Strasburg dominates Cubs, Nationals force NLDS Game 5: Final score, things to know

The NLDS is going back to Washington for Game 5 on Thursday night.

On a cold and rainy Wednesday afternoon, the Nationals kept their season alive with a Game 4 win (WAS 5, CHC 0) over the Cubs at Wrigley Field. The game was much closer than the final score would lead you to believe. The Nats didn't break it open until the eighth inning.

Here is everything you need to know about the Game 4 win, which gives baseball fans a winner-take-all game to look forward to Thursday night.

Strasburg was sick (in a good way)

Following all the hullabaloo about his illness and whether he'd actually start Game 4, Stephen Strasburg came out and shoved for seven innings Wednesday. He was dominant. In total control of the game. His changeup in particular was on point:

Strasburg threw 32 changeups and generated 15 swings and misses with the pitch in Game 4, which is ridiculous. The Cubs put 11 balls in play against Strasburg and the average exit velocity was a mere 77.5 mph. The league average this season was 86.6 mph. Strasburg was nearly a full 10 mph below that in Game 4. Here is his final pitching line:

Stephen Strasburg SP / Nationals
IP: 7 H: 3 R: 0 ER: 0 BB: 2 K: 12

The 12 strikeouts are a new Nationals/Expos franchise postseason record. Strasburg broke his own record. He fanned 10 in Game 1 of this series. What as masterful performance in Game 4. Remember, this guy was having his toughness questioned when he was sick Tuesday night. There are no questions about it now.

Turner finally got a hit

Going into Game 4, Nationals leadoff man Trea Turner was 0 for 12 with five strikeouts in the series. He hadn't reached base once. Turner popped up to start Game 4, then finally got off the schneid in his second at-bat by lacing a double to left field. First time he reached base all series.

A wild pitch moved Turner to third, then he scored when Addison Russell bobbled what should've been an inning-ending ground ball from Ryan Zimmerman. Didn't even get to make the throw. That gave the Nationals a 1-0 lead in the third. It's worth noting Jake Arrieta might've struck Zimmerman out on a check swing earlier in the at-bat, but he did not get the call. It was borderline.

Also, that was only Russell's tenth career fielding error in over 2,500 innings at shortstop. He has made 31 errors at shortstop overall, but 21 of them are throwing. It's not often the young man boots a grounder like he did in the third inning Wednesday.

Taylor broke it open late

The Nationals and Strasburg nursed that 1-0 lead from the third inning into the eighth inning. That's when they broke the game open. Washington's four-run eighth inning rally all happened with two outs too. Here's a quick recap of the rally:

Three baserunners, including walks to the No .6 and 7 hitters, to load the bases with two outs. Joe Maddon brought in closer Wade Davis after the back-to-back walks by Carl Edwards Jr., hoping his best reliever would escape the jam and keep the score 1-0. Instead, Michael Taylor swatted a go-ahead opposite field home run. To the action footage:

Holy smokes! Taylor did hit 19 home runs and slug .486 during the regular season, so the kid has power, but no one expects that. Davis is just so good. He'd never given up a postseason home run as a reliever prior to that grand slam.

As great as Strasburg looked, it never felt like the 1-0 lead would stand up. The Nationals needed insurance runs and Taylor provided four with one-swing. The rally started with two outs and the bases empty, and it ended with a grand slam.

Arrieta was not sharp

Believe it or not, Game 4 was the first time Arrieta toed the slab at Wrigley Field since August 29. He made only three starts in September due to a hamstring issue, and all three starts were on the road. Game 4 was Arrieta's first game action at any ballpark since September 26, a whopping 15 days ago, and he really labored. His pitching line:

Jon Lester SP / Cubs
IP: 4 H: 2 R: 1 ER: 0 BB: 5 K: 4

The command was not there at all. That's not that uncommon for Arrieta, he has starts where he doesn't know where the ball is going, but five walks in four innings is pretty extreme. Arrieta's fortunate the Nationals have struggled at the plate most of the series, otherwise he wouldn't have escaped Game 4 with only one unearned run allowed given his lack of command.

Lester picked a runner off

Jon Lester's throwing issues are well-known by know. He came out of the bullpen in Game 4 and fired 3 1/3 no-hit innings before allowing a single to Murphy, the final batter he faced. That was the two-out single to start the eighth inning rally. Lester, despite those throwing issues, picked Zimmerman off first base in that. Check it out:

That is the second runner Lester picked off this season, believe it or not. He got Cardinals outfielder Tommy Pham back in June. Lester picked off three runners total from 2012-17, a span of 1,226 2/3 regular season innings.

Batting Werth second nearly came back to bite the Nats

With his team struggling to score runs in Games 1 and 2, Nationals manager Dusty Baker decided to shake up his batting order prior to Game 3. Most notably, he moved Jayson Werth up to the second spot and dropped Rendon down to sixth. Their regular seasons:

  • Rendon: .301/.403/.533 (140 OPS+) 
  • Werth: .226/.322/.393 (84 OPS+)

Hmmm. Baker is giving the vastly inferior hitter more at-bats in an attempt to jump start the offense. Sure enough, it nearly came back to bite him in Game 4. Werth struck out looking with the bases empty to end the fourth inning Wednesday. To be fair, Werth doesn't do that often.

But still. Werth has hit .233/.322/.402 (91 OPS+) in his last 1,273 big league plate appearances (dating back to 2015), and he's hitting second. The big spot found him at the wrong time. Fortunately, Taylor provided the grand slam late to pick up those insurance runs, otherwise that based loaded strikeout by Werth would've loomed large.

Scherzer didn't pitch

Prior to Game 4, Baker said this was an "all hands on deck" game, and understandably so. It was win or go home for the Nationals. "All hands on deck" meant Max Scherzer, who threw 98 pitches in Game 3 on Monday, was available out of the bullpen. It was not necessary. Strasburg handed the ball to Ryan Madson for the eighth, who handed the ball to Sean Doolittle for the ninth to close it out. Scherzer didn't even warm up. That means he should be available in relief in Game 5 on Thursday.

Cubs fans gave Strasburg the business

If Strasburg wasn't not feeling well in Game 4, it was impossible to tell by his performance on the mound. The whole saga did give Cubs fans an opportunity rally together to taunt Strasburg though, and of course they took advantage. Many folks around the ballpark were wearing masks to get on him about the illness:

Good job, Cubs fans. Unfortunately for you, it didn't phase Strasburg one bit.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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