Game #4 After rain postponed yesterday’s game; The Nationals will take the field with a new pitcher — Stephen Strasburg

Photo by Marlene Koenig for TalkNats

With yesterday’s rainout, the Nationals were in position to change their starter to Stephen Strasburg if he was healthy. “If” is the operative word here. In the last 18 hours the rumors and innuendo have reached a fever pitch. As of this moment, Tanner Roark is officially starting but our sources said “stand-by” and it looks like Stephen Strasburg will indeed by the starting pitcher. There was this news from Jon Morosi that broke earlier:

Minutes before that tweet was this from Jon Heyman:

Then came this tweet from a Cubs beat writer:

Stephen Strasburg looks now to be the Nationals starter and no matter who pitches today for the Washington Nationals, they find themselves behind 2-games-to-1 in the best-of-5 series which means today is an elimination game for the Nationals. If the Cubs win today, the series is over. We are at the point that the Nats were in for the 2014 NLDS where game #4 was an elimination game. It is win or go home as they say. The Nats choose to win, but they must find their offense. Except for the 5-run 8th inning on Saturday, the Nationals have scored a total of 2 runs in this entire series. The Cubs have scored just 8 total runs in this series, but that was good enough for 2 wins on their ledger. The pitching has been fantastic overall for both teams. The strategy however has been lacking at times.

The Nationals are batting .121 as a team, and 0-for-12 in the lead-off. Some of the credit goes to the Cubs for how they have pitched to the Nats and how they have positioned against the Nationals and also for several exceptional defensive plays.

By the way, the Cubs are batting .179 as a team with Anthony Rizzo batting .333 with 5 RBIs. Of his 5 RBIs, 3 of them have come in RISP spots where all 3 times first base was open like it was last night. Dusty Baker was questioned about his strategy to pitch to Rizzo instead of Contreras and Dusty said again that he didn’t want to put another runner on base and Contreras is also a good hitter. Contreras is batting .143 in the series and only has one hit. Continue reading

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Game #4 NLDS unfortunately has the #Nats in a win or go home situation!

The Nationals find themselves behind 2-games-to-1 in the best-of-5 series which means today is an elimination game for the Nationals. If the Cubs win today, the series is over. We are at the point that the Nats were in for the 2014 NLDS where game #4 was an elimination game. It is win or go home as they say. The Nats choose to win, but they must find their offense. Except for the 5-run 8th inning on Saturday, the Nationals have scored a total of 2 runs in this entire series. The Cubs have scored just 8 total runs in this series, but that was good enough for 2 wins on their ledger. The pitching has been fantastic overall for both teams. The strategy however has been lacking at times.

The Nationals are batting .121 as a team, and 0-for-12 in the lead-off. Some of the credit goes to the Cubs for how they have pitched to the Nats and how they have positioned against the Nationals and also for several exceptional defensive plays.

By the way, the Cubs are batting .179 as a team with Anthony Rizzo batting .333 with 5 RBIs. Of his 5 RBIs, 3 of them have come in RISP spots where all 3 times first base was open like it was last night. Dusty Baker was questioned about his strategy to pitch to Rizzo instead of Contreras and Dusty said again that he didn’t want to put another runner on base and Contreras is also a good hitter. Contreras is batting .143 in the series and only has one hit.

Good pitching beats good hitting but two things we learned in this series was in game 1 that errors can be costly and you won’t win a game when you score zero runs. In game 3 we learned that when you have a lead and want to keep the lead you should consider inserting your best defense late in the game. Continue reading

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Dusty Baker loses the chess match but the moves needed weren’t that complicated.

The game winning bloop single by Anthony Rizzo

In this game 3 loss to the Cubs, the Nats got beat technically by a bloop single in the 8th inning, but some simple moves were never made which included a strategic defensive change at the top of the 7th inning when the Nationals had a 1-to-0 lead to bring in Victor Robles for Jayson Werth. It seemed so basic when you have a narrow lead and need best defense as we saw when the Cubs leftfielder Kyle Schwarber booted a ball to cost the Cubs a run, but Joe Maddon has always made late inning defensive moves and luckily for the Nationals that Schwarber was still in the game in the 6th inning.

There was also a deja vu feeling of this game back to Game #5 of last year’s NLDS when Max Scherzer had a shutout through 6.0 innings and came out for the 7th giving up what would turn out to be a tying run in a 1-to-0 game which was the same score Scherzer had last year in Game #5 and today. The big difference was that Scherzer had a no-hitter to go with his shut-out for 6 1/3 innings, and he was totally dominant today with no signs of a hamstring issue that had sidelined him for a few days.

Look how close Jayson Werth was to snagging the first hit of the game in the 7th inning which turned out to be the first run scored. Why wasn’t Victor Robles in this game for defense at this point in the game?

