. They'll need him twice in starts and possibly again in relief in order to win it all.
- Max Scherzer didn't have a full season due to injury, but he went five innings in the Wild Card Game, threw 14 high-stress pitches in relief in Game 2, emptied his tank in a Game 4 NLDS start and then threw 101 pitches in seven innings in NLCS Game 2. Again, they'll likely need two starts and possibly some relief work to win it all.
- Patrick Corbin will also likely need to take the ball twice and serve as a LOOGY for a title. He made two starts and appeared in relief five times in the NLDS/NLCS and looked like he ran out of gas late in his Game 4 start.
- Anibal Sanchez should be perfectly fine, but he was on a ton of rest for his Game 1 NLCS start and he was amazing. He'll have a lot of rest again.
- Sean Doolittle has appeared in six of the Nationals' nine games since the Wild Card Game, going more than an inning three of the six times. He could sure use a break.
- Daniel Hudson appeared in six of their 10 playoff games so far. He threw 26 incredibly high-stress pitches in Game 4 and didn't have his best control (that goes before velocity when a pitcher tires).
Don't get sucked into the narrative about this being a rhythm game. The Nationals need this break and it's because of their thin pitching depth.
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