Get them rested today at work. Or better yet, if you are so inclined, at church. The madness of Game 1, the deflation of Game 2 and 3 and the unbridled high of last night was the appetizer. Tonight comes the main course, Gio Gonzalez against Adam Wainwright for a trip to play for the pennant. This is the good stuff.
That the Nationals have even reached this point borders on the incredible. They have been outscored by 14 runs, a total count of 23-9. They won two games on the back of an almost nonexistent offense. They had three hits – three! – in their win yesterday and did not advance a runner past first base. In their Game 1 victory, the two decisive runs scored on a two-run, pinch-hit, flared single by Tyler Moore. In the series, the Nationals have hit .215 with a .285 on-base percentage and a .323 slugging percentage.
Take away Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth, and it’s hard to find any hitter on the Nationals who has gone good against the Cardinals’ formidable staff. Michael Morse has looked anxious in big spots. Bryce Harper keeps missing pitches and now stands at 1 for 18 for the series. The confident, potent version of Danny Espinosa that clobbered pitches in the second half has gone missing.
What do those offensive struggles portend for Game 5? You can spin it either way. The Nationals scored more runs than all but one National League team in the second half, and they cannot stay stuck in this funk forever. They could be due, and it may help that they get a second look at Adam Wainwright, the Game 1 starter.
Or you could say the Nationals, a few of them excepted, have let the postseason affect their offensive approach.
“This is a learning curve for a lot of these young hitters,” Manager Davey Johnson said before Game 4. “Important games, pitchers are not going to give in to you. They are not going to groove a fastball when you’re behind. They are liable to throw you off‑speed or a changeup in hitting counts and you have to make those adjustments. Experience comes into play in that regard, and we sometimes show our inexperience in certain at‑bats.”
The Nationals could of course win again without any offense. They will send Gio Gonzalez, their 21-game winner, to the mound. The Cardinals also got a look Gonzalez this series, but they did not get the real version. Gonzalez lost his command and walked seven in five innings. If he doesn’t match his career-high in wildness, the Cardinals will see a much different pitcher tomorrow.
“The momentum is definitely on our side,” Tyler Clippard said. “And that’s what we wanted to happen, especially with Gio taking the mound.”
Momentum tends not to matter so much when it’s do-or-die for both sides – the Cardinals have some experience, having won five straight elimination games. A prediction would be of no use. If this series has proven anything, it’s that.
FROM THE POST
Jayson Werth’s walk-off home run lifted the Nationals to a 2-1 victory and kept their season alive for at least another day.
Thursday brought joy and Friday will bring finality, Barry Svrluga writes.
The Nationals have the man they want on the mound in Gio Gonzalez, James Wagner writes.
The Cardinals will turn to their experience in big games, Katie Carrera writes.
Ross Detwiler pitched the game of his life, says Jason Reid.
Jayson Werth has validated his decision to sign with the Nationals.
The Giants would be next for the Nationals, Rick Maese writes.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL