“Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is. “
– Bob Feller, Hall of Fame Pitcher
As the sunsets over Washington, D.C. tomorrow two teams from the National League will be playing for another chance to put on their uniforms, grab their gloves and play our national pastime. In my many travels across the country, I have always found a Washington, D.C. sunset to be filled with tranquility, reflection, and peace. There’s something about that orange glow lighting up the monuments and buildings of our nation’s capital. It’s a gentle glow, one that washes over you with warmth and respect. It’s a quiet humility that fills my heart during a Washington sunset. A Washington, D.C. always leaves me thankful for the places I have been and hopeful of the places I will be.
Tomorrow, however, it’s going to be cloudy and cold, so let’s talk about baseball because that’s what we’ve got.
The Washington Nationals cheated death today by not pitching Tanner Roark. Instead, the Nats trotted out a flu-ridden Stephen Strasburg, who pitched 7.0 innings of 3 hit baseball. I mean, you guys, the pitching… THE PITCHING. It’s been absolutely insane to see the starters in this series performing above their normal abilities. Look, we’ve begun to expect brilliance from guys like Strasburg, Scherzer, Hendricks, and Quintana, but to see them rise above that level is masterful. Truly masterful.
What wasn’t so much masterful, but definitely a step in the right direction, was the Nationals offense.
Credit where credit is due: Michael Taylor. What a clutch grand slam off Wade Davis. If that ball gets caught by Ian Happ at the wall, the Cubs climb back into this game and the Nats season is over. That’s how that story ends. Instead, Taylor’s ball lands in the basket and he touches all the bases. Huge. Clutch. Good for you, kid.
Also Good: Trea Turner. It has now been confirmed that Trea Turner reads 3 Up, 3 Down. He saw me call him out and now he’s hitting again… kinda. Getting base runners on took its toll on Arrieta, who surrendered 5 walks in his short 4.0 innings. Getting guys on base drastically increases the pressure on opposing pitchers and magnifies the threat at the plate. Turner has to keep finding ways to get on so Harper, Murphy and Zimmerman can do some damage. We saw what the Nationals can do with the bases loaded. They need to exploit that.
If the Nationals want to survive they need to get to Kyle Hendricks early, which is easier said than done. Hendricks has stifled the Nats bats for the most part throughout his career. Bryce Harper posts the best numbers against the Professor, slashing .308/.400/.538 with an OPS of .938. Every other National leaves something to be desired. Besides that, the rest of the Washington offense is hitting .181, not a number that gives me too much confidence, especially considering how easilyHendricks was able to shut down the Nats in Game 1. Hendricks also has a stark difference between his 5 days rest self and his 6 days rest self, and he’s right smack in between that. With 5 days rest Hendricks posts a 13-10 record, with a 1.061 WHIP in 38 games throughout his career. With 6+, the Dartmouth grad has an 11-2 record, and a WHIP just north of 1.100.
Can the Nationals break through the young right-hander? Or does Kyle Hendricks repeat his 2016 NLCS Game 6 two-hit shutout of the Los Angeles Dodgers? There’s what the stats say and what the Nats can do.
It is 100% possible that the struggles Gonzalez faced in Game 2 were just flukes. When you look at his BvP, which stands for “Batter v. Pitcher” or an individual’s stats against specific players, the stats tip in Gio’s favor. However, the guys who did the most damage against him in Game 2, also have the least exciting numbers. Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Wilson Contreras, the three players who scored runs against Gonzalez, have a collective .147 average against the D.C. southpaw. While that number might make you breathe a sigh of relief, I don’t think it should. If the guys who have struggled against Gio were the ones capitalizing on his mistakes, then it’s only a matter of time until the rest of the team piles on. This is the Cubs we’re talking about. They rarely let you make the same mistake twice.
The other thing that worries me is Gio’s history in the postseason. In five starts in October, Gonzalez has amassed a 0-0 record, a 4.24 ERA, an 8.2 K/9, and a 1.385 WHIP, all of which are higher than his career numbers, a career that he is just coming into the prime of. So like I said before, it’s 100% possible that Gio’s issues in Game 2 were flukes, but it’s also possible that he was playing above his abilities.
I honestly hope it’s the former here, folks. Gio Gonzalez has had an incredible season and should be complimented for it. However, if this game blows up in his face, I highly doubt he gets the full credit for his amazing season. Same old Gio, should have known he’d implode. The guy deserves better. The guy deserves runs.
AT THE END OF THE DAY
At the end of the day, you can’t be worried for the Nationals. Yes, they’ve been here before and they’re trying to do something they’ve never done, but that’s the exciting part of the game. So much of this Nationals team has been about making sure things go right. Finding the right manager, finding the right bullpen guys, finding the right centerfielder, etc. So much effort put into to assure the Nats get closer to a World Series. This is what that preparation is for. FOR THIS EXACT MOMENT. You might think the Nationals are building a World Series team, but all they need to do is win the last game of the year each time it presents itself. That’s what they need to do. At the end of the day, this is what this team is built for. This exact moment. Can they pull it off? They definitely have a chance.
The thing I love most about Washington D.C. is the history that surrounds you no matter where you are within its limits. Everywhere you look there’s a story, there’s a triumph, a battle, a memorial. History lives in Washington. It’s time to defeat history tonight at Nationals Park.
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