In the highest leverage spot with Ben Zobrist on 2nd base representing the tying run after that double with the Nats still leading 1-to-0, Dusty Baker went to his 5th or 6th arm in the bullpen Sammy Solis to face Kyle Schwarber and Joe Maddon countered with Albert Almora. My suggestion was walk him to set up the doubleplay and bring in Kintzler. The other suggestion was to bring in your best relievers at that point instead of Solis and close-down the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings and get the last 8 outs of the ball game.

It didn’t take long for Almora to drive the run in and tie the game. Brandon Kintzler was brought in and quickly got a doubleplay on a line drive to centerfield in which Michael Taylor made a nice running catch and the runner was caught off the base to complete the 7th inning.

In the 8th inning, Kintzler stayed in to face the lead-off man which was pinch-hitter Tommy LaStella and he worked a lead-off walk. Jon Jay then sacrificed the runner to 2nd base and Kintzler struck-out Kris Bryant. With 2 outs and the runner on 2nd base, Dusty Baker went to Oliver Perez to face Anthony Rizzo instead of walking him and go direct to Ryan Madson to face Willson Contreras. Oliver Perez made his pitch and Anthony Rizzo popped it up to centerfield but Michael Taylor didn’t go aggressively after the ball. We don’t know why it wasn’t a “can of corn” but it appears that Taylor was possibly playing deep but he stopped running when approaching the ball as you will see in this video (below).

“I thought Taylor was going to make a sliding play there,” Anthony Rizzo said about his bloop game-winning single. “I was lucky there.”

Screenshot view as Michael Taylor stops as the ball is still in the air.

In other moves that were not made, we discussed when Ryan Zimmerman hit his run scoring double in the 6th inning against reliever Pedro Strop that Dusty Baker could counter and pinch-hit for Jayson Werth with Adam Lind. It would have been a move you should consider as you needed to make the defensive change but no changes were made in the game except for relievers. None of the Nationals 6 bench players were used in the game in any situation. By the way, Jayson Werth got into an 0-2 count against Pedro Strop and popped-up to rightfield for the 3rd out in the inning.

The Nationals had other chances to score. They had Michael Taylor on 2nd base and no outs in the 3rd inning thanks to a “gift” error on Jose Quintana, but Max Scherzer struck-out trying to bunt Michael Taylor to 3rd base. Taylor was stranded at 2nd base.

Much of the credit for the Nationals scoring only 1 run was excellent defense from Jason Heyward and Jon Jay on two deep flies (here) and (here) that would have each scored runs. Ben Zobrist also robbed a single off of Trea Turner to lead-off the 8th inning.

When it came down to it, the Cubs made the plays.

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Game #3 NLDS Max Scherzer gets his start!

Photo by Marlene Koenig for TalkNats

The Nationals arrived after midnight yesterday in Chicago after the exciting win in Nationals Park on Saturday. The Nats woke up and evened this NLDS at 1-to-1. After Max Scherzer tweaked his hamstring, he was moved to start today and will match-up with Jose Quintana who the Cubs acquired from the local White Sox.

This is Quintana’s first post-season and many Chicago sports media members are concerned with his mound demeanor in this big game. The Nationals must frustrate Quintana early and often as that is how you get to him.

This game will put one of these team’s up two-games-to-one and will put one team tomorrow on the brink of elimination. All of these games are huge, and it should be another exciting game in this best-of-five-games NLDS.

On the line-ups, Maddon made a few changes and Dusty Baker is going with this rubber stamp line-up and will not play Howie Kendrick in leftfield even though Kendrick is 5-for-10 in his career versus Quintana. Jayson Werth in this series is 0-for-7 and is coming off of a .139 final month of the season and his September/October batting average is now .127. Some would say it just means Werth is due while others would say Werth is just done. Dusty will stick with his gut and that means sticking with Jayson Werth. Continue reading

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A Bloop and a Blast; The Miracle in the Mums; Nats change October 7th history!

It was a case of deja vu with an appropriate ending this time. We have been here before on October 7th behind in an NLDS with Bryce Harper at the plate able to tie a game with a home run and hang a blown save on a reliever. Three years ago, Harper hit the game tying bomb against Hunter Strickland and the San Francisco Giants to tie that game — but his teammates could not add-on like Ryan Zimmerman did on this October 7th putting the exclamation point on the evening and while Harper’s 421 foot blast hung the blown save on Carl Edwards — Zim assured he would take the loss also.

On this October 7th, it started with Adam Lind — a first-timer in post-season play. With Harper in-the-hole representing the tying run if Lind could get on-base by any means — then Harper could work his magic. The blonde-headed Lind obliged and stroked a single down the 3rd base line to create the “bloop & a blast” scenario. We haven’t seen a pinch-hit that led to a game-winning inning since October 7th of 2012 when Tyler Moore‘s 2 RBI pinch-hit single won the game for the Nats and hung a blown save on Marc Rzepczynski.

