Nationals manager Dusty Baker got to the ballpark on Wednesday expecting Tanner Roark to start a must-win Game 4 in the NLDS against the Cubs, hoping that staff ace Stephen Strasburg would be healthy enough that if a Game 5 was going to be played on Thursday Strasburg could make that start. Turned out Strasburg felt fine Wednesday, recovering quicker than expected from a flu-like illnses, and drew the start after all.
And he came up with a healthy effort, pitching the first seven innings of a 5-0 victory, striking out 12, two more than the franchise post-season record he set in Game 1 of this series when he gave up two unearned runs and was charged with the loss. The 22 strikeouts equaled a division series record that Justin Verlander set with the Tigers in 2012.
The strikeouts were a sign of his domination in a game that now has the Nationals returning home for a Thursday game with the Cubs. The winner of that game advances to the NLCS against the Dodgers, which starts on Saturday at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers completed a three-game sweep of the D-Backs in their NLDS on Monday.
And so were the seven shutout innings. Strasburg is 1-2 in his three post-season starts, but three of the four runs he has allowed have been unearned, including both in his Game 1 loss in this year’s Division Series. Strasburg, in fact, has the lowest post-season ERA for any starter with three or more starts.
This is the fourth post-season appearance in six years for the Nationals, who began play in 1969 as the Montreal Expos. The franchise made only one post-season appearance in its time in Montreal, and that came in strike-shortened 1981 when they advanced to the NLCS, but lost in that series to the Dodgers 3-games-to-2. The LCS was expanded to a best-of-seven in 1985. That is the only time the franchise reached the NLCS. They have been eliminated in the NL Division series in their three previous post-season appearances since moving to Washington, losing to the Dodgers in five games last year, the Giants in four games in 2014, and the Cardinals in five games in 2012.
Nationals/Expos Post-Season Appearances
|2017||1st||97||65||.599||–||Dusty Baker||Tied NLDS 2-2 vs. Cubs|
|2016||1st||95||67||.586||–||Dusty Baker||Lost NLDS to LAD 3-2|
|2014||1st||96||66||.593||–||Matt Williams||Div lost to SF 3-1|
|2012||1st||98||64||.605||–||Davey Johnson||Div lost to StL 3-2|
|1981||2nd||60||48||.556||-2||Jim Fanning||Lost NLCS to LAD 3-2|
Outfielder Michael A. Taylor was the difference maker. With two out in the top of the eighth, and the Nationals holding a 1-0 lead, Taylor stunned Cubs closer Wade Davis by delivering a grand slam to give the Nationals the 5-0 lead that became the final score. Surprised? It was chilly, raining and the wind was blowing in, and Taylor drove the ball out to right field at Wrigley Field. Surprised? Taylor is only 3-for-45 in his career against a right-handed reliever during the regular season. Surprised? Taylor is a career .223 hitter outside of Nationals Park
Taylor’s grand slam was the 23rd in the history of the Division Series, which was added in 1995, and the second this October. Francisco Lindor of the Indians hit a grand slam in Game 2 of the ALDS against the Yankees. They were the first two Division Series grand slams since 2012. Taylor’s grand slam was the first for a player from the Nationals in the Division Series. Lindor became the third Indians player to hit a grand slam in the Division Series. Jim Thome hit one in Game 2 of 1999 against the Red Sox and Albert Belle delivered in Game 3 of the 1996 Division Series against the Orioles.
|Player, team, opponent, Game, Year|
|Michael A. Taylor, Washington at Chicago, Game 4, 2017.|
|Francisco Lindor, Cleveland vs. New York, Game 2, 2017.|
|Buster Posey, San Francisco at Cincinnati, Game 5, 2012.|
|Ryan Roberts, Arizona vs. Milwaukee, Game 4, 2011.|
|Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona vs. Milwaukee, Game 3, 2011.|
|Robinson Cano, New York vs. Detroit, Game 1, 2011.|
|Shane Victorino, Philadelphia vs. Milwaukee, Game 2, 2008.|
|James Loney, Los Angeles at Chicago, Game 1, 2008.|
|Lance Berkman, Houston vs. Atlanta, Game 4, 2005.|
|Adam LaRoche, Atlanta at Houston, Game 4, 2005.|
|Reggie Sanders, St. Louis vs. San Diego, Game 1, 2005.|
|Vladimir Guerrero, Anaheim at Boston, Game 3, 2004.|
|Troy O’Leary, Boston at Cleveland, Game 5, 1999.|
|Jim Thome, Cleveland vs. Boston, Game 2, 1999.|
|Edgardo Alfonzo, New York at Arizona, Game 1, 1999.|
|Eddie Perez, Atlanta at Chicago, Game 3, 1998.|
|Ryan Klesko, Atlanta vs. Chicago, Game 1, 1998.|
|Devon White, Florida at San Francisco, Game 3, 1997.|
|Paul O’Neill, New York at Cleveland, Game 3, 1997.|
|Albert Belle, Cleveland vs. Baltimore, Game 3, 1996.|
|Bobby Bonilla, Baltimore vs. Cleveland, Game 1, 1996.|
|Edgar Martinez, Seattle vs. New York, Game 4, 1995.|
|Mark Lewis, Cincinnati vs. Los Angeles, Game 3, 1995.|
The Nationals have an option in who will start Game 5 on Thursday — Gio Gonzalez, who started the Nationals win in Game 2, or Tanner Roark, who was the announced starter for Game 4 until it was rained out on Tuesday and Strasburg woke up Wednesday healthy enough to pitch. Neither has the dominating resume of a Strasburg, but manager Dusty Baker will have ample of arms available in the bullpen. The fact Strasburg went seven innings Wednesday meant Baker only used two relievers for an inning apiece — Ryan Madson (27 pitches) and Sean Dolittle (12 pitches) — which means every pitcher on the Nationals roster except Strasburg will be available in the bullpen Thursday.
The Cubs also have plenty of arms ready for game 5. With Kyle Hendricks scheduled to make his second start, the two pitchers that would be considered unavailable because of their work load on Wednesday are Jake Arrieta (four innings) and Jon Lester (3 2/3). John Lackey, in fact, has not appeared in a game, and none of the four other pitchers who worked on Wednesday faced more than three hitters.
Pitchers Workload in NL Division Series
|Matt Albers||1||1 1/3||—||Wade Davis||2||2||3 batters|
|Sean Doolittle||2||2||1 IP||Kyle Hendricks||1||7||—|
|Oliver Perez||2||1||—||Jose Quintana||1||5 2/3||—|
|Sammy Solis||2||2/3||—||Pedro Strop||2||2 1/3||—|
|Stephen Strasburg||2||14||7 IP||Jon Lester||1||6||3 2/3 IP|
|Max Scherzer||1||6 1/3||—||Carl Edwards Jr.||3||2 1/3||2 batters|
|Brandon Kintzler||2||2 1/3||—||Mike Montgomery||1||2/3||—|
|Gio Gonzalez||1||5||—||Jake Arrieta||1||4||4 IP|
|Ryan Madson||2||2||1 IP||Brian Duensing||1||2/3||2/3 IP|
|TannerRoark||0||—||—||Justin Wilson||1||2/3||2/3 IP|
|Enny Romero||0||—||—||John Lackey||0||—||—|
Past history would say that Game 5 is a toss up. Including splitting the first two games of the current Division series at Nationals Park the two teams are 18-18 at Nationals Park in the 10 years the ballpark has been open. The Cubs, however, had had a winning record at Nationals Park in only two of the last seven seasons.