On this October 7th, Anthony Rendon batted after Bryce Harper and worked a walk on Edwards prompting a pitching change. Left-handed Mike Montgomery faced Daniel Murphy who hit a single putting two on-base with one out and Ryan Zimmerman coming to bat. Any hit by Zimmerman almost certainly puts the Nats ahead with Rendon on second base, and a doubleplay would kill the inning. Montgomery threw Zimmerman a high change-up that Zimmerman could drive in the air and he got the baseball high enough in the air and allowed mother nature’s wind-current to do the rest. The Cubs leftfielder, Ben Zobrist, camped under it in front of the green fence padding and the ball carried just enough to clear the padding and land in the newly planted and hearty mums for the Miracle in the Mums and the game-winning home run.  StatCast™ measured the home run at 368 feet which worked on this day. The ball carried out on a wing and prayer. Continue reading

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In a Game of Inches, Every Play Takes on Extra Importance

Photo by Marlene Koenig for TalkNats

In a Game of Inches, Every Play Takes on Extra Importance In baseball, a “break” is often the difference between a W or L, but star players can also make an impact as well. 

As great as the eight-team tournament of this MLB playoffs was set up to be, we’ve already seen the differences in talent between the favorites and underdogs. 

The Boston Red Sox have been outmatched in every facet by the Houston Astros until today. The New York Yankees had the series tied — obliterating the likely AL Cy Young Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians — until they didn’t. The Los Angeles Dodgers pounced on the Arizona Diamondbacks after their rotation was weakened by use of their top two starters in the Wild Card game. Continue reading

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A Stare into the Abyss

Photo Credit: Marlene Koenig for TalkNats

Somewhere along the way each great venture comes to a place where failure changes from being a conceptual abstract to being all too real and much too close.  When and how this arrives is largely irrelevant.  Failure is final.  And, it is readily available.  There is only one cogent question: Does the venture have the wherewithal to avoid it?

The rocky shores of the waters that comprise sports are littered with the detritus of wonderful seasons unmercifully smashed and sunken.  Life comes at you fast.  But, playoff extinction comes much, much faster.  In baseball the change from regular season to post-season is the most radical of any professional sport.  Each regular season game comprises six-tenths of one-percent of the whole.  Enter the Division Round of the playoffs where three strikes means the entire team is out.  These are two different existences.  Every shipwreck story starts with a departure from port in calm waters.  Baseball playoffs skip all of the development chapters and goes straight to violent waves, total darkness, and unmarked rocks.  It happens in a blink.

Continue reading

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The #Nats shift momentum with a historic 5 run 8th; #Nats win #Nat win!!!!

Photo by Marlene Koenig for TalkNats

Were you one of the believers or were you giving up on this team in the late innings? The Nationals looked lethargic on offense for 16 innings of this NLDS, and in the 17th inning of this NLDS with a lead-off pinch-hit single by Adam Lind — it was the bloop the Nats needed and hoped for a blast — and they got a 421 foot mega-blast from Bryce Harper into the second deck of Section 239 for a game tying and potentially season saving home run. The 8th inning would continue with an Anthony Rendon walk and then Cubs manager Joe Maddon finally pulled Carl Edwards for lefty Mike Montgomery to face Daniel Murphy who shot a single over the infield. Maddon stuck with Montgomery giving the advantage to Ryan Zimmerman against the lefty.  Zim hit the change-up inches over the fence into the flower pots in front of section 103 for a wall scraper home run that went 374 feet to win the game at the final score of 6-to-3.

The lethargic Nats turned into the mighty Nats and tied up this series 1-to-1 and now hand the ball to the reigning Cy Young ace, Max Scherzer, on Monday in Chicago. Continue reading

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Game #2 NLDS becomes realistically a “must win” for the #Nats

Photo by Marlene Koenig for TalkNats

Gio Gonzalez on September 1st was a legitimate Cy Young candidate. The greatness of Gio’s first five months of his resurgent 2017 season must be channeled today because if it is not — for all intents and purposes the Nationals 2017 season could be all but over.

The Nationals backs are against the wall as they lost last night and in 5-game series you cannot lose the first two games and expect a positive outcome in the end. Yes, one team was going to lose last night and the original plan was to pitch Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg back-to-back but those plans were trashed when Scherzer injured his hamstring last week. Instead, the Nationals turn to Gio Gonzalez who has struggled down the stretch pitching to a 5.47 ERA in his final 5 starts.

If there is any encouraging signs, a Washington Nationals win today gives the Nationals the momentum going into game #3 with Max Scherzer pitching against Quintana. Last year the Nationals faced a similar circumstance and lost game #1 and won back-to-back games in game #2 and game #3.  Continue reading

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9th 18-gamer: Waiting for October

For previous 18 gamers, click here.

With the playoffs already underway, I’m pretty sure no one really wants to read a detailed account of the Nats’ last 18 games, all of which occurred after the NL East clinching victory in Game 143.  And I certainly don’t want to write said account.

But I do feel strangely obligated to complete the year with a quick update to the various stats and trends we’ve been following over course of the season. So here goes, and apologies in advance to anyone who finds this 18-gamer less compelling or entertaining than the previous eight.  That’s kind of the way this set was. Continue reading